The Labyrinth of the Spirits

Back in 2008, when I first read Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind, it simply blew my mind. To this day, it remains what just might be the best novel I have ever read. And although the sequel, The Angel's Game, could never hope to live up to the lofty expectations generated by its predecessor, it was nevertheless an awesome read in its own right. The third installment, The Prisoner of Heaven, was too short and nowhere near as good as the first two books, yet it turned out to be a touching and remarkable tale that made you beg for more.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits was years in the making and I must admit I have seldom been so excited to read a novel! I've been cursing myself for not being able to read in Spanish for months as I waited for the English translation to be released.

I was a bit disappointed by the fact that this would be the last installment in this memorable series, and I was looking forward to see how the author would connect the dots and tie up all the loose ends. I enjoyed the way Zafón linked The Angel's Game to The Shadow of the Wind at the end of the second book. It was done subtly and poignantly, and it was a very satisfying way to bring the story to an end. The Prisoner of Heaven acted as some sort of bridge between the first two installments and what would come after. The author claims that one can read the books in whatever order they choose, that each book is a self-contained tale, but I feel that one must read them in the order they were released to catch all the nuances so that you can only shake your head in wonder when you realize how various things are connected.

Here's the blurb:

The internationally acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author returns to the magnificent universe he constructed in his bestselling novels The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven in this riveting series finale—a heart-pounding thriller and nail-biting work of suspense which introduces a sexy, seductive new heroine whose investigation shines a light on the dark history of Franco’s Spain.

In this unforgettable final volume of Ruiz Zafón’s cycle of novels set in the universe of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, beautiful and enigmatic Alicia Gris, with the help of the Sempere family, uncovers one of the most shocking conspiracies in all Spanish history.

Nine-year-old Alicia lost her parents during the Spanish Civil War when the Nacionales (the fascists) savagely bombed Barcelona in 1938. Twenty years later, she still carries the emotional and physical scars of that violent and terrifying time. Weary of her work as an investigator for Spain’s secret police in Madrid, a job she has held for more than a decade, the twenty-nine-year old plans to move on. At the insistence of her boss, Leandro Montalvo, she remains to solve one last case: the mysterious disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture, Mauricio Valls.

With her partner, the intimidating policeman Juan Manuel Vargas, Alicia discovers a possible clue—a rare book by the author Victor Mataix hidden in Valls’ office in his Madrid mansion. Valls was the director of the notorious Montjuic Prison in Barcelona during World War II where several writers were imprisoned, including David Martín and Victor Mataix. Traveling to Barcelona on the trail of these writers, Alicia and Vargas meet with several booksellers, including Juan Sempere, who knew her parents.

As Alicia and Vargas come closer to finding Valls, they uncover a tangled web of kidnappings and murders tied to the Franco regime, whose corruption is more widespread and horrifying than anyone imagined. Alicia’s courageous and uncompromising search for the truth puts her life in peril. Only with the help of a circle of devoted friends will she emerge from the dark labyrinths of Barcelona and its history into the light of the future.

In this haunting new novel, Carlos Ruiz Zafón proves yet again that he is a masterful storyteller and pays homage to the world of books, to his ingenious creation of the Cemetery of Forgotten, and to that magical bridge between literature and our lives.

Once again, Zafón's Barcelona setting offers a wealth of insight into those troubled times that comprised the decades between the 30s and the 60s. The author's evocative prose effortlessly transports the reader into that rich milieu, and at times it feels as though the city becomes a character in and of itself. Zafón brings Barcelona to life in a manner that few others have been able to do with any city. Those who have been to Barcelona will once again fall in love with the city and wish to revisit it, while those who have never been there will feel the need to rectify the situation.

The timeline of The Labyrinth of the Spirits spans decades. The novel begins by taking us back to the night Julián was born and the emotional impact this had on poor Daniel. Then we go back in time, to the Barcelona air raids that destroyed parts of the city in 1938. We're introduced to a young girl who will become the femme fatale Alicia Gris, the protagonist who lies at the heart of this book, and we learn how her tale is linked to that of Fermín, who is trying to escape the vicious Francisco Javier Fumero. Fast-forward to 1959, when an important minister disappears and Juan Manuel Vargas and Alicia Gris must investigate and solve the case. During the course of this investigation, Alicia and her partner will uncover the secrets that link the previous three installments and provide the answers to all the questions raised before, chief among them what happened to Daniel's mother. But as the truth is unveiled, high-placed officials get nervous and the lives of the investigators might be in danger. Spain will never be the same, and the same can be said of the Sempere family. The novel ends in the summer of 1992, as the Olympics come to an end.

A lot has been said about this series' complex and multilayered plot. When Stephen King claims that even the subplots have subplots, you better believe it. Still, no matter how deftly plotted the books turned out to be (and you have no idea how intricate the storylines are), it's the way so many of those plotlines are touching that makes reading these novels such an unforgettable experience. Zafón writes with intelligence, humor, wit, and a dexterous human touch that will warm your heart one moment and break it the next. What makes The Labyrinth of the Spirits so satisfying is that it clarifies and provides answers to all the mysteries found within the pages of The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven. Everything comes full circle in the sort of grand finale that will mesmerize you.

The characterization is once again where Zafón excels in a manner seldom achieved in literature today. Seemingly effortlessly, the author can, in a paragraph or two, introduce you to a three-dimensional character that echoes with depth. I have no idea how he does it, but it's uncanny. Zafón's deeply-realized cast comes alive and leaps off the pages. As a matter of course, Alicia's plotlines takes center stage. But in order to connect all the dots and tie up all the loose ends, the author brings back a lot of familiar faces from the first three volumes. As is often the case when he's in a scene, Fermín manages to steal the show most of the time.

Once more, Zafón's narrative sucks you right into those convoluted tales of love, deceit, mystery, and betrayal from the get-go. There are a few pacing issues throughout the book, most of them due to the fact that the author must bring together all these complex storylines in a spectacular endgame and a finale that knocks it out of the park.

Simultaneously funny, tragic, and moving, Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an amazing and spellbinding final volume that brings the Cemetery of Forgotten Books sequence to a memorable ending.

If you have yet to give this series a shot, these books deserve the highest possible recommendation.

The final verdict: 10/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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