The Seer of Shadows

( 18 )


Horace Carpetine does not believe in ghosts.

Raised to believe in science and reason, Horace Carpetine passes off spirits as superstition. Then he becomes an apprentice photographer and discovers an eerie—and even dangerous—supernatural power in his very own photographs.

When a wealthy lady orders a portrait to place by her daughter's gravesite, Horace's employer, Enoch Middleditch, schemes to sell her more ...

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Horace Carpetine does not believe in ghosts.

Raised to believe in science and reason, Horace Carpetine passes off spirits as superstition. Then he becomes an apprentice photographer and discovers an eerie—and even dangerous—supernatural power in his very own photographs.

When a wealthy lady orders a portrait to place by her daughter's gravesite, Horace's employer, Enoch Middleditch, schemes to sell her more pictures—by convincing her that her daughter's ghost has appeared in the ones he's already taken.

It's Horace's job to create images of the girl. Yet Horace somehow captures the girl's spirit along with her likeness. And when the spirit escapes the photographs, Horace discovers he's released a ghost bent on a deadly revenge. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Newbery Medalist Avi (Crispin: The Cross of Lead) sets this intriguing ghost story in 19th-century New York City, where a photographer's apprentice has a horrifying run-in with a spirit bent on revenge. In the fall of 1872, 14-year-old narrator Horace Carpetine reluctantly becomes involved in his employer's scheme to dupe a superstitious client, wealthy Mrs. Von Macht. The plan is to make a tidy profit by producing a double exposure and offering her an unusual portrait, one incorporating a superimposed image of her dead daughter, Eleanora. Events depart from the expected when the ghost of Eleanora literally enters the picture, and Horace discovers his ability to capture departed souls on film. Suspense builds as the Von Machts' servant, Pegg, reveals secrets about the Von Macht family and explains that Eleanor's angry spirit, brought back into the world through the camera lens, may want revenge on both Mrs. Von Macht and her husband. Mirroring both the style and themes of gothic novels of the period, the story takes ghastly and ghostly turns that challenge Horace's belief in reason. Details about photographic processes add authenticity, while the book's somber ending will leave spines tingling. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 15.

Horace is a 14-year-old photographer’s apprentice in New York City in 1872, and his ambitious and dishonest boss has just received a new commission. A society woman wants a photograph of herself to put on her dead daughter Eleanora’s grave, she says, though her reasons are not as sentimental as they first seem. The photographer plans to add a ghostly image of the girl to the portrait (this was possible even pre-Photoshop!), to make it special and ensure more commissions, he hopes. He assigns Horace to secretly take photos of the images of Eleanora in the woman’s home for this purpose, but Horace’s photos unexpectedly do more than that: they conjure up the actual ghost of the girl, who is out for revenge. According to Pegg, an African American servant girl in the household who befriends Horace, Eleanora was the woman’s niece, not her daughter. Eleanora was valued only for her inheritance, and cruelly neglected until she died. Together, Horace and Pegg must figure out how to thwart the murderous ghost’s plans for vengeance. This spooky tale by the author of Crispin and many other books for young readers captures the era nicely. There are lots of details about photography as well as information about the racism of the time, and Horace’s transition from proudly logical young man to believer in spirits is credible. This ghost story isn’t too creepy for middle school readers, and it works well as a historical novel, too. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

