Note: Since the time I wrote this post, the fourth book was published. I read the final installment and posted an updated version of the review. Please check the updated version here. Thank you!
Just one more chapter and then I should go to sleep… one hour later: Ah, I want to read the next chapter as well … two hours later: This will be the last chapter for this evening, I promise!
In a nutshell | That was my experience while reading each of the three unputdownable books that are part of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Needless to say, it is my favourite series and it charmed my heart with a great mix of intrigue, mystery, gothic fiction, and unexpected plot twists.
The quartet | The books already published are “The Shadow of the Wind”, “The Angel’s Game”, and “The Prisoner of Heaven”. The fourth and final book, “The Labyrinth of Spirits”, will be published in 2018. Each book can be read as stand-alone story, but I consider that reading all of them is actually what makes the series so special. They are quite long (between 300 and 600 pages each), so you really have “time” to dive deep into each story.
I will briefly introduce you to the three stories, and then I will pinpoint the specific aspects I like about the series.
§ The Shadow of the Wind
The first book of the series depicts the story of Daniel Sempere, whose father owns the Sempere&Sons bookstore in Barcelona. Daniel’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge secret library where Daniel has to choose a book and protect it for life. The book Daniel chose was “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julián Carax. When Daniel tries to discover other books written by Carax, together with his friend Fermin, he becomes engaged in a race to discover the entire history of Carax … and it’s an intense race, as someone is seeking out for the same books for decades and burns them all.
§ The Angel’s Game
The second book presents the story of a young writer, David Martin, who used to be a loyal customer at Sempere&Sons. While living an emotional turmoil, one day he receives a letter from a French editor, asking him to write a book “with the power of changing hearts and minds”. As David starts to write the book, he discovers there’s a connection between the book he’s working on and the house he’s living in.
§ The Prisoner of Heaven
The third book of the series continues the story of Daniel Sempere, who is now married and lives with his wife and their one year old son at the Sempere&Sons bookstore. One day an enigmatic man comes at the bookstore and leaves a sinister message for Fermin, Daniel’s friend: “For Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future”. As you can imagine, at that point another adventure begins …
Key topics | Apart from the high intensity of the story, there are two aspects that made me fall in love with these books: the interwoven structure of the series and its literary aspects.
Interwoven structure | As you read the books, you discover that all narratives take place in the same universe, even though the stories are very different one from another. Not only the geographical location is the same (Barcelona), but some characters are present throughout the three stories. Reading the series is just like putting together a jigsaw puzzle: the more you read, the more you fill in the blank spaces and get a whole new perspective on characters’ lives.
Books about books | You’ve probably noticed from the brief introductions above that each story has a strong literary aspect – for example the passion and obsession for books, or an author working on his masterpiece. From my point of view, the glue that sticks all storylines is the Sempere&Sons bookstore, a place frequented by almost all characters. Zafón beautifully integrates the literary universe with the other components of his stories:
“I don’t think I really write about books, but rather about people, stories, language, ideas… The four books in the cemetery of forgotten books quartet are indeed very related to the world of readers, writers, booksellers, publishers and everybody in the orbit of literature, but they try to tackle on the classic themes of literature. They aspire to be about life. Books and literature, or storytelling, are just a part of that.” (Zafón, 2012)
Descriptions of Barcelona | What I did not enjoy as much were the frequent descriptions of Barcelona. Even though they add a dark flavour to the story and create the perfect gothic environment, for me it was a bit too much. Maybe because I’m more of an adrenaline freak when it comes to reading books … so I crave for action and plot twists instead of poetic descriptions.
Wrap-up | If you’re in the mood for a roller coaster ride, I fully encourage you to hop on the page-turning journey that will make you spend days and nights in the beautiful and dark Barcelona. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
What other unputdownable books have you read? I am looking forward to hearing your experiences!
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: I’ve discovered that Zafón also wrote a short story, Rose of Fire, that tells the story of the origins of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
PPS: Check out Zafón’s website if you want to find out more about him (for example interviews or lists of things that cheer him up)
Quote of Zafon from The Guardian (2012)