Bellairs, John The Face in the Frost. Kindle Edition
Raise your hand if you remember watching the dramatization of John Bellair’s great YA novel, The House with a Clock in its Walls. Keep your hand up if you then tracked down and read his other novel series, all what would now be called “urban fantasy” but then were just great stories with a dose of magic, Christian-based or otherwise. The covers of the library editions and interiors often featured Edward Gorey illustrations, adding to the sense of off-beat creepiness. I loved them and devoured every one I could get my hands on.
I was not aware that he’d written grown-up novels until The Face in the Frost appeared in my Recommendations list. It sounded different, and I added it to my TBR pile. Well, thanks to the wonders of modern air travel and the paucity of decent TV shows, I finally had time to read it. And I devoured it. Face in the Frost has the same quirky, multi-level, spooky, satisfying tale spinning of Bellairs’ books for younger readers, with more nods to things adults might catch and appreciate.
Prospero, a magician and not the one you are thinking of, senses something odd going on, in the form of a creepy grey cape that appears at his house. His friend Roger Bacon drops by and mentions a similar feeling, as well as a troubling book that he has been hunting for. After sharing perhaps one drink too many, the gentlemen wake up the next morning to find themselves under siege in Prospero’s home. They find a way to escape, and the chase is on. The book is more than it seems, and a figure from Prospero’s past pulls the magicians deeper and deeper into danger, threatening the world in the process.
Prospero and Bacon are fascinating characters, practical and fallible. They get in and out of scrapes in the process of trying to solve the mystery of the book and of the faces in the frost. Bellairs blends horror and humor with a deft hand, so that although the book is tense and scary, it is never terrifying. Readers uncomfortable with horror will still enjoy the tale. I’d call it a “read under the covers with a flashlight” book for adults.
In short, I really enjoyed the book. It’s not terribly long but is quite gripping. Great fun, shivery in good ways, and humorous just where it needs to be.