Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Midnight Palace

Zafón, Carlos Ruiz. The Midnight Palace. Trans. Lucia Graves. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

On a dark night in 1916, a man ran through the streets of Calcutta in fear for his life. And in fear for the lives of the infant twins he carried. Sixteen years later, Ben meets Sheere, an intense girl exactly his age, and starts seeing ghost trains in the night. Together with a group of Ben's friends, they seek out the source of Ben's visions and their own history, which leads them back to a dark night in 1916...

If you are a fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's adult novels (which I am, go read Shadow of the Wind right now!), this may not be the book for you. It lacks some of the magic of his adult work. However, if you are the kind of reader who likes to see the evolution of a writer's work as he hones his skill (guilty again), this is most definitely the book for you. Written before his adult works but translated into English later, The Midnight Palace shows the beginning of CRZ's talent for layering stories, juggling a large cast of characters (though none are very well rounded in this one), and placing the unbelievable in the middle of a believable  place and time. Unfortunately, his ability to turn a place into a character in its own right is not on display here, which is a shame because Calcutta would have been a good one. Here, it is incidental rather than integral to the story. If you're not already a fan or CRZ, really, go read Shadow of the Wind. Also, the rest of this review is for you.

The Midnight Palace is not the kind of book I usually read. It's an action/horror/paranormal-type hybrid that leans toward the scary/creepy end of things, and it is not at all character-driven. No one really grows or changes because of what happens. It has both a prologue (not my fave) and a where-are-they-now epilogue (one of my pet peeves). And yet, I really enjoyed reading it. While I was reading, I was scared and jumpy right along with the rest of Ben's gang. I was concerned for everyone's safety because they were so concerned for each other. I was nodding along with Sheere when she longed to be part of a group like theirs. It looked like fun (until it looked like a house of horrors), and I wish CRZ had let me, the reader, a bit more into the group. I never felt like I got to know any of the characters, Ben and Sheere included. Frankly, almost as soon as I finished reading, they were gone from my mind. What they went through and what they did, though, that stayed with me.

Looking back, there were holes and a few things that could have used an explanation, but I didn't notice at the time. I was too caught up in the bowels of a burnt-out train station with the rest of the gang. There was plenty going on to keep my attention. In addition to the ghost train there is a pool of blood that never dries, a grandma who operates strictly on a need-to-know basis and fails to realize that Ben and Sheere Need to Know it all, court records in vast archives, an architect's dream house, and a guy whose hand burst into flame on a disturbingly regular basis. The action is quick, the consequences are severe, and the reasons behind it all are shrouded in mystery.

In short this is a quick, fun read. It's certainly not light and fluffy summer reading, but it's the dark and stormy night equivalent.

The Midnight Palace is out and available for purchase now!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.
Series note: Goodreads has this book listed as the second in a series with Prince of the Mist as the first. However, nothing in the book indicated that this is not a stand-alone novel.

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Charlotte said...

I'm looking forward to this one! Just as soon as I get my tbr pile out of the way...

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

Great to have chanced upon your blog thru the PoC Reading challenge. I love Carlos Ruiz Zafon - I believe I have also written a review of his shadow of the wind - I have not seen this book yet, but it seems perfect for our Mystery/Whodunit/Suspense theme for this month. =) Will definitely check it out.