Appendix N Challenge: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

Where to begin with this one?

Some books are easy to read, they just slide down like a can of Monster on a hot day. Other books seem to have a density that forces you to take your time, to savor them like a really, really good cup of coffee. The Face in the Frost, for me, was definitely the latter. Every page had a gem on it somewhere, a casual throwback, callback or switchback that took my mind somewhere else and I both enjoyed and admired that.

This book is dense, it has meat. It’s easy to get lost amongst the wordplay as something gets caught in your mind and sends you scurrying to see if your right. If you’ve read this you know what I mean! It means that despite being a slim 170-ish pages long it’s quite labor intensive to read. I found it more enjoyable to read it in bursts of two/three chapters and let the imagery swish around in the old skull cinema than attempt an in one go reading.

You know what’s coming, spoilers ahead.

The story is a simple quest. Something evil is loose in the world and the heroes, a pair of magicians have to do something about it. Bellairs uses the friendship, and threats to it, of the two mages to add just a little more tension and when needed, relief. There’s so much magic on display here, it’s almost as if Bellairs had read The Golden Bough and wanted to put everything in it. Hex’s charms, cantrips, and world-shaping spells all make an appearance at some point and it all feels right.

There is a darkness within the story that creeps up on you, elements of horror that occur to you as you’re laying in bed at night trying to think of other things. It’s not the in your face crassness of slasher movies, more like the unsettling imagery of a Shirley Jackson or HPL. It’s so casually done too, a master of prose putting it in because he can and, like his magic, it fits.

There’s a good deal of world-building within the story. It manages to feel like both England and America at the same time and brought to mind the fantasy elements within The Talisman by King and Straub. That he managed to do that within such limited space is remarkable. He uses elegance to paint the picture with broad strokes and then add just a few little dabs of colour to draw your eye to what he wants you to see. It’s a rare gift to be sure, and I’d recommend anyone with aspirations to write to read this and learn.

The ending is satisfying and you’re left with the feeling that all is okay with the world, and that’s pretty much all you can ask for in a book. There’s nothing that leaves a bad taste in your mouth at the end, evil is thwarted, by itself to a large extent as one of the characters acknowledges.

All in all, I enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who fancies a fantasy that is actually what it says on the tin. It’s not a perfect book by any stretch of the imagination but it is a very, very good book and you will feel better for having read it.

That’s all, for now, guys, on Friday I’ll be giving my thoughts on Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon.

Remember to take care out there


Edit: I’ve just spent an evening completely lost in The Sword of Rhiannon. Quite simply some of the best writing I’ve ever been priviged to read.



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