That faraway summer when he discovered magic

Prince of MistThe Prince of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
translated by Lucia Graves

This was my Spain choice for my EU Reading Challenge, which I am clearly not going to finish before the UK leaves the EU, but maybe I’ll manage it before the end of the year. I guess it’s appropriate for this month that I didn’t really enjoy this book.

This is a YA mystery by the author of The Shadow of the Wind, which I loved. It’s not the first of his YA books that I’ve read, but this was definitely inferior to The Watcher in the Shadows. This may be related to the author’s note that opens the book, which says that this was Zafón’s first published novel.

It starts strong. It’s 1943 and the Carver family decide it will be safer to leave the city for a sleepy seaside town that is less likely to be bombed. The three children Alicia, Max and Irina are unimpressed by the move and hope it’s just for the summer. Their new house is described in classic Zafón style as a creepy wooden house with a sad history. Then the weird stuff starts, beginning with a stray cat.

Max is 13 and the narrative is told from his perspective, though it’s third person. On the first morning he discovers a walled garden behind the house full of strange statues. It’s telegraphed pretty clearly that these statues are definitely significant and possibly magical.

“Max would never forget that faraway summer when, almost by chance, he discovered magic. It was 1943 and the winds of war were dragging the world relentlessly towards the abyss.”

Later that day he befriends local boy Roland, who proves an excellent guide but, at 16, is a little more interested in Max’s older sister than in Max. The first crush storyline between Roland and Alicia is really sweet and added a touch of softness to what becomes quite a dark, heavy story.

The problem is that the main plotline concerns an evil sorcerer seeking revenge, and I just was not convinced by it or its integration into a real-world setting. It’s too big and bad for this book’s big bad. Magic means anything can happen, and consequences are not necessarily final. Plus the war-time setting promised more than was delivered.

Perhaps I am being unnecessarily harsh because I am clearly not the target audience for this book. Maybe teens/tweens would love it. I did not.

El principe de la niebla published 1993.
This translation published 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.