Children's Literature - Amie Rose Rotruck
Horace Carpentine is apprenticed to Mr. Middleditch, a photographer who sometimes inserts ghostly images of loved ones to drum up more business from the grief-stricken. When he sends Horace to help him with his latest scam, Horace is shocked to realize that one of his photographs contains the image of Eleanora, a girl who died under mysterious circumstances. Pegg, a servant of Eleanora's parents, claims the girl was murdered. Each photograph Horace takes shows progressively clearer images of the dead girl, but that is not what truly frightens Horace. He has started to see Eleanora even without the use of a camera. Horace and Pegg now need to figure out how to put Eleanora to rest before she destroys her adopted parents who caused her death. In perhaps his best work yet, Avi has created a truly chilling tale that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned and the lights are turned out. Reviewer: Amie Rose Rotruck
VOYA - Eric Spargo
Horace Carpentine is an apprentice photographer to the dishonest Mr. Middleditch. When they are hired to take a picture for Mrs. Frederick Von Macht with the help of her servant Pegg, Horace soon realizes the terrible truth about the Von Macht's daughter's death. This book is a good read for any ghost story lovers. Reviewer: Eric Spargo, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Cynthia Winfield
Articulate, literate, and numerate, fourteen-year-old Horace is touted as "a model youth for the industrial age" by his philosophical, abolitionist, and radical-Republican father whose children are named for political and social icons of the time. A watch repairman who believes in science and rational thought, Horace's father arranges his youngest son's apprenticeship during post-Civil War New York City in a scientific endeavor with Enoch Middleditch, self-proclaimed society photographer, whose excellent teaching is offset by his laziness and struggling business. Middleditch turns on flattery and charm and eagerly defrauds patrons for financial gain. Unwillingly Horace becomes entangled in a fraudulent scheme to present a rich woman with photographic "evidence" that her daughter's ghost lingers nearby. Youthful honesty contrasted against adults' deceptive flatteries builds reader empathy for narrator Horace's position when Middleditch's hoax paired with Horace's heretofore-unknown photographic sensitivity unintentionally unleash an angry ghost upon the Von Macht household. Horace's resourcefulness and his new friendship with the Von Macht's black servant Pegg are key to solving this suspenseful drama. Avi's rich language evokes images and speech patterns of a bygone era, and his careful chronicling of early photography's art and science make this novel a pleasure to read. Strong male and female teen characters appeal to a broad readership from science fiction, suspense, and ghost story aficionados to photography and history buffs. The refined vocabulary will not deter reluctant readers. Reviewer: Cynthia Winfield
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
A blustery evening calls for a good ghost story, and Newbery medalist Avi offers one thick with spooks and intrigue. In New York City in 1872, a young photographer's assistant, Horace Carpetine, is asked to take a photographic portrait of Mrs. Frederick Von Macht, a society matron. Each photo, though, is marred by a blurred image—that of the woman's dead niece, Eleanora. With the help of a servant girl, Pegg, Horace tries to discover why Eleanora's spirit has returned and how to help her find rest. Avi enriches his suspenseful tale with well-researched historic details, information about the science and art of early photography and an elegant writing style. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
Kirkus Reviews
In 1870s New York, at the intersection of scientific advances in photography and post-Civil War superstition, sentimentality and mourning, Horace's father apprentices him to a spirit photographer. He discovers that, while his employer is a swindler, Horace himself is a "seer" on whose photographs genuine ghostly images appear. In this way, he discovers the ghost of a young heiress whose ill treatment at the hands of her adoptive parents has led to her death. When her angry spirit returns seeking revenge, Horace tries to put her ghost to rest and save lives. Avi portrays a complex main character who is torn between his impulse toward honesty and rational thought, his love of the new technology of photography and his need for employment. This tale proves that the time-honored ghost story, capably researched, well-paced and fusing the Gothic elements of mystery, madness and romance, can still thrill in the hands of a skilled craftsman. (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060000172
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/15/2009
  • Pages: 202
  • Sales rank: 108,585
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Avi is the author of more than sixty books, including Crispin: The Cross of Lead, a Newbery Medal winner, and Crispin: At the Edge of the World. His other acclaimed titles include The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing But the Truth, both Newbery Honor Books, and most recently The Seer of Shadows. He lives with his family in Colorado.


Born in Manhattan in 1937, Avi Wortis grew up in Brooklyn in a family of artists and writers. Despite his bright and inquisitive nature, he did poorly in school. After several academic failures, he was diagnosed with a writing impairment called dysgraphia which caused him to reverse letters and misspell words. The few writing and spelling skills he possessed he had gleaned from his favorite hobby, reading -- a pursuit enthusiastically encouraged in his household.

Following junior high school, Avi was assigned to a wonderful tutor whose taught him basic skills and encouraged in him a real desire to write. "Perhaps it was stubbornness," he recalled in an essay appearing on the Educational Paperback Association's website, "but from that time forward I wanted to write in some way, some form. It was the one thing everybody said I could not do."

