(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Witch of Prague falls into two uneven parts. The first twelve chapters consume a month; the last fifteen chapters cover one long day and night. Episodes occur in several places: Unorna’s palatial home, with marble floors, weird lighting effects, and a conservatory full of exotic plants, behind which characters can hide; Keyork’s gruesome laboratory, replete with mummies, body parts, and stuffed animals, and holding the Old Man suspended on a couch; Teyn Kirche and its chapel; and the Jewish cemetery, with its tilted monuments and skeletal trees. The basic picture is of an eerie, sunless city partially paralyzed in the unremitting grip of winter.

F. Marion Crawford moves his characters like puppets from one scene to another to create an incredible but fascinating plot. Adopting an omniscient point of view, he occasionally informs the reader that a given character is unaware of something being thought or occurring nearby. One weakness is the ease with which Crawford can produce a person when needed to advance the frequently sluggish action. Another is his pausing every once in a while to lecture, either directly or through extensive dialogue, on a variety of topics, including psychological domination, love, death, the human soul, ghosts, and the historical Simon Abeles. Many passages of conversation are almost interminable; one of Unorna’s harangues contains no less than 587 words.

Crawford’s diction is pleasantly archaic at...

(The entire section is 454 words.)