The Face in the Frost

February 15th, 2007

I picked up the recommendation for this book from a Making Light comment thread looking for fantasy novels of a “literary” sort. Given some of the more recent discussion in that neighborhood, I’m not sure that label would be received so blithely these days, but it resulted in some excellent recommendations anyway. Unfortunately, The Face in the Frost is one of those books that, while I can’t deny the craftsmanship and quality of the work, still falls into the nebulous collection of works whose style is targeted at someone other than myself.

Bellair’s story follows the adventures of a wizard named Prospero (no relation) in some alternate world or dimension with a generically European and medievaloid setting, but it is a world that is in some way connected to our own, with glimpses of our history and (from the POV of the story’s period) future. And, mysteriously, Roger Bacon is Prospero’s best friend and a fellow conjurer. Confronted by several seemingly related mysteries and some threatening and creepy magical confrontations, Prospero and Roger set out to discover who (or what) may be behind these dark happenings. Along the way, Prospero has adventures that are sometimes humorous, sometimes darkly disturbing, and sometimes hold elements of both.

I was surprised to see that this book was originally published in ’69…it seems, stylistically, to come from an earlier era in fiction, although it’s difficult to place what about it seems so old fashioned. I was unsurprised to learn that Bellair’s later work was primarily targeted towards the YA market, as there is much about the sometimes whimsical character of Prospero and his magic that seems well suited to a juvenile audience but clashed in my perception with the darkness of his setting and the events described. In summary, I enjoyed The Face in the Frost and respect it for its craft, but can’t give it a general recommendation to readers who favor more modern, mature styles.

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