The Angel's Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Doubleday, 2009, 470 pp
The follow up to The Shadow of the Wind will be released in bookstores on June 16. I got to read an Advance Readers Copy so I could give my opinion at BookBrowse, an on-line magazine about books which asks readers for their First Impressions about books which will be published soon. In fact, my first full review, of another new release, will appear on BookBrowse in July. More about that later.
Because I loved The Shadow of the Wind so much (and read it before it became so popular), I was anticipating Zafon's new book with excitement, the way I do with any author who has pleased me in an earlier book. Sometimes that anticipation is disappointed but not this time. The magic I found in The Shadow of the Wind was unique, but for a second novel (actually The Angel's Game is his sixth novel but only the second to be translated from Spanish into English) I found much more than enough to enjoy.
The story turns out to be a prequel to The Shadow of Wind. The setting is also Barcelona, just after WWI and on into the 1920s. David Martin, deserted by his mother at a very young age and an orphan by the time he is seven, grows up in the building of a large newspaper. He does odd jobs, lives in a basement room and is watched over by the aristocratic Don Vidal. Finally he gets an actual menial job at the paper and one day a chance to write a story to fill an emergency. He writes all night, the story is a huge success and David is launched as a writer.
Zafon owes a debt to Charles Dickens in style, mood and to a degree subject matter. David Martin is a David Copperfield type, Great Expectations is mentioned in the story, but Zafon's gothic horrors are even more horrible. The angel of the title is actually Satan and the plot concerns the struggle between David and Satan for the young man's soul. Of course, there is also a mysterious young woman whom David loves with a hopeless undying passion, but for some reason she will not allow it.
The setting of Barcelona, its ancient passageways and buildings, its weather, are just as present as in The Shadow of the Wind. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books as well as the Sempere and Son Bookshop figure in the story as well, so I felt like I knew just where I was while reading. David ends up living in a haunted old house which seemed to beckon to him and in which resides the key to the mystery of the story. Just delicious. Zafon has gone deeper into philosophy than in the previous book, pondering good and evil, the purposes of literature and the personal tragedies that underlie society's troubles.
I think that a good deal of Zafon's success rests in his ability to write a page turner that also addresses the issues of the world with intelligence, wonder and even humor. He is a reader's writer. Who can resist a book about books, writing, love and danger? If you can afford it, don't wait for the paperback. Just get your hands on this book and read it. It is that good.
The Angel's Game will be in stock at Once Upon A Time Bookstore as of June 16 and The Shadow of the Wind is on the shelf now.