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No Prayer Can Remove Him

The Face in the Frost

By John Bellairs 

20 Feb, 2022

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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1969’s The Face in the Frost is the first novel in John Bellairs’ Prospero and Roger Bacon series. The edition I own was illustrated by Marilyn Fitschen.

The wizard Prospero — not the Prospero of whom you are thinking — makes his home in an insignificant island nation. His cozy home is filled with sorcerous paraphernalia, including the obligatory magic mirror. He is visited from time to time by his English friend Roger Bacon — almost certainly the one of whom you are thinking. Prospero enjoys a comfortable life free from petty worries. 

Enter the existential threat.

Prospero may seem to be a somewhat befuddled coot, but he is in fact a competent and powerful sorcerer who recognizes ominous foreboding when he sees it. When signs point to malevolent forces at work, he pays heed. When an unidentified enemy sends agents to surround Prospero’s home, he and Roger flee through a subterranean river. 

Roger offers some illumination: current affairs may be connected to an insidious tome whose history Roger was investigating. Reading the tome is dangerous — a previous owner only barely managed to escape its lure — and it was supposed to have been destroyed. Since the unknown enemy appears to be drawing on the book’s magic, clearly the text survives. 

The foe knows full well who Prospero is and appears to hate him. Furthermore, the foe is astonishingly powerful. They oversee a host of agents and possess the ability to will entire communities into being. If Prospero and Roger are to defend themselves, they must find out who the enemy is.

Research provides a name: Melichus, a rival mage known to Prospero. However, this is not as illuminating as it could be. Melichus has all the qualities to be the great unnamed foe, save one: Melichus is dead….


Back in the early 1980s the executives of UWaterloo’s gaming and science fiction club, Watsfic, would forage local used bookstores for books to add to the library, which is even now being dispersed by WUSA, the former Federation of Students. As I recall, there were only two possible purchases on which the four [1] person purchasing team agreed unanimously: we all agreed that we should not acquire Pel Torro’s Galaxy 666 and that we should acquire John Bellairs’ The Face in the Frost. This was not a quirk unique to an Ontario SF club: such luminaries as Le Guin praised Bellairs’ fantasy novel. 

Presumably the sort of powerful wizard whose first reaction on seeing a cursed book of immeasurable power and irresistible malevolence is to ponder what could possibly go wrong if they attempt to draw on the power of an artifact that doomed all who tried is not the sort of powerful wizard who then tries to master the book. Which is to say, whatever the qualities of the great enemy, prudence will not be among them.

One of the elements that makes Face stand out is the ease with which Bellairs glides between humour and horror. Initial scenes suggest that the reader is about to enjoy a light comedy. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not so. Often, abrupt mood changes cause reader discomfort. Bellairs in contrast can shift from bumbling duffer argues with his mirror” to mad wizard embarks on campaign of terror” without a stumble. It should be a mess but it isn’t.

The Face in the Frost is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: The 2:2 deadlocks that sometimes occurred could have been avoided had the team had an odd number of members.