Dustin Roberts's Reviews > The Seer of Shadows

The Seer of Shadows by Avi
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's review
Mar 29, 12

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A fantastical historical fiction/mystery/ghost story. Set only a few short years after the civil war, we follow the apprenticeship of a 14 year old boy, Horace, under the teaching of Enoch Middleditch, a small time photographer always looking to get rich quick. When Mr. Middleditch is approached by a wealthy woman, Mrs. Von Mach, who wants to be photographed and claims to be grieving over the loss of her recent daughter, the photographer thinks he's found his opportunity at fortune. Middleditch concocts a tricky scheme to create a double exposed photo that will make it appear as though the ghost of the late daughter is lurking behind Mrs. Von Mach. But, Mr. Middleditch doesn't know the entire story. To complete his scheme, he depends on young Horace and a newly developed spy camera to be strapped to the young boy's chest and underneath his coat. Horace's job is to sneakily take photos of the portrait of the dead girl that are hanging in the Von Mach's mansion. Though Horace is struggling with whether or not to play a role in deceiving the family, this is his first opportunity to actually operate a camera, so he abides. Through a relationship beginning to build with the Von Mach's servant, Pegg, Horace is beginning to understand that Mrs. Von Mach may not be the grieving mother she claims to be, but in fact may be somewhat of a murderer. Young Horace does not yet realize the power his photography has and what it may mean for the Von Mach family. Being raised to believe in Science and ration explanation, Horace is the last person we'd expect to believe in Ghosts or Spirits. But, when he realizes he has no option or chance at rational explanation for the phenomena that takes place, he comes to one conclusion- he is a "Seer". He has no choice but to deal with his gift and he and Pegg must find a way to stop the ghost from returning for reparations.

Avi does an amazing job in bringing this Historical fiction to life. The language is an echo of the time period and all pages do an amazing job describing the setting with accurate depictions of the dress and customs of the late nineteenth century. Avi also does a spectacular job inspiring an appreciation for photography amongst his audience. We follow his detailed step-by-step instructions of the early development process of photographs in aw, as we learn of the painstaking time, attention, and caution it took to be a photographer.

The book's value for young readers cannot be understood in full if we don't take into account the clever way the author pulls in the main character's internal conflicts. We read of a young boy struggling between what is right and wrong in so many different situations. We see his mental anguish over deceiving others, over following advice from his parents, and the development of his relationship with Pegg, despite her skin color and what others may say. These attribute to the text make it even more valuable to young reader and the truth of life they may be experiencing.

Yet, I can't help but pay tribute to one more aspect of the book's uniqueness and value from scene in particular. It's not only found in Avi's beautiful descriptions of this scene, but in the way this particular scene ties the story of photography and the story of the book together. It's a beautiful cirlce. The scene is as follows:

Horace has begun to develop a photograph (page 69)- " Gently you slide the exposed but blank glass plate into this chemical bath. You wait for something to appear as if waiting on the shore of a mist-shrouded lake. Slowly, a shadowy image begins to reveal itself. It's as if the shadow were coming from some mystic depth, emerging from another world, little by little, taking bodily shape and form until that shadow becomes…real. Just what one would expect- would want- from a ghost." He continues, " I snatched it from the developer and plunged the plate into fixing solution. By doing so, I locked each image in time- caught it in visible life." A powerful foreshadow for what is to come in the book, and a description of the power of Horace, the "seer" of shadows.

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