This is the 168th in my series of Forgotten Books.
Once again I have to apologize for those few regular readers, After Thanksgiving I began a new work project and that consumed my time. Normally over the holiday I would have spent some time reading but we had guests and that didn’t happen. I hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon, but it will, so hopefully we can all bear through it.
This week’s title is a book I have had for many years and somehow never got around to reading, even though I knew it had a great reputation and that I would enjoy it. The Face in the Frost is by the great YA writer John Bellairs, but this is not a real YA book. This was meant for the adult fantasy market and it deserves the reputation it has maintained for the last 46 years.
It is a story of magic and magicians and friendship and how all these things work together. The two main characters are both magicians with familiar names, Prospero and Roger Bacon. Prospero lives in the South Kingdom while Roger lives in the North Kingdom. The two realms have no other names than that. They each have their quirks.
The two magicians are old friends and see each other rarely. So it is with joy that Prospero greeted his old friend who came telling of a book he had been searching for. The book is in an unknown tongue and has last been owned by a wizard named Melichus who had trained with Prospero and, during that training, the two had become not friends, more like adversaries.
Strange things are happening in the kingdoms and the two wizards find themselves on a quest to find the book before evil really happens. They shrink down and travel on a small ship. They get separated. Prospero finds an evil pseudo-village and nearly dies. The wizards are reunited and find themselves traveling in a smaller version of Cinderella’s coach, made form a squash.
All the above makes this sound formulaic and squeaky. It is not that at all. The writing is so wonderful it practically leaps off the page. I found myself not wanting to finish the book because I was enjoying it so much, but this column was not going to write itself if I didn’t finish. But, let me cite an example from the first chapter:
“Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn’t matter, there was a tall skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either. He lived in a huge, ridiculous, doodad-covered, trash-filled two-story horror of a house that stumbled, staggered, and dribbled right up to the edge of a great shadowy forest filled with elms and oaks and maples. It was a house whose gutter spouts were worked into the shape of whistling sphinxes and screaming bearded faces: a house whose white wooden porch was decorated with carved bears, monkeys, toads. And fat women in togas holding sheaves of grain; a house whose steep gray-slate roof was capped with a glass-enclosed twisty-copper-columned observatory…”
Your mileage may vary but I was hooked from those words on. There are not any cutesy elves or orcs or hobbits or warrior-kings. This is the good stuff, not the derivative stuff that passes for fantasy these days.
Take the time. Enjoy the ride. Treasure the words. Live. You won’t regret it.
I know this is a shorter column, but the time is late and I have a 5 a.m. wake-up staring me down.
Buy some great books for your friends and yourself for Christmas. Spread the words.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.
Now I’m going to have to dig out my copy.
I read all those John Bellairs books back in the day. Great fun! You’re right: this books would make great holiday gifts!
I had a copy of this, didn’t read it, or maybe I did and don’t remember having done so, moved several times, and seem to have lost it. If I wasn’t so swamped with other books here, I’d seek a copy.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Cool Yule to you Scott. I always look forward to your columns.
Not usually influenced by covers, but this one, and your engaging endorsement, just might do the trick.