The Seer of Shadows – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 / 5 stars)

Do you ever see weird images in photographs? Especially in old ones from many years ago? Horace Carpetine, a photograph apprentice from the 1800s, indeed saw a strange image in one of the photographs he took. At first, he thought his eyes deceived him, but soon he discovered that he photographed a ghost with a vengeance. Can he overcome his own logic, with the help of servant girl Pegg, and stop this ghost before she wreaks havoc on the Van Macht family?

In an interesting take on a ghost haunting, we enter the historical world of photography, and the way it can be manipulated. In this case though, while there is sinister human made manipulations at work, a deeper force is at work. When Horace takes a picture, suddenly the ghost of Eleanora – an abused adopted daughter of the Von Macht family – comes to life. This is done with suspense, and just like a developing photograph, the revelations come slowly, first viewed with skepticism, then astonishment.

While Avi is no doubt a fantastic storyteller, the ending of this book was somewhat unsatisfactory for me. Rather than the winding problem solving ability that Horace displayed throughout the tale, the story ends with a bang, leaving a dark and sinister plume looming over Eleanora and her past. For a girl who Horace and Pegg wanted to help find peace, instead they are just witnesses of her ultimate vengeance upon her abusers. Also, for a children’s book, this is somewhat dark and foreboding.

But the story is still extremely unique; we’ve heard about images of ghosts appearing in photographs at haunted homes before. But what if there was someone out there, a seer perhaps, who could call upon the ghosts through photography? Than it itself is an idea that pulls at realism and the imagination, whether you believe in ghosts or not.

It’s actually amazing that this is one of the first books by Avi I ever read. I grew up seeing his books, but never picked them up. And while the ending of Seer of Shadows missed the mark for me, it was still an engaging tale that adults and children alike will enjoy. I will definitely be picking up another Avi book in the future.

What’s it about?

The time is 1872. The place is New York City. Horace Carpetine has been raised to believe in science and rationality. So as apprentice to Enoch Middleditch, a society photographer, he thinks of his trade as a scientific art. But when wealthy society matron Mrs. Frederick Von Macht orders a photographic portrait, strange things begin to happen.

Horace’s first real photographs reveal a frightful likeness: it’s the image of the Von Machts’ dead daughter, Eleanora.

Pegg, the Von Machts’ black servant girl, then leads him to the truth about who Eleanora really was and how she actually died. Joined in friendship, Pegg and Horace soon realize that his photographs are evoking both Eleanora’s image and her ghost. Eleanora returns, a vengeful wraith intent on punishing those who abused her.

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