I hesitate in giving my first review of the year such overwhelming compliments, because it's setting the bar awfully high. I can't help it. Great story, unbeatable writing, and characters that stay with you long after you put the book down. All the things that go into a great novel, and Zafon perfected each one. I wouldn't expect anything less from the author of one of my favorite books of all time, The Shadow of the Wind.
When I finished The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I couldn't wait for The Angel's Game to be released; however, I was warned not to read them too close together. They are not a series, necessarily. I have learned that there is a much larger story, in which there are four separate tales. Instead of publishing all four stories into one monster of a book, Zafon broke them apart into four separate novels. The Angel's Game is one of those four novels, but they could be read in any order.
I fell in love with The Angel's Game when I read the first lines on the first page:
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.
We enter into the world of 1920s Barcelona and into the life of David Martin, a young writer born into a life of poverty. He has a mentor of sorts in Pedro Vidal, a celebrated writer who is past his prime. Martin learns the business of writing, and is given great opportunities by Vidal. To return the favor, he secretly re-writes the manuscript of Vidal's great novel, with help from the assistant, Christina, with whom he falls in love. Both Pedro Vidal's great novel and David Martin's first real novel are published at the same time to very differing opinions. In great despair, David Martin enters into a contract with a mysterious publisher, Andreas Corelli. The story takes strange and unpredictable turns keeping the reader guessing and turning the pages, all while being presented with Zafon's beautiful prose.
David Martin struggles with his three great loves - the love of a woman, the love of the written page, and the love of his own self - all the while attempting to unravel a mystery that may lead to his demise.
I absolutely, positively, loved this book almost as much as The Shadow of the Wind. Zafón revisits many of the same characters and places, like the Sempere and Son bookshop, and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. These two things seem to be the the constant, the center around which everything else revolves. A book about books, a bookshop, a place of forgotten books. Everything else is action and mystery. Just when the reader thinks there is too much unknown, we are taken back home, to one of these places, and it all begins to make sense again.
One of my favorite lines in the book was from David Martin when he entered the book shop:
"He held the shop door open and showed me in. I stepped into the bookshop and breathed in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling."
Ah, yes. The smell of books. This is a man who loves books. If you are a lover of the written word and are seduced by letters on a page, pick up The Angel's Game, due out in paperback on May 10, 2010.
Read an excerpt of The Angel's Game here.
See the Reader's Guide here.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón is actually known as a Young Adult author in Barcelona, where he has published several books. The Prince of the Mist will be published by Little, Brown in English in the US and released on May 4, 2010.
You may also want to read the NY Times book review of The Angel's Game
About the Book:
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (June 16, 2009)
FTC STATEMENT: This book was purchased by me to be a part of my personal library.