Seer of Shadows Book Poster Image

Seer of Shadows



Thrilling historical mystery blends ghosts and photography.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The main adult characters are deceitful: Middleditch purposefully deceives a customer for his own profit, and Mr. and Mrs. Von Macht neglect, abuse, and ultimately kill their adopted daughter, Eleanora. As a backdrop, readers are exposed to the lifestyles and attitudes of the time, including post-Civil War race relations, class relations, the employer/apprentice relationship, the fascination with "spiritualism," as well as terms such as "Radical Republican" and "abolitionist."


A character is abused by her adoptive parents and ultimately killed; a ghost seeks revenge with the intent to kill, sets fires, and bludgeons a major character. A main character is killed, and it's insinuated that another main character did the killing.

Not applicable

Language is formal with sophisticated vocabulary, but not offensive in any way.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Descriptions involving alcohol and smoking are brief and part of the historical backdrop: "saloons and rum houses overflowing," and men holding "a tankard in one hand and a shot glass in another." The smell of cigar smoke wafts out of a bar.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book is best for older tweens, rather than the publisher's suggested target ages of 8-12. The language is beautiful, yet formal and sophisticated, as it reflects the historical time period. Younger kids may have difficulty reading it on their own, and parents may find that they are often stopping to explain meanings. Also, this story is creepy: The ghost of Eleanora is frightful in appearance and in action. The story ends with a raging fire and two people dead. While there is resolution in the end, uncertainty remains.

What's the story?

In 1872 New York City, 14-year old Horace takes an apprenticeship with Enoch Middleditch, a society photographer. While Horace is excited to learn photography and take his own pictures, Middleditch is excited to make money through the clever deception of a wealthy client named Mrs. Von Macht, who is mourning the death of her daughter, Eleanora. Middeditch plans to superimpose a photo of Eleanora onto the portrait of Mrs. Von Macht, thereby startling her into an emotional buying spree for more photos. But the photos have called forth more than memory; they have actually called forth the ghost of Eleanora, who is set on deathly revenge. With the help of Pegg, the Von Macht's servant girl, Horace learns the truth about Eleanora's unnatural death, who she really was, and about his own supernatural part in unleashing the angry ghost.

Is it any good?


For good readers ages 12 and up, THE SEER OF SHADOWS is a richly detailed page-tuner, filled with elegant language and a well-crafted plot. This suspenseful ghost story is also a fine historical novel, filled with descriptions of clothing, food, period attitudes, New York society life, the tension between science and spiritualism, and the elements of early photography. Characters are genuine, and the time and place feel real. Readers will find themselves biting their nails, pondering moral dilemmas, learning, and rooting for Horace and Pegg. Boys and girls, as well as adults can enjoy this thriller.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the challenge of untrustworthy adults. Both Horace and Pegg lived in the shadows of deceitful adults -- how would you have handled being in their shoes? What would you do today if you knew an adult was lying? Families can also talk about the idea of ghosts and spirits. Do you believe in unsettled souls? They can also talk about discrimination at that time, and what challenges Pegg and Horace may have faced as a biracial couple. Lastly, families can talk about the art and science of photography and how it has changed through time.

Book details

Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:March 25, 2008
Number of pages:208
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

This review of Seer of Shadows was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

Top advice and articles

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 13 years old Written byDecoco May 7, 2011
pegg is awesome...nuff said.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Great messages
Kid, 12 years old May 23, 2010


I picked this book up a few days a go and I loved it. You can see where Eleanora was coming from and feel Horace's frustration and Pegg's pain. Pegg is shown as a strong and smart African-American role model and Horace is a great role model too. Both try to stop Eleanora from killing even though she's getting payback for her abuse and Horace doesn't feel right about helping his greedy, lazy, lying master. Great read for kids who love mysteries.
Teen, 13 years old Written byGlamorousUSA February 26, 2011

Good Mystery Book

Very detailed and suspenseful. It does get a LITTLE scary so i don't think it would be appropriate for kids and 11.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?