#BookReview The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, trans. by Lucia Graves

The Labyrinth of the SpiritsAbout the Book

As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.

Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.

Format: ebook (832 pages)                     Publisher: Orion
Publication date: 18th September 2018 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

‘Stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them. A story is an endless labyrinth of words, images, and spirits, conjured up to show us the invisible truth about ourselves.’

It’s nearly ten years since I read The Shadow of the Wind and it’s taken me four years to get around to reading this one, the fourth and last book in the author’s The Cemetery of Forgotten Books ‘series’. The reason I put the word series in inverted commas is that the books do not unfold chronologically and in fact are designed to be read in any order.  The plots of the four books intertwine, going back and forth in time. For example, the second book, The Angel’s Game, is effectively a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. The fact the books are designed to be read in any order is just as well as, although some of the names of characters were familiar to me, I can recollect very little of what happened in The Shadow of the Wind – apart, that is, from the fact I loved it. Although I rarely re-read books, I might just make this an exception.

At over 800 pages, The Labyrinth of the Spirits is the longest book I’ve read for ages. It also happens to be the oldest book on my NetGalley shelf and so I have the team behind the #NetGalleyNovember reading challenge to thank for finally giving me the motivation to read it.

The plot of the book is, to coin a phrase, labyrinthine. It’s so full of twists and turns it could make you dizzy. Reading the book is a bit like being in a maze in which, for a lot of the time, you have no idea where you are and you just have to keep going in the hope the author will eventually lead you to the exit. Don’t worry, he will but not before a lot of unexpected revelations and events that will take you by surprise, including making you wince a bit.

There is an extensive cast of characters who range from the vile to the virtuous. All are brilliantly imagined, even if they only play a minor role – a taxi driver, a caretaker, a morgue attendant. We learn how they dress, how they walk, their mannerisms, how they speak, what they like to drink or eat, even what newspaper they read or what music they like to listen to. And the author is not afraid to sacrifice his characters. Around two thirds of the way through the book I found myself cursing him for getting rid of one of my favourites.

Alicia Gris is the main character and focus of the book, second only to the exuberant Fermin Romero de Torres, one of my favourite characters. Orphaned during the war, Alicia’s experiences have left her emotionally and physically starred. The resilience and fortitude she demonstrated in overcoming these obstacles have brought her to the attention of ‘mentor and puppet master’, Leandro Montalvo, who has moulded her into a supremely effective agent,  renowned for getting results where others have failed.  I thought Alicia was a brilliant character. She’s intelligent, feisty, resourceful, observant, fiercely independent but is, by choice, a loner who leads a spartan lifestyle. Spiky at times, she is also utterly ruthless when the need arises.

It’s probably no surprise that books, authorship and storytelling are themes that run through the book. There are scenes in libraries, in the Sempere & Sons bookshop and in the fantastical Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  The author also take the reader on an insider’s tour of Barcelona in the late 1950s, revealing its historic hidden gems and secret places as well areas of the city you definitely don’t want to visit after night.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits has everything I look for in historical fiction: passion, intrigue, adventure and a completely immersive experience. It’s definitely a book to lose yourself in.

I received a digital review copy courtesy of Orion via NetGalley.

In three words: Epic, intricate, compelling

Try something similar: The Secret of Vesalius by Jodri Llobregat


Carlos Ruiz ZafonAbout the Author

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is the author of six novels, including the international phenomenon The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, the first two books in a series of novels set in literary universe of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. His work has been published in more than forty different languages, and honored with numerous international awards.

He died in June 2020.

The Cemetary of Forgotten Books

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