The Shadow of the Wind was one of those books I came rather late to because of my reluctance to follow the hype surrounding some titles. I’m not even sure why I do this, why I try to avoid the books, films or tv shows everyone else is talking about. Some of it is sheer bloody-mindedness (or being a book/film/tv snob, if you like) but I think a bit of it is that I worry I won’t enjoy the thing everyone else says they loved. I have no problem telling people I’ve never watched or seen Game of Thrones but I don’t know how I’d look fans in the eye and say I didn’t think much to it! I don’t have a problem recommending books to folk who read genres I’m not a fan of (I can suggest thrillers even if I don’t read them) but, for real fans of a particular title, author or series it can seem like you are insulting their tastes if you say you don’t share their interest. Obviously, I wouldn’t look down on a reader because they love what they love but I know the little pangs I get when anyone disses one of my book heroes. Anyway, I did eventually read Zafon’s best-loved book and, phew, I loved it too. And now I have delved into his latest novel almost as soon as it was published – you could say I’ve learned my lesson.
In this book we return to Barcelona: firstly during the Spanish Civil War to witness a girl losing almost everything during a terrible bombing raid and to meet a familiar figure escaping the authorities and then on to 1957 when Daniel Sempere, the boy who featured in Shadow of the Wind, is now running the family bookstore with his father and Fermin, who also featured in the earlier tale. The young girl, Alicia Gris, has grown up to become a ruthless agent for the mysterious Leandro and is sent to discover what has happened to Mauricio Valls – the Culture Minister and former governor of the infamous Montjuic prison – who disappeared during a ball at his mansion. The prison looms large in the story as it is revealed that a number of authors, including David Martin and Victor Mataix – who feature in other volumes in the Cemetery of Lost Books series – were imprisoned there. Gradually it is revealed that Barcelona’s dark past has never gone away and is closely linked with the Semperes.
This was a breathtaking read at times as all the elements start to collide and the actions of the past begin to impact on the present. The plot become truly labyrinth-like as identities are revealed, past mysteries solved and stories are discovered within stories (with even more stories inside them…); the language is, in turn, amusing and mystical; the characters are bold, pain-filled and very, very human. If you enjoyed Shadow of the Wind you’ll like this – if you haven’t yet read it, that’s not a problem. This is a labyrinth with more than one entrance…