The heterogeneity of Prospero’s house is the heterogeneity of the book itself. The range of invention and imagery, the way horror and humour interlock, the odd (“dwarf hair in aspic”) cheek-by-jowl with the concrete and realistic detail (the “wide-mouthed greenstone fireplace”) — this is the style of the book in miniature.
Oh, yeah: the characterisation of the house is also the characterisation of the wizard who owns it. The way Bellairs describes the features of the place tells us a lot about the man who’s filled it with all those strange and wonderful things.
This isn’t to say Bellairs is perfect as a writer. His plotting skills don’t seem to rise to the potential of the story. The resolution feels quick and anti-climactic. But this in itself seems to sustain the dreamlike feel of the book; just as dreams can call up emotions far more powerful than the dream-images seem to justify, so The Face in the Frost can consistently unsettle you, spook you, in a way that the book itself seems to refuse to explain.
The Dolphin Cross, the unfinished sequel published here for the first time, is just the same. Stylistically, it’s a perfect continuation from The Face in the Frost. There are hints at a stronger plot, but it ends before we find out how Bellairs would have fully developed his tale.
What we do have is almost a story in its own right, though. It’s the first section of what the book would have been, an almost-complete unit (some manuscript pages were missing) that can essentially be read as a novella with a number of loose ends.
Review: Magic Mirrors
by Matthew Surridge at BlackGate.com