Review: The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

By Adam Roche

I suppose, in an odd way, I may consider myself fortunate. I am one of the handful of people who didn’t read The Shadow Of The Wind upon it’s release in 2001. Fortunate, because when I came to ‘The Angel’s Game’ I had no preconceptions, no barometer against which to measure the success of the book itself. I also consider it a stroke of luck that Carlos Ruiz Zafon chose to make this, the second book in his series, a prequel.

For whilst ‘The Angel’s Game’ provided me with my first glimpse of Sempere and Son’s bookshop, of the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books, and of his shadowy take on the dark beauty of Barcelona, millions had already experienced it in another story. I therefore, have come to it “the right way round”. That is to say, chronologically correct.

The events of ‘The Angel’s Game’ are the precursor to events that take place in ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’. We follow the adventures of David Martin, a thriller writer in Barcelona, who is approached by a dark figure to commence work on a very different kind of book. Martin accepts, but soon regrets his decision, as he is drawn into a real life horror story, his seemingly good luck being a curse on everyone around him. The publishers who hold his contract, and therefore prevent him from working on the book, are burned in their offices. The house Martin chooses to live in holds a brooding, haunted secret about the writer that lived there previously, and also bears sinister similarities to the position Martin finds himself in now.

Indeed, Martin’s new employer, the enigmatic Andreas Corelli, is clearly not a man at all, but something altogether blacker, more ancient in origin. When Martin begins to understand what it is that Corelli has demanded, and what the cost will be, he attempts to dissolve the partnership, with devastating results.

ruiz zafonWhat Zafon achieves with what should be a hoary old folk tale is nothing short of magnificent. Every word oozes menace, whether we are following Martin into a bookshop, or staring into the depths of his soul as he struggles with writers block in the lonely tower room of the gothic house. Bind this to a tight, supremely plotted thriller, and you find yourself with a highly unusual, thought provoking thriller.

Part supernatural mystery, part murder riddle, part insight into the writer’s tortured mind, ‘The Angel’s Game’ reconciles it’s colourful ingredients by cloaking itself in a rollickingly well told story, with hugely memorable characters and a wonderfully illustrated backdrop.

At times reminiscent of Henry James, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie, yet with a poignant, indelible watermark throughout, ‘The Angel’s Game’ is a book that all literature fans will enjoy, whether they’ve experienced ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’ or not.

‘The Angel’s Game’ is available now in hardback, and is released in paperback on the 8th October, 2009


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