I came to this book not knowing what to expect, having never heard of the author or the title and feeling rather uninspired by the bland brown cover (my proof copy didn't have the intriguing picture on the image above). Now that I've finished it, I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it.
It seems to me to be a book of paradoxes. It is a brand new release, available in English for the first time in May 2010, but having already been a best-seller in Spain for two years after its publication in 1993. It was the first of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books to be published in Spanish and launched his writing career but readers of his English translations will have read many of his later books already. It is being pitched as "young adult fiction" but the author himself states in the preface that this is a term he dislikes, explaining :"To be honest, when I was a boy, I tended to avoid books that were labelled 'young adult'. My idea of a book for young readers was exactly the same as my idea of a book for any type of reader : one that is totally engrossing." The book will therefore be marketed with two covers - one for young adult readers, the other a collector's hardback for his adult fans.
This bipolar existence carries through into the narrative itself. I found myself thinking several times that it reminded me of the essence of the Famous Five and Secret Seven books that I enjoyed reading as a child but the monsters are much too terrifying for readers of that age ! The story is fast-paced and action-packed, full of such exciting things as haunted ships, ghostly statues and evil magicians. The story reads really well and doesn't seem at all clumsy or stilted as many translated novels sadly do.
On the downside, I felt that many intriguing elements were woven into the story then just dropped and I was disappointed that such potentially fascinating plot elements weren't more thoroughly developed. The story of the war raging in the background, the clock ticking backwards, the ghostly figures in the wardrobe, the satanic cat, the dropped sextant ... so many details that I kept expecting to be picked up again but that just paled into insignificance. Similarly, the characters all seemed quite flat and superficial so it was hard to really feel any real emotion for them. The mother, father and youngest daughter are all conveniently kept out of sight at the hospital for most of the action and their existence seems almost inconsequential.
If I'd been reading this novel as a children's story, I would have been a lot less criticial of these points but as an adult, it left me wanting slightly more. It was still good enough for me to want to read the next episode when it is released though - this is the first of four books to be published in English one per year for the next four years. Maybe some of the elements that I found underdeveloped will be further exploited in the sequels.
star rating : 3.5/5
RRP : £9.99
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: W&N (27 May 2010)
Others reviews you may be interested in :