It's 1872 in New York City, and 14-year-old Horace Carpentine is working as an apprentice for society photographer Enoch Middleditch in his Greenwich Village studio. Horace's father, an early supporter of abolition and a firm believer in science, chose the position to expand his son's learning in the scientific field. But in the course of the chilling and atmospheric ghost story The Seer of Shadows, Horace will be forced to confront his own beliefs about the line between fact and fiction.
When society matron Mrs. Von Macht hires Middleditch to take her photograph in her Fifth Avenue mansion, so she can put it on the tomb of Eleanora, her recently departed daughter—a trend of the times—the unscrupulous photographer sees an opportunity in the making. Setting aside his own moral convictions, Horace helps Middleditch make a "spirit image" by combining existing images of Eleanora with those of Mrs. Von Macht. To his surprise, he discovers that he can actually take photographs of the dead. Through Pegg, the Von Macht's African-American servant, Horace eventually learns the true identity of Eleanora and her manner of death. He realizes that he is not only taking photographs of the dead but that he is a seer, bringing spirits back into this world. And now that she is back in the Von Machts' lives, Eleanora is determined to seek revenge on her former caregivers. In a spine-tingling conclusion, Horace and Pegg, united in friendship and purpose, must figure out how to release the ghost from her anger and this world.
In this digital age where film is almost a relic of the past, young readers will be fascinated by Avi's detailed descriptions of early photography and tricks of the trade. They will be further enthralled by the fast-paced narration and introduction to the spiritualism of the times, as well as by Horace's concluding account of his career in photography. Along with Horace, readers will question his photographic gift—or curse?
Angela Leeper lives and works in Wake Forest, North Carolina.