By Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Hooray! I finally managed finish the pleasure book I’ve been reading on the sly all month, sneaking in a couple chapters here and there while the heavyweights* domineering my time for J-Term weren’t looking. I resent the fact that all those people who told me I wouldn’t have time for pleasure reading in college are kind of right. It’s not that I don’t have any time for pleasure reading – believe me, I make time – but it is true that I pretty much read as many books throughout the entirety of first semester as I did in one and a half weeks home for winter break. Le sigh.
The Angel’s Game is one of those prequel-but-not-really books. It features the father of Daniel Sempere, the protagonist of The Shadow of the Wind, and gives the backstory behind Shadow’s opening scene, when Daniel is taken to the Cemetery of Lost Books for the first time on the morning he wakes to find he can no longer remember his mother’s face. In The Angel’s Game, we’re introduced to Daniel’s mother – a feisty and idealistic author-in-training named Isabella, apprenticed to David Martín.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Angel’s Game tells the story of David Martín, who has spent the majority of his life sequestered in a foreboding old tower house in Barcelona, writing an ongoing series of mystery/crime novels entitled The City of the Damned, and eternally frustrated with himself for selling out for the sake of a paycheck. When a mysterious foreign publisher, Andreas Corelli, approaches him with a commission for 100,000 francs that would free him from his enslavement-by-contract to the publishers of his pulp fiction, David cannot refuse, despite his misgivings about the sinister nature of the commission itself – to write the doctrine of a new religion.
The further David delves into his new project and into the mysteries shrouding his elusive publisher, the stronger his apprehensions become as David’s gothic home begins relinquishing its secrets and exposing uncanny connections between David, his increasingly unnerving and otherworldly publisher, and the house’s former occupant, who died under mysterious circumstances a generation before. As David reaches the completion of his work and the unraveling of the mysteries surrounding it, he’s forced to wonder just what sort of game he’s gotten himself into, and whether it’s one he can escape with his life – or his soul – intact.
The prose is beautiful, as usual. Zafón is a master at creating lurid, surreal, and captivating worlds for his stories. But the plot itself crescendoed without the satisfying forte and decrescendo of The Shadow of the Wind. Instead of coming together smoothly like the teeth of a zipper, the plot threads were tied into a ‘this-has-gone-on-long-enough-let’s-wrap-it-up’ knot. And I'm all for leaving some things ambiguous at the end of a book - there's a kind of beauty in needing to think for yourself to make complete sense of things - but I felt too ambiguous at the end of The Angel's Game. Standing alone, it might have been a five star book. But The Shadow of the Wind set the bar so high that its own companion novel couldn’t measure up.