Alisha Slone's Reviews > The Seer of Shadows

The Seer of Shadows by Avi
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's review
Mar 28, 12

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in March, 2012

The story takes place in New York City in 1872. It is the story of a young boy Horace Carpetine about 14 years old, who with his father’s help became an apprentice to a local photographer. Horace is a very smart young boy who has won school prizes for mathematics and practical science. His father talks with him often about logic and scientific proof of things and doesn’t believe in anything superstitious.
One day a young black servant girl comes to Mr. Middleditch’s shop to see about getting a picture taken of her mistress Mrs. Von Macht. She speaks to Horace and he sets up an appointment for the next day. The young girl’s name is Pegg. Mrs. Von Macht comes the next day to speak to Mr. Middleditch about the photo. She wants it to set by her deceased daughter’s final resting place in the family tomb. She also wants the photo taken at her house. While Mrs. Von Macht is describing how her daughter Eleanora passed away Horace notices Pegg shaking her head in disagreement. When she sees him looking at her she lowers her head.
Mr. Middleditch tells Mrs. Von Macht it will take two days if it is to be done at her home since they will need one day to get everything ready and must have water to process the pictures. Mrs. Von Macht agrees and says money is of no concern. Mr. Middleditch has an idea to create an allusion of a picture with a ghostly image in the background, by doing a double negative and creating the image in the picture. He instructs Horace to take his spy camera and get as many pictures’ of Eleanora as he can since Mrs. Von Macht told them there were pictures of her all over the house.
On the day the photo is to be taken Horace and Mr. Middleditch are picked up by the Macht’s coach. When they arrive Pegg takes Horace to the scullery where there is water and he begins to prepare the plates and chemicals to process the pictures. Horace asks Pegg why she was shaking her head and Pegg tells him how the Macht’s weren’t Eleanora’s real parents they had adopted her and abused her until she died only to get control of her money her mom had left her. Eleanora was Mrs. Von Macht’s niece. Horace tells Mr. Middleditch about this but he isn’t interested, he only wants to make money from the fake picture. The next day while everyone is busy Horace sneaks around the house looking for pictures of Eleanora but can only find one in the stairwell. Horace decides to look on the second and third floor of the house for more pictures because he isn’t sure Pegg is telling the truth. On the third floor in a room he believes to be Pegg’s he finds one more picture and takes it. He took two of the one in the stairwell and one in Peggs’ room. He hears a noise behind him and as he turns around he accidently takes a fourth picture. It is Pegg who has come in the room, and she tells him a little more about how Eleanora died. She became very ill but the Von Macht’s refuse to call a doctor unless she signs the papers giving them control of her money. Eleanora dies and they get their money.
When Horace develops the pictures he sees not three pictures of Eleanora but four. The fourth is a ghostly image of Eleanora that should have been Pegg since she is the only other person in the room. Mr. Middleditch makes his fake but doesn’t realize he is using a picture of a real ghost. Horace is asked to go to the family plot to take some more pictures so Mr. Middleditch can make some more ghostly pictures…While there Horace sees a young girl in a black dress flash by but can’t find her anywhere. As he is developing the pictures he sees another image of Eleanora and it is becoming clearer. Eleanora is becoming more real as each picture is taken. Horace and Pegg discuss this again at a secret meeting since they are becoming friends and trusting each other more.
Mr. Middleditch presents the first picture to Mrs. Von Macht and pretends not to see the ghostly image for a while. She is scared of the picture but tells him to send her the bill. Mr. Von Macht is very upset and calls the local police to meet Mr. Middleditch at their house. They request that he return all the negatives but he decides to leave town and leaves Horace a note not saying when he will be back. Mrs. Von Macht wants another picture taken to be sure even though her husband is against it. She tells Horace she is sorry for what she helped to do to Eleanora.
Horace has to decide whether to let Eleanora kill the Von Machts or help them. He decides to help the living and goes back to the house. While there he sees Eleanora with a candle stick trying to set the house on fire and yells at her. She disappears but sets one of the Von Machts fish warehouses on fire. The building is destroyed, and Horace sees Eleanora there at the fire. Horace talks with Pegg and she tells him Eleanora was a loving and very friendly person and she treated her as her sister when she was alive. The person she has become as a ghost is the tormented and abused child the Von Machts created. She was 13 when she died. Pegg doesn’t want anything to happen to the Von Machts either.
Horace comes up with a plan to try and get rid of her. It has to do with the chemicals used to create pictures. If you leave to paper in the chemicals too long or expose them to a bright light the picture turns dark and there is no image. He mixes up a large bottle of chemicals and together they decide to go to the Von Machts house and try to sneak in. The Von Macht’s have fired all the servants and Pegg and Horace have to sneak in thru the coal chute. As they look around the house they hear Mrs. Von Macht looking for Eleanora begging for forgiveness. Mrs. Von Macht has killed her husband. Pegg and Horace follow Mrs. Von Macht upstairs to Eleanor’s room and hear her talking to her. As Eleanora is about to hit Mrs. Von Macht Pegg tries to reason with her and for a moment Eleanora is fill with love and affection for her sister. But she shoves Pegg aside and strikes Mrs. Von Macht with the candle holder. Horace throws the developing solution on her. The candles catch the room on fire and the bright light causes Eleanora to darken all over and she disappears. The children can’t get Mrs. Von Macht out of the house and have to save themselves. The house is destroyed.
Horace takes Pegg home with him to meet his parents since she has nowhere else to go. They live with his parents until Horace turns 18 and get married. They have one child together a little girl and they name her Eleanora. Horace continues to take photographs of landscapes and tries not to take pictures of people because he still sees ghosts of the family members of the people in his pictures. He never lets them see these images. His daughter becomes very ill and begs him to take her picture in case she dies they will have a picture of her to remember her by. But Horace is afraid of what he will see and doesn’t.

I enjoyed the story a lot. It kept me interested and wanting to read more.
Horace was truly a Seer of Shadows.
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