The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon reviewed

Labyrinth of the Spirits Book Cover Labyrinth of the Spirits
Cemetery of Forgotten Books
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
September 18, 2018

The long-awaited new novel from the author of the global bestseller and modern classic, The Shadow of the Wind. 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. 'For the first time in 20 years or so as a book reviewer, I am tempted to dust off the old superlatives and event to employ some particularly vulgar clichés from the repertoire of publishers' blurbs. My colleagues may be shocked, but I don't care, I can't help myself, here goes. The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller's art. I couldn't put it down. Enchanting, hilarious and heartbreaking, this book will change your life. Carlos Ruiz Zafón has done that exceedingly rare thing - he has produced, in his first novel, a popular masterpiece, an instant classic' Daily Telegraph

I received my review copy of The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon with joy and trepidation. Joy because the first book in this cycle, The Shadow of the Wind, remains one of my favourite books. Trepidation because this fourth book has been on the cards for a long time and the second and third books did not work as well as the first for me. Once again we are mainly in Barcelona and it features some of the characters from the earlier books as well as books mentioned in the other books! In the main it is set in the same era as the other books too, the era of the Civil War and Franco’s rule.

The start was evocative and very much in keeping with the earlier books. The Civil war rages and it’s Fermin’s story (& an unwelcome but unsurprising return for Fumero). Fermin has always been a favourite character of mine and to have some background sketched in was good. It also managed to introduce a new favourite character Alicia (I am fairly sure she did not appear in the earlier books though it is a while since I read them).

The language is so good, richly descriptive and poetic. It conjures up rich images, dark and gothic at times. The interweaving of the previous books is very clever. I often understood that I’d seen this part of the story before but from a different angle. To do that over 4 books does suggest the writing is of a very high order. There are time shifts but they are well enough signposted.

I enjoyed meeting old friends again and discovering some new ones. As I said Alicia particularly is a great character and her co-worker Vargas was very good too. Even the more minor characters are often very rich. Zafon manages to bring some light into very dark places via some nice humour from Fermin and others. The book overall is both wide ranging and quite long. Some may find this an issue however it is not a book to be rushed. That said I was left with a slight feeling that the book could have ended earlier and just as satisfactorily.

I’m fairly sure that I recall the author saying in the first book in this cycle that they could be read in any order. For me that applied to the first three and I have reread them in differing orders. However I do think this last book should probably be treated as just that – the last book. Things are revealed in The Labyrinth of the Spirits that I’m fairly sure would change the impact of any of the other ones if read before them.

The Shadow of the Wind is without doubt my favourite of the cycle however this would definitely be the second. I think fans of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle should find it satisfying. Maybe not quite a 5 but 4.5 happily.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review