In post-World War II Barcelona, young Daniel is taken by his bookseller father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a massive sanctuary where books are guarded from oblivion. Told to choose one book to protect, he selects The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax. He reads it, loves it, and soon learns it is both very valuable and very much in danger because someone is determinedly burning every copy of every book written by the obscure Carax. To call this book–Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind– old-fashioned is to mean it in the best way. It’s big, chock-full of unusual characters, and strong in its sense of place. Daniel’s initiation into the mysteries of adulthood is given the same weight as the mystery of the book-burner.
The best summary of my reactions I can come up with: if a Korean suspense drama was sprinkled with Gothic elements and turned into a Spanish novel, The Shadow of the Wind would be it. There’s a scandalously complex plot with characters that intersect with one another and a few plot twists thrown in for good measure. I went into this novel with high expectations, everyone seemed to proclaim it’s greatness. I wanted to start the series so that I could read its lauded third installment that just released without being lost: The Prisoner of Heaven. However, despite being entranced in the delightfully complex mystery and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, I can’t bring myself to wholeheartedly recommend it. Partly because its pacing is too slow for my liking in the first third, some characters falling flat, and the denouement disappointing.
I’d Never Guess it was a Translation:
I am usually hesitant to read translations, fearing that a beautiful literary masterpiece will be skinned bare of its artistic elements into a stoic, mundane read. I’m glad The Shadow of the Wind didn’t join that party. I’m not sure how much was lost in translation–unfortunately, my Spanish comprehension ends at ¿Cómo estás? and I still haven’t figured out how to roll my r’s–but I could’ve been easily fooled that this was the original. Props to Lucia Graves!
Story, Bring Me Back To The Cemetery Already!:
From the start of the novel, we are introduced to the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It’s any book lovers paradise, a maze comprised of old books, giving us hope that unknown masterpieces can transcend the test of time and culture. The Cemetery and the mysterious Carax novel were the most beautiful, enchanting elements of the novel, yet almost as soon as it was introduced, I had to leave it to deal with 13-year old Daniel and his infatuation with a blind girl a decade older than he. I found myself wishing Julian Carax’s books really existed so I could read his masterpieces for myself. I suppose even if his novels did exist, they wouldn’t be found on Amazon.
I loved each character, even the minor characters aided the story in unexpected ways. I found each character special and I proudly say that there were no instances of me struggling to remember who was who.
Daniel, The Protagonist:
I really wanted to like Daniel, but it just didn’t happen. He is good-hearted, but I found him too impulsive. I winced when I read through his first love with a blind girl ten years his senior. I knew it was a nightmare waiting to happen. For a protagonist, Daniel faded in the background. I found everyone else much more compelling than Daniel. Even if the novel was in his perspective, I still don’t know anything about him other than he makes horrible romantic choices.
The idea of being best friends with someone decades older strikes me as odd, but whatever, Fermin is just that perfect friend. My favorite character.
Fulmero, The Villain:
I expected more back story from him. It seems like he was just evil because he had severe mental problems or something. Oh yes, and his unrequited love problem which made him bitter at everyone else. A guy that killed his own mother (even if she was a selfish, shallow woman)? Now that’s spine-chillingly scary.
“That was random.” pretty much sums up my reaction towards Daniel’s romance. I still don’t know what Daniel sees in girls beyond a pretty face. Everyone else had a better love story than the protagonist.
The haunted house gave me the chills. I wanted to yank Daniel out of that house. Pretty horrible place for a date if you ask me. There were also these eerie, divine dreams that some of the characters had. Oh yes, and of course, the Devil also plays a role.
Denouement, Is This Lady a Stalker?:
I am disappointed that the mystery boiled down to a hundred page info-dump letter to wrap up all the loose ends instead of having Daniel solve something. I don’t know how this lady knew all this stuff in such great detail to recall all the dialogue with such precision despite not even being present in most of the events. I wonder if her version of the events are trustworthy for much of was secondhand information (or should be, maybe she is a skilled stalker.) I thought she wrote the letter in a hurry in anticipation of her impending death, but if she could write a letter that spanned a third of the novel I doubt she was in a big hurry. If she had such amazing foresight, I hope she kept cyanide by her side to make her death as painless as possible.
I enjoyed the complex plot and finding out how all the loose ends joined together, it’s the delivery that disappointed. We ran around for two thirds of the novel gathering clues only to find out we could have just lounged on a sofa and waited for this letter to solve everything.
I wasn’t surprised (I probably typed this review just so I can boast my psychic abilities.) Maybe I watch too many Korean dramas to prepare me for these “scandalous” plot twists.
I wonder what the next installment will be about. I am hesitant to read it since I thought the ending tied up the story so well that I wouldn’t want a lackluster sequel to ruin it. It’s one of those books that I liked, but still feel the story would suffice as a standalone.
Spoilery Thoughts I Need To Get Off My System (Highlight Below to Read…or not):
Once it was confirmed that Carax was still alive, I let out a breath that I didn’t know I was holding. Although I suspected it, I was pleasantly relieved.
Why in the world did Daniel stay in that doorway to watch people have sex? ugh. Was he really that naive?
I wasn’t even sure if Daniel got Bea pregnant since I thought they were interrupted?