The Seer of Shadows
Cover Artist: Mark Tucker
Review by Gayle Surrette
HarperCollins Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060000158
Date: 01 April 2008 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
New York City in 1872 was teaming with opportunities for people willing to work hard. At 14, Horace Carpetine was willing to work hard. He had a scientific turn of mind and his father managed to find him an apprenticeship with Enoch Middleditch, a society photographer. At that time, photography was in its infancy and was considered to be a meld of science and magic, as chemically treated plates captured images. Horace applied himself and since Enoch loved to explain and didn't care too much for the work, Horace learned his trade rather rapidly. Everything was looking rosy for Horace until Enoch was hired to take a photograph of Mrs. Von Macht to place in her daughter's tomb. Enoch saw this as an opportunity to cash in on the craze for séances and communication with the dead, to work a likeness of Mrs. Von Macht daughter into the photo. Missing a critical piece of information about the Von Macht's daughter, he didn't realize just how dangerous such a venture could be?
Avi pulls us in to the story immediately, giving us a feel for New York City in the 1870s. The Civil War was over. Science was on the rise, and people prided themselves on having a scientific outlook. However, that ran hand in hand with an upswing in the interest in séances and mysticism. At the time people believed that science would be able to explain ghosts and paranormal occurrences. Many believed that photographers could capture the spirits of the dead with their camera and many photographers made a great deal of money bilking these people who wanted proof that their loved ones lived on.
Enoch Middleditch felt that he'd managed to find a way to get in on this money maker. Horace had qualms about the morality of playing on people's weaknesses but, as an apprentice, he felt he had no choice but to go along. Horace made friends with Pegg, a servant in the Von Macht household and learned more about Elenora, the daughter who had died. There was a lot more to the story than Enoch knew but Horace couldn't get his boss to listen.
The story skillfully draws the reader in, letting them feel for Pegg and Horace as they try to wend their way through this minefield, unable to make any changes because of their positions, but trying to do the right thing all the same.
This is wonderfully researched, and information is given only as the story unfolds, so there are no informational dumps, yet still you get a feel for the times and attitudes of the characters. The characters are fully realized and the situation allows you to suspend belief and just go with the story.