gothic,  mystery,  thriller

Review: ‘The Angel’s Game’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What the blurb said:

“In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man – David Martin – makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books, and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner. Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Then David receives the offer of a lifetime: he is to write a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realises that there is a connection between this haunting book and the shadows that surround his home…”

What I would say:

“Every book, every volume you see, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it”

The way I see it, this quote sums up a lot of the key ideas in this book, while also being a gorgeous stand-alone quote.

This story has an incredible atmosphere right from the opening chapter which is sustained for the entire novel. David Martin is an excellent lead as a disillusioned and embittered writer. The pityingly told background to this character really sets him up as a tragic figure; rejected by his mother and a witness to his father’s murder, David relies on his only paternal figure, his best friend and mentor Pedro Vidal, for guidance and a career.

At times, I can be a complete softy and I found myself really drawn to the not-quite-heroine Cristina. Not only is this a really engrossing mystery but it’s also a heart-rending love story. Oddly enough, the two elements interact really well. The plot develops gradually and I dawdled along revelling in the fantastic writing and getting to know the characters. For an atmospheric thriller, there is a disarming element of comedy. The relationship between David and Isabella provides some light relief amidst the turmoil he experiences and I absolutely loved it!

All of this applied right up until the climax, where I raced through the pages until I reached the epilogue (which I couldn’t explain if I wanted to…). I’ve read critics who said that this was a flaw but I found to be a welcome change of pace.

My only gripe with this book was that for some considerable periods, Zafon abandons the narrative for a meditation on the nature of religion by the mysterious publisher. I understand that it adds a sense of gravitas to that particular character and a purpose but I just think it could have been done without too much academic discussion. In my view, it detracts from the development of the main characters (publisher aside) and jeapordies the tone and atmosphere which is otherwise infallible.

Overall: I loved the vast majority of this book and will definitely continue to read Zafon’s literary offerings. Although it is the second book to refer to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, I didn’t find it was linked to The Shadow of the Winds so much that they needed to be read in order. This could be an equally brilliant start to this author’s work and I thoroughly recommend it!