December 5, 2012
The Seer of Shadows by Avi
In New York City in 1872, you either need wealth or a trade even if you are just a teenager so Horace Carpentine is apprenticed by his father to a photographer. Horace is immediately attracted to the science and detail of photography. He masters the skills needed to set up the photographic plates and also do the developing and the print making. All that’s left is actually getting to take the photos themselves.
His opportunity arrives when society matron Mrs. Von Macht arrives at the shop. She wants Horace’s employer to take a photo of herself to put on the Von Macht family crypt. She tells them that her daughter has recently died and she hopes that the photographic presence of her loving mother will help the girl rest easily.
This isn’t the story told by Pegg, the Von Macht’s servant. She claims that the girl was not their daughter but an orphaned niece and that she died of neglect when she refused to sign her fortune over to her greedy aunt and uncle. Horace isn’t sure who to believe and reveals part of this story to his employer. Scheming to get part of this money for himself, the photographer assures Horace that the servant, a young colored girl, is either crazy or ignorant. Raised to believe in the abilities of all people, Horace dismisses this and decides to keep his eyes open and see what he can see.
When his employer sends him around the Von Macht home to take secret photos, he takes a photo that simply could not exist when he captures the image of the dead girl.
I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story itself because I don’t want to give anything away and this is one of Avi’s best — full of suspense and mystery. I love the character of Horace who firmly believes in science but is then confronted with things that he has been taught simply do not exist. This is a moody tale, somewhat gothic in its dark, spirit laden shadows.
While there are deeply threatening moments and even a corpse, there is nothing graphic or gory. Instead it is accomplished through ominous mood, darkness and a deep seeping sadness. An excellent choice for young readers who like dark stories but aren’t ready for the content found in books for young adults.