Sunday, May 29, 2016


It's 1949, the autumn after the events in THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS. Lewis Barnavelt has a new best friend, Rose Rita Pottinger. He also has a bully problem, in the form of tough Woody Mingo, who wants to make Lewis miserable.

Trying to cheer Lewis up after an encounter with Woody, Uncle Jonathan opens up Grandpa Barnavelt's trunk, containing things from his Civil War days, including a "lucky" coin that he won in a poker game, and was wounded over. Lewis hangs on to the coin, hoping in some vague way it will bring him luck. However, in the night he hears a piece of mail being delivered; puzzled, he goes down into the hall and finds a postcard with his name on it, and a single word: "Venio," which Lewis knows means "I come." The card quickly vanishes.

Later, Lewis and Rose Rita, poking around in Uncle Jonathan's library, finds Mrs. Zimmermann's doctoral dissertation, on magical amulets. She includes a prayer/spell that will sense a powerful amulet, and Lewis uses it to test the lucky coin...and it jumps in his hand. And things get stranger from there....

THE FIGURE IN THE SHADOWS (1975) is a decent sequel to HOUSE, and goes more into Lewis' personal problems than before. Rose Rita is an entertaining character and is well drawn; she will stick around for the rest of the series and take center stage a few times. It's a decent story, the sort of thing that would become fairly cliched in various media (bullied kid turns to magic to defend self, with horrific results), and Bellairs would recycle the concept later in another series.

It has some problems, though. There's a lot of back story around the amulet and the mysterious ghost that stalks Lewis that comes out at the end, and it's mostly conjecture on the part of the other characters. It would have been better if there had been clearer clues to what was going on and identity of the spirit. The situation with Woody Mingo is never resolved, which reflects real life, but he also never shows up again in the series. Mrs. Zimmermann loses her powers after a magical duel with the How did it become so powerful when she could battle Selenna Izzard and come out on top? Bellairs doesn't always seem to have a clear idea of how his universe's magic works. And I really disliked how someone JUST HAPPENS to have a magic item in their pocket that is just the right thing to use against the spirit. And although it's given to one of the characters, they never use it again and it's forgotten about. (That is a weakness with some of his other books, characters end up with powerful items by the end that seem to vanish between books and never show up again.)

Still, it's a fun read, with some chilly atmosphere, as it mostly takes place in winter. Good for when the summer heat gets to you.

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