*I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley, with thanks to the author and publishers. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.
Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an electrifying tale of passion, intrigue and adventure. Within its haunting pages Carlos Ruiz Zafón masterfully weaves together plots and subplots in an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives.
In The Labyrinth of the Spirits Carlos Ruiz Zafón brings the reader full circle, completing the story which began with The Shadow of the Wind. I highly recommend first reading that initial novel, along with The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven as Ruiz Zafón has here constructed an intricately woven narrative which draws together the lives of the many characters whose stories were told both within the words and between the lines of those previous books.
As with the other books in this series, we travel a Barcelona that is full of Gothic-noir mystery. The streets swirl with smoke, shadows and words unsaid, and buildings loom as ominously as the threat of the political police.
The story returns to the fate of bookseller and amateur investigator of literary mysteries, Daniel Sempere and his family, but the real shining stars in this novel are Alicia, Fermin and Vargas. Each brings something unique to the narrative to liven, lighten or illuminate the darker depths. Personally, I have always found poor Daniel a bit too brooding and serious. In contrast, despite troubled histories and pained presents, Alicia, Fermin and Vargas face each trial with straightened spines and witty, sardonic banter. My kind of people!
The narrative is a non-linear affair, with the story told in flashbacks and Inception-style stories-within-stories. In fact the whole series is a love song to books, literature and reading. The author describes the act of reading as only a true bibliophile can, encompassing every sense: literature is perfume, it is chocolate, it is a musical symphony. The love of books and stories pours from the pages and the book-loving reader is warmed and uplifted in turn.
The first half of the novel is a deliberate meander through misty, rainy, shadowed Spanish streets, building up a slow-burning tension as the edges and corners of the huge, complex puzzle gradually begin to unfurl. In contrast the second half of the book gathers pace imperceptibly as the torture and violence increases, until by the climax we are pounding the stormy streets at breathless speed, running on caffeine and alcohol fumes and no sleep at all, as the literary mystery explodes into a frenetic thriller and plot twists leap out from the shadows as we speed past. Finally the ending slows again and allows the reader time for breath and thought, as the final pieces of the story are confidently slotted into place and the full picture revealed at last.
Anyone who has read any of Ruiz Zafón’s novels will already know that this writing is exquisite and precise, whether he is painting an almost-supernaturally spooky setting like a cemetery or abandoned mansion, or perfectly skewering the everyday error of overordering food when in an expansive mood. This skill draws the reader fully into the world created, and I should warn that this makes the scenes of sadistic torture particularly vivid and disturbing. In order to see the light, and the subtle shades of grey, we need the dark for contrast, but I appreciate that this may not be an easy read for the squeamish!
As I am sure you can tell from my purplish prose (oh for a Carax of my own to correct me!) I absolutely loved this novel, and would personally say that it is the best of the whole series. I cannot recommend this highly enough, but will again add that you must read the whole series in order to make full sense of the individual stories!
Stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them.
A story is an endless labyrinth of words, images, and spirits, conjured up to show us the invisible truth about ourselves. A story is, after all, a conversation between the narrator and the reader, and just as narrators can only relate as far as their ability will permit, so too readers can only read as far as what is already written in their souls.
– Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Labyrinth of the Spirits
The Labyrinth of the Spirits releases on Amazon on 18th September.