Like countless Carlos Ruiz Zafón's fans, I can't wait for the author to release the sequel to the incredible The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game. The former could well be my favorite novel ever, so you can understand my enthusiasm.
Although I always steer clear from YA material, my curiosity was piqued in such a way that I elected to give Zafón's The Prince of Mist a shot a few weeks back. Surprisingly, I found the novel to be a light yet rewarding read, and thus decided to read The Midnight Palace, a second work by the author translated into English and aimed at the young adult market.
Here's the blurb:
In the heart of Calcutta lurks a dark mystery. . .
Set in Calcutta in the 1930s, The Midnight Palace begins on a dark night when an English lieutenant fights to save newborn twins Ben and Sheere from an unthinkable threat. Despite monsoon-force rains and terrible danger lurking around every street corner, the young lieutenant manages to get them to safety, but not without losing his own life. . .
Years later, on the eve of Ben and Sheere's sixteenth birthday, the mysterious threat reenters their lives. This time, it may be impossible to escape. With the help of their brave friends, the twins will have to take a stand against the terror that watches them in the shadows of the night--and face the most frightening creature in the history of the City of Palaces.
While The Prince of Mist could work equally well with the young and the young at heart, I'm afraid that The Midnight Palace is YA through and through. Which means that I was never able to get into the story the way I did with its predecessor. Indeed, The Prince of Mist was a lighter read meant for a younger public, yet one could see the genesis and echoes of a number of storylines that would make Carlos Ruiz Zafón's future novels such wonderful reading experiences.
As is normally the case, the author's evocative prose brings the city of Calcutta to life quite vividly. Few authors can create such an imagery, and even early in his writing career Zafón had a knack for it.
The characterization leaves a lot to be desired, however. I've said it before and I'll say it again. By some unfathomable means, Carlos Ruiz Zafón can, in a paragraph or three, introduce you to an endearing character that echoes with depth. With little room to maoeuver, as this is a relatively short book, I feel that the cast was comprised of too many protagonists for Zafón to work his habitual magic. And without the author's usual superior characterization, The Midnight Palace never truly takes off. Though Ben and Sheere are more well-defined, the rest of the Chowbar Society are never fleshed out in a satisfactory way. A teenager would likely enjoy the book regardless of that flaw, but I simply couldn't get into it.
Overall, Carlos Ruiz Zafón's writing style and tone make for a pleasant narrative. Still, many of the plotlines are more than a little predictable. And even if, true to himself, Zafón has a few unanticipated surprises in store for us, this time it's not nearly enough to make this a memorable read.
A younger public will in all likelihood enjoy The Midnight Palace. But if you want to give Zafón's earlier novels a shot while you wait for his next worldwide bestseller, unless you usually enjoy YA material I'd pass on this one.