Avi finally learned to write, and well! He attended Antioch University, graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and received a master's degree in library science from Columbia in 1964. He worked as a librarian for the New York Public Library's theater collection and for Trenton State College, and taught college courses in children's literature, while continuing to write -- mostly plays -- on the side. In the 1970s, with two sons of his own, he began to craft stories for children. "[My] two boys loved to hear stories," he recalled. "We played a game in which they would give me a subject ('a glass of water') and I would have to make up the story right then. Out of that game came my first children's book, Things That Sometimes Happen." A collection of "Very Short Stories for Little Listeners," Avi's winning debut received very positive reviews. "Sounding very much like the stories that children would make up themselves," raved Kirkus Reviews, "these are daffy and nonsensical, starting and ending in odd places and going sort of nowhere in the middle. The result, however, is inevitably a sly grin."

Avi has gone on to write dozens of books for kids of all ages. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1991) and Nothing but the Truth (1992) were named Newbery Honor Books, and in 2003, he won the prestigious Newbery Medal for his 14th-century adventure tale, Crispin: The Cross of Lead. His books range from mysteries and adventure stories to historical novels and coming-of-age tales; and although there is often a strong moral core to his work, he leavens his message with appealing warmth and humor. Perhaps his philosophy is summed up best in this quote from his author profile on Scholastic's website: "I want my readers to feel, to think, sometimes to laugh. But most of all I want them to enjoy a good read."

Good To Know

In a Q&A with his publisher, Avi named Robert Louis Stevenson as one of his greatest inspirations, noting that "he epitomizes a kind of storytelling that I dearly love and still read because it is true, it has validity, and beyond all, it is an adventure."

When he's not writing, Avi enjoys photography as one of his favorite hobbies.

Avi got his unique nickname from his twin sister, Emily..

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    1. Also Known As:
      Avi Wortis (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 23, 1937
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The Seer of Shadows

Chapter One

It was an October morning in the year 1872, and New York City's air was so befogged with white mist and dark smoke that I could barely see across the street. All the same I was attending to my daily chore of sweeping our small front court with its painted sign:

Enoch Middleditch
Society Photographer

Chancing to look up, I was startled to see a black girl standing just beyond our low iron gate. It was as if she had just stepped out of the haze, dressed in her somber cotton servant's garb. A tiny wisp of curly black hair poked out from beneath her white cap. Though clearly she was a servant, her posture was upright, quite proud, and not at all deferential. I judged her to be about the same age as I, fourteen; but her smooth face, round and dark, seemed devoid of emotion until I noticed her eyes: They were full of a deep and brooding intensity.

My first thought was that she was looking at me, but then I realized it was our sign that held her attention.

"May I help you?" I asked.

She turned her gaze upon me. "Who are you?"

The question, asked so bluntly, was unexpected. "I'm Mr. Middleditch's apprentice."

"Does he make portraits?"

"Portraits, cartes de visite, and studies."

"My mistress, Mrs. Frederick Von Macht, requires a portrait."

"Then you've come to the right place."

"Good," said the girl. "She will be at your door tomorrow, at two."

Though surprised by her presumption, I said, "I'll tell my employer," perfectly aware that Mr. Middleditch had no pressingmatters to attend to. Business was anything but lively.

With a curt nod the girl turned and walked away, vanishing into the mist as eerily as she had appeared.

Not only did I wonder where she'd come from and gone to, I was uncertain whether to believe her or not. But knowing it would be a good thing if her mistress did come for a sitting, I put aside such questions and hurried into our rooms to inform Mr. Middleditch that he actually had a customer.

Still, there was something very unsettling about the girl, so much so that I could not get her out of my mind. Was it the way she'd suddenly appeared and disappeared into the mist? Was it the tone of her voice? Was it the brooding look in her eyes?

That said, I shall be the first to admit there was nothing about her appearance to foretell the extraordinary events that were to follow.

