Originally written in Spanish, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is a historical fiction series set in Barcelona in mid 20th century. With strange books, secret libraries, mysterious individuals who may or may not be real, lovable characters and a beautifully sinister atmosphere, this series is a must read for all book lovers. If you're already familiar with this series, who can jump directly to my review, lower on this page. If you want to know more about the series though, here's an overview of each book:
Book 1: The Shadow of the Wind
At the beginning of the book, Daniel, our main character, is mourning the loss of his mother. To help him in his grief, his father, an antiquarian book dealer, takes him to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret haven for books whose location Daniel is sworn never to reveal. He is allowed to take one book, though and that's how he stumbles across a mysterious book called The Shadow of the Wind, by fictitious writer Julián Carax. As Daniel develops an interest in both the book and its equally mysterious author, he discoverers that someone has been destroying every copy of every book written by Carax. Intrigued, Daniel embarks somewhat accidentally in a decades old mystery centered about the mysterious Julian Carax.
Book 2: The Angel's Game
Set years before the first book, this is more a companion novel than an actual prequel. David Martin, an aspiring writer, receives a mysterious letter from a French editor, telling him to produce a specific piece of writing in exchange of which he will get literary stardom. David accepts, a little surprised, only to find himself at the heart of a strange pact that soon begins to take a nightmarish spin. As David's work progresses, his world begins to unravel and soon, he comes to question his very reality.
Book 3: The Prisoner of Heaven
This book is a direct sequel to book one and has for main character Fermin Romero de Torres, a man Daniel befriended in The Shadow of the Wind. Years have passed and Daniel is now an adult with his own family. After a stranger leaves a mysterious note for Fermin at the Sempere and Son bookshop, an intrigued and worried Daniel confronts Fermin who then tells him the story of his years as a prisoner in Montjuic Castle.
I gave the first two books 5 stars each on Goodreads. The Shadow of the Wind is a book with well-developed, sympathetic characters and a well-plotted story line. The beautiful prose in this book and the highly descriptive language will bring the Barcelona of old to life in this incredible page-turner. The mystery is also well rounded and executed masterfully. With a rather satisfying conclusion, this book could be read as a standalone, although I highly recommend you read the next book.
The Angel's Game is definitely a much darker book, with a more sinister atmosphere than in the first book. This is one of those books where you don't want to know too much before you read them. The intrigue is this book is very well done and while David is a less innocent and sympathetic character than Daniel, you will want to stick with him till the very last page. Without spoiling too much, as David begins to work on his commissioned piece of writing, he begins to see strange things happening around him. After a while, both David and the reader begin to doubt what's real and what's not and it's only in the final pages that some answers will be finally revealed. As for book one, the prose is gorgeous and the descriptions effectively makes Zafon's vision of 20th century Barcelona come to life.
After the first two powerful and gorgeous installments of this series, book three unfortunately comes as somewhat a disappointment. I gave The Prisoner of Heaven 3 stars on Goodreads. Fermin is still an enjoyable character but the plot in this book is weaker and the story feels a bit rushed. The language loses some of its poetic flow in favor of a shorter, less descriptive narrative which may leave some readers rather unsatisfied. While the story is not bad, it does feel like it could have been part of a larger novel. Instead, this drastically shorter installment reads almost as a novella. The ending, too, is rather frustrating as this book ends with a cliffhanger that may or may not be resolved soon. Indeed, there is no indication as to whether this book will get a sequel, and if so, when it will be released. If you've read and loved the first two books though, I would advise you to try reading this one as well. If not for the story, then at least for Fermin, who does shine through as a great main character.
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