Friday, March 28, 2008

Book: The Face In The Frost

Another instance of having to show an inferior version of the cover! The one I got from the library was a much better cover with an original illustration from the book and a nice dun color. Oh well. I'm picky about book covers.

However, this is not about the cover, it's about the book. After waiting THREE MONTHS for this to come through inter-library loan, I finally was able to pick it up and immediately dived in. This written for adults, unlike the majority of Bellairs' work. Frankly, except that some of the scenes are a little more intellectually frightening than his YA work, I didn't notice much difference (and that's a good thing, because his YA writing is so excellent already). It was, as are all his books, charming, amusing, scary, surprising, quirky, funny and spooky. The characters are 'characters' -- also charming, quirky, surprising, etc. The story was simple and yet a slow-revealed mystery (actually, a little confusing, but I loved the writing so much I didn't really care).

Apparently this book is recommended reading for the Dungeons and Dragons set. I've never played a game of D&D (my geekery doesn't extend quite that far) but since it's all about wizards and spells and checking your manual, I can see why.

I'm terrible at book synopses but here's a quick stab:

Prospero ("and not the one you're thinking of") is a wizard in a small kingdom. He has a friend, Roger Bacon, also a wizard (and possibly a monk). Strange things start to happen at Prospero's house -- unexplained fears, spooky happenings, voices in the night. Roger Bacon appears with a tale (about an evil magic book) that sends them on a journey to find an evil wizard from Prospero's past, who is throwing about terrible spells, working up to some horrible as-yet-unknowable end, and they must defeat him (somehow). It's all very mysterious. However, the journey is so much fun, I didn't really care that the details didn't make much sense (I think I'd need to read the book again to get it all straight).

Anyway. They go on this journey, falling frequently into truly nightmarish situations. For all the lightness and humor that Bellairs' writing brings, there is some very scary stuff here. For instance -- Prospero spends a night in a small strange town. The inn is oddly flat -- no storytelling in the pub, no travel-worn strangers. In the middle of the night something awakens him, and he is filled with inexplicable fear. He goes out in the hall, and starts exploring. Soon he finds that all the doors are sealed shut, except the innkeeper's door. He opens it, and finds the innkeeper standing stock-still, mumbling slurred words mechanically. As he watches, he notices that her eyes are gone, and then her entire face and body start to melt. He runs away (wouldn't you??) and as he flees down the stairs, the entire inn starts melting nightmarishly. In other scenes, horrifying faces appear in frosted windows, souls are trapped beneath their graves, and disembodied lights follow Prospero in the darkness.

It could sound silly, and maybe it is. But with his characteristic combination of light and dark, humor and levity, somehow Bellairs makes it all work.

One small thing that bothered me (and I've noticed it in a few of his other books) -- people are always pulling out matches and lighters and things that they just happen to have in their pockets at just the right times -- even if it's been previously stated that they have just run out of matches, or that all they have with them is a book and a cane (no mention of matches). Call me nit-picky, but aren't you supposed to previously reference stuff like that?

No matter. The book was worth the wait. The plot didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but that didn't really matter because I loved every page of it regardless. While I really enjoy and appreciate his young adult works, it is a pity that he was not able to continue writing for adults, since I think we missed out on some amazing novels. However, Johnny Dixon will have to suffice. I think I need another Johnny fix.


Kate said...

Oh! Oh! I just got this book used from Powell's and haven't cracked into it yet! I can't even read your review, I don't want to spoil it! I'm also dying to read The Pendant and The Shuffly, though I hear that's hard to come by. Have you checked out the Bellairs blog and listserv? I forget where it is exactly but it all can be accessed from

Daphne said...

I've checked it out but only briefly, I should spend a little time there and see what's what. I hope you love the book! It was definitely fun... I'd like to read it again but I already returned it. I might have to look for it used.