I’m calling this a “Mini Review” because it’ll be short and sweet… Just like the book. The Seer of Shadows by Avi is just BARELY over 200 pages. Honestly, it could be finished in an afternoon because it reads so fast. Here’s the skinny from the cover:
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.
Rich in detail, full of the magic of early photography, here is a story about the shadows, visible and invisible, that are always lurking near.
I could easily just leave it at that because that is pretty much the whole story. Realist kid is apprenticing with a photographer in the late 1800s and starts to capture ghosts in his photos. Specifically a girl that was murdered and is now bent on revenge.
It’s a good premise, with loads of potential, and everything flows nicely. But even though this was tagged as Young Adult, I feel that it’s better meant for Elementary and Middle School readers. Everything is pretty straightforward and relatively superficial. Don’t think you’re going to get some in-depth mystery here. Sure, there was some suspense towards the end when Horace was trying to decide how to stop Eleanora but that’s about it.
My biggest complaints were twofold. First was how in-depth the author explained photography back then; specifically the process of how photos were made. I found myself glazing over at the eyes and skimming those parts. I’m sure someone would find them interesting but the level of detail just didn’t seem to fit with the story. It’s like it was one part educational, one part ghost story.
Second was the ending. It was completely unnecessary. Again, I think the author wanted to make a point about different races coming together but I also don’t think what happened was realistic for the time period; regardless of them moving to Vermont. I think that Peg and Horace could’ve stayed friends and all would be well. Leave it at that. Allowing the story to end by creating some future for them both as adults was a little forced, in my opinion.
I honestly think I was just the wrong audience for The Seer of Shadows. So I rated it 3 Stars on Goodreads as a YA story. As a kids book though, I can see it easily being 4 Stars. Maybe I’ll give it to my niece and see that she thinks of it.