Home > Book Reviews > The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

The Face in the Frost is purported to be one of the fantasy classics.  My wife was reading Bellairs’s young adult Barnavelt series which begins with The House With A Clock in Its Walls.  In that volume, there is a blurb from Lin Carter where he states that The Face in the Frost is one of the three best fantasy novels since The Lord of the Rings.  This intrigued me since I had never heard the title before.

The plot revolves around a mystery:  what is causing all of the mysterious and disturbing events around Prospero, a quirky wizard living in the South Kingdom.  His fellow wizard, Roger Bacon, joins him on a quest to discover the source of these dark deeds.

Strangely, this fantasy isn’t the typical sword and sorcery of its time.  The fantasy world falls somewhere between a purely invented one and our own.  A magic mirror projects views of the future (or perhaps another world) with cars, major league sports teams, and real-world places.  It reminded me a bit of the musings of T.H. White’s Merlin in The Once and Future King who lived backwards in time.

There are a few droll one-liners and turns of phrase, but I found the book difficult to read because of the longer-than-I’m-used-to paragraphs and descriptions.  There were also a number of visions and dreams interspersed into the plot.

The book was also a bit more supernatural horror, or perhaps psychological suspense, than fantasy.  In this respect it reminded me of the tone in Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice Series (The Revenge of the Witch is the first book).

One issue I had with the text itself was due to its conversion to an e-book.  In the Kindle edition, the em dash used to separate parenthetical phrases is displayed in the text as a hyphen.  Unfortunately, Bellairs uses this construction extensively through the novel, so this was a major distraction.  As an example, the phrase

the British man-of-war Actaeon, which ran — will run — aground on a sand bar during the siege of Charleston in 1776

was encoded like

the British man-of-war Actaeon, which ran-will run-aground on a sand bar during the siege of Charleston in 1776

Because Bellairs uses a lot of very specific language to create his scenes, eerie and otherwise, the inline dictionary was invaluable.

I am very interested to find out what Lin Carter’s other two best fantasy novels were…..

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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