So we’re back in the world of mid-twentieth century Barcelona with the third in a series of tales set around The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere & Sons bookshop. Zafon is in familiar territory here, but at some point the shtick has to run out I guess. This is a good book for sure, but nowhere near as captivating as the first two books in the series (The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game). The relatively slimmer size of the volume plus a not completely wrapped up ending suggest that there is another volume to come.
Daniel Sempere, the main protagonist of The Shadow of the wind, is now happily married to his love Bea and still lives around the beloved bookshop run by him and his father, with a little help from their trusted and occasionally eccentric friend, Fermin. In fact, it is Fermin’s marriage soon and the preparations are in full swing. However, out of the blue one day, a strange looking character comes into the bookshop and leaves a cryptic and creepy message for Fermin. When Fermin finally discloses to Daniel the story of his past in a notorious prison for dissenters in Franco’s Spain and the circumstances which led to his escape from there, Daniel is assailed by the realization that it’s not just Fermin but his own life also which is facing upheaval.
For the tale Fermin tells is one of despair, betrayal and hopeful redemption involving a set of prisoners in the jail, as well as a certain ‘Prisoner of Heaven’; this turns out to be David Martin, the character from The Angel’s Game which was a prequel to Shadow. David Martin in turn is deeply linked to Isabella, Daniel’s mother, who supposedly died of Cholera when was very young. Or did she? It is these and other questions that Daniel and Fermin have to deal with for the remainder of the book as well as ensure that Fermin’s betrothal goes on as planned.
Like I said earlier, it’s a good book. It was good to get some background on Fermin and how he stumbled into the Semperes’ lives, and it was interesting the way they linked David Martin to the story too (though it did leave me a bit confused based on what I read at the end of The Angels Game). However, it doesn’t touch greatness like the first two books in the series did. In those books, despite the overarching melancholy and at times predictable Gothic romance tropes, Zafon managed to pull in the readers with some brilliant setting up of atmosphere and heart. Over here though, the same zest and natural flow in the storytelling is missing a bit. Plus it appears they wanted to split it into two books which takes away a bit of shine. It would have been so much better to have this also as one longer tale like the others.
I still did like it enough though to give the next part a shot when it comes out. This is still a hugely entertaining and well written series which readers would do well to try.