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The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is, in many ways a book nerd’s dream. All of his adult fiction thus far translated into English has centered(however obliquely) around the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books. After the first novel released in English, The Shadow of the Wind, fans were hungering for more of this secret place with its impossible architecture and its hundreds of thousands of forgotten books. The next book released, The Angel’s Game, promised to bring us closer to this mystery, yet left us woefully confused (at least I was) at the end and nowhere nearer to the central mystery than we were before. The latest installment, The Prisoner of Heaven, promised the same, but only somewhat delivered.

The Prisoner of Heaven is certainly a good read, better by far than Angel’s Game, but not quite as enchanting as The Shadow of the Wind. In The Prisoner, we return to Daniel Sempere and Fermín, who made their first appearance in the first of Zafón’s intriguing novels. David Martín also makes an appearance and the events of both previous novels are frequently referenced, though you don’t necessarily need to have read them to keep up with this book. Daniel Sempere has been married for two years now, and Fermín is on the verge of marriage. Fermín has some unresolved issues, however, and his past comes a-callin’ one winter evening. Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo plays a significant role in the novel and provides much of Fermín’s backstory, which is mainly what The Prisoner gives us. I don’t like to give things away, so I won’t. The background for Fernín’s story is WWII Barcelona and the red scare. Much of the backstory takes place in a famous castle prison full of nutters, one of whom we’ve already met. The main villain of the novel is Governor Mauricio Valls, a man tied to all of the main characters in The Prisoner, but who remains continually out of reach. The Valls enigma becomes central to Daniel, but that unravelling will have to wait for the next book.

This book is a quick read, and nowhere near as complex as either of the other two novels, though better written than one. After Angel’s Game, I was ready to give up on Zafón, but now I might have to stick around for a bit. There was some cheeky meta-stuff happening here (Daniel telling another character to write a secret history of Barcelona and Julian Carax, a significant character in the first novel; a manuscript titled The Angel’s Game appears, etc.), but I really just wish that the book jackets would stop promising to deliver on the Cemetery of Forgotten Books if the novel is only going to include maybe a scene or two of it, especially when those scenes are not central to the plot. Final verdict: this is an excellent book for a late summer beach read (though try not to get sand in the plastic library covers, like I did).

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