The Face in the Frost, by John Bellairs


The Book

A very odd offering. For myself, I’d actually give it two stars out of 5. But given that I can see its influence in D&D, Discworld, Harry Potter and many other things, I’ll give it an extra star for historical significance. Ultimately I know it’s an important bit of fantasy history and it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just very much not my cup of tea.

I both liked and disliked it. It’s very inventive, and some of the imagery is lovely. Some of the scenes designed to build a sense of creeping dread are very nicely done. It tries very hard to be quirky and charming overall, and it very often succeeds at that. The characters were likeable. The register and sense of humor were things I found appealing. I certainly got a few nice chuckles out of it. 10 out of 10 for creativity in the details – I can see how the description of Prospero’s house served J.K. Rowling when she wrote about The Burrow.

That said, there is little in the way of structure, there is for some reason a detailed description of some politics that don’t really matter at any point during the course of the tale and for me, the lack of explanation of the magic system and simplistic plot steals away any real sense of tension. At times it was a quick read and at others it was the longest goddamn novella I have ever read.

I’d sum it up like this (spoilers ahead):

Two wizards, Prospero and Roger, set out on an adventure with the goal of stopping a bad wizard. A weird magical thing happens to them. They fix it with some magic, because they can do that. Another thing happens to them. This, too, they fix with magic. The magic has no specific rules to it that are ever really explained to us, so whatever happens you can be pretty sure that they have just the spell to fix it. Because they have spells, you see. Why did the thing happen? Why were they able to fix it?

1. Magic.
2. Bad Wizard.
3. Who the fuck knows?
4. Why the fuck not?

Pick one or all of the above, because it’s the only answer you’re getting.

One of the wizards is given a key by a random bloke they meet, because for generations his family has known they’re supposed to give it to a guy with a name that starts with P, and Prospero will do, I guess. Why not. They meet a character, and by “character”, I mean “deus ex machina”. The key is useful in defeating the bad wizard, because of course it is. Everything’s fine, hooray.

/r/Fantasy Bingo 2017 Squares

  • An Older (50+) Protagonist
  • Appreciation Post Author


For a novel focused on a sense of creeping dread and encroaching figures in the dark, a warm spicy glühwein is a welcome antidote.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: