Tuesday, July 10, 2012


THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: While the note from Julian Carax suggests that the three books in the series (THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and THE ANGEL'S GAME having preceded THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN), I have no idea what a newcomer to the series would make of THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN as a standalone novel. My recommendation is to read the first two novels first, as THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN refers back to the events portrayed therein. If you've read the first two books about the Cemetary of Forgotten Books, I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy the third (and the fourth, which I can barely wait for). When I say that THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN is more of the same, I mean it in a positive way: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and THE ANGEL'S GAME were sensuous feasts of words and atmosphere that I found immensely enjoyable, and THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN was equally diverting.

In this installment, Ruiz Zafon explores the history of Fermin, with Carax telling us in the prologue: "I have always known that one day I would return to these streets to tell the story of the man who lost his soul and his names among the shadows of a Barcelona trapped in a time of ashes and silence." If you find that sentence seductive, the novels of Ruiz Zafon will appeal to you; if you find it overwritten and melodramatic, you probably ought to skip this series entirely. I was immediately drawn back into post-WWII Barcelona, which Ruiz Zafon evokes so beautifully. The story begins in 1957, just before Christmas, with Sempere & Sons bookshop financially strapped. Fermin has an idea for drumming up business: "Perhaps if by chance I was seen arranging the shop window in my underpants, some lady in need of strong literary emotions would be drawn in and inspired to party with a bit of hard cash. According to expert opinion, the future of literature depends on women and as God is my witness the female is yet to be born who can resist the primal allure of this stupendous physique." Sempere decides to go the more traditional route of a nativity scene, and customers begin to trickle in. Among them is a mysterious stranger who buys the most expensive book in the store and leaves it as a gift for Fermin. This is the trigger for Fermin to tell Daniel Sempere his own story: beginning with his time in prison during WWII and revealing connections between Fermin and Daniel.

My only complaint about this novel is that it was too short. Having read it on the Kindle, I had to look it up to find out that it is apparently 416 pages long, but it breezed by in little more than a night of reading. Fermin's story is gripping and the dribbles of information relating to Daniel's mother, David Martin, and the mysterious stranger are well-paced. Fermin's usual cynicism and humor lighten up the narrative, and the ending is satisfying, although clearly setting the reader up for the fourth book.

I found THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN engrossing and delightful, and I recommend this book to fans of THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and THE ANGEL'S GAME.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book courtesy of the publisher.

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