The Seer of Shadows. Copyright © by Avi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2008


    This book is a amazing if you ghost story's you'll love this!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2010

    The Seer of Reviews

    This book is great!!!!!! It is boring until Horace starts seeing the ghost of Eleonora. Eleonora is trying to kill Mr and Mrs.VonMacht for revenge. Eleanora died from being starved and became to weak and died. The VonMachts lie about how much they love her and miss her. Horace, a photographer's apprentice, is a Seer of Showdows. He can bring ghost to life. Pegg, the VonMacht's servent, was like a sister to Eleonora. Horace and Pegg team up to help get rid of Eleonora's ghost to stop her plan to kill the VonMachts.
    This book is NOT voilent at all. It is not as scary as you can judge by the cover. This book is interesting and at some points you can't put it down. I used this book for a Reading Examine and there waas a lot of detail and made it easy to do. This is a"I must figure out how it ends" book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2010

    A hard life can lead to a hateful afterlife!

    Seer of Shadows is a great had a lot of details in it which helped me imagin the whole book. Horace and Pegg where great characters. Avi really did do a great job creating the voice of Pegg. Mrs.Von macht was a horibble character in the book. Poor elenora had to suffer so much threw out her life. good thing Pegg was always there for her. this book was very suspenceful, at some pionts of the book a even got the chills. elenoras return was very powerful with hate, but all she wanted was revenge. Horace was very confused and frightened when he saw a picture he didnt take. avi really out did himself with this book it was amazing.

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  • Posted February 24, 2010

    Do you like photgraphy, well think again.

    First you ask yourself, could you be a seer? When Horace took his very first photograph, something was odd. There was something lurking over Mrs. Von Match's shoulder, what could it be? When I showed Pegg, she had said it was the ghost of Elenora Von Match to seek revenge. Mrs. Von Match had said it was a tragedy, and she misses Elenora so much, or does she? Pegg was the servant of the Von Match's and she would to help Horace unravel the mystery of Elenora's death, and why she came back to haunt the Von Match's. I enjoyed this book; it was probably one of the best books I had ever read. I just couldn't put it down, it was so suspenseful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A really Great Ghost Story

    In 1872, photography was still new technology. One of the main characters is a 14 year old called Horace, and his photography teacher is called Mr. Middleditch. Horace has been raised to believe in science. And as apprentice to a society photographer, horace likes to fancy his proffesion as a scientific art. But when a rich lady called Mrs. Von Macht orders a photo, really weird things start to happen, because Horace's first photographs reveal the image of Mrs. Von Macht's deceased daughter, Eleanora. Horace meets Pegg, Mrs. Von Macht's black servant girl, and she tells him about who Eleanora really was and how she actually died. Pegg and Horace form an unlikely friendship, and Horace finds out that his pictures actually freed Eleanora's ghost. Eleanora returns, and she is bent on punishing Mr. and Mrs. Von Macht for abusing her.

    The book is kind of like the Sixth Sense, and the Grudge mixed if I were to compare this book to two movies. It is a kid friendly horror story that turns out to actually be genuinley creepy, but it's writtend by the late Avi, who I'm quite a fan of, so I can't complain. All in all this book is an excellent horror story for adolescents. It's a very good book and that's why it deserves a well earned rating of 10 out of 10.

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  • Posted November 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Sarah Bean the Green Bean Teen Queen for

    It's 1872 in New York and Horace Carpetine is working as a photography apprentice. Photographer Mr. Middleditch is a little down on his luck and in need of a large profit from a client. So when they are approached by Mrs. Von Macht, who is grieving the loss of her only child and wishes a portrait to place on her daughter's grave, Mr. Middleditch comes up with an idea to make money. <BR/><BR/>The pair will make a ghostly likeness of Eleanora appear in Mrs. Von Macht's picture, and hopefully she will miss her daughter enough to order more photos. <BR/><BR/>Problems start to occur, though, when Horace takes a photograph and Eleanora's ghost really does appear -- without the assistance of photography. <BR/><BR/>With the help of Pegg, the Von Macht's servant girl, Horace finds out the horrible truth about Eleanora's death. Together the new friends must stop Eleanora's vengeful ghost from hurting her family. <BR/><BR/>This is a great historical mystery by Avi. The history is rich and I felt as though I was walking the streets with Horace and Pegg. The details provide an interesting look at early photography and how it worked. The mystery keeps readers engaged and has some chilling moments. Recommended for history, paranormal, and mystery fans alike!

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