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Although only published in the UK in 2010, this book actually pre-dates Ruiz Zafon's other English language books - Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game - by some 17 years. First published in Spain in 1993, it was intended as a book for young adults, but don't let that put you off. As Zafon himself notes in the preface, a good story is a good story no matter what age group it is aimed at; and if there's one thing he has demonstrated, it's that he knows how to tell a good old-fashioned ghost story.
It should come as no surprise then, to learn that this is exactly what you get in the Prince of Mist, which follows the adventures of a trio of young friends, Max, Roland and Alicia who are thrown together one tumultuous summer. But when Max discovers a mysterious park full of statues of carnival people, he starts to unravel a forgotten and deadly past.
This book has a brilliantly judged tone. It starts off surprisingly light and amusing, introducing us to the key characters as they prepare to move house. It has a wistful, slightly nostalgic feel, reminiscent of the books of Enid Blyton. The opening recalls those glorious lost summers past, when the sun was always shining and the school holidays seemed to last forever. Yet, as the book progresses, Zafon slowly introduces a number of unsettling elements. This change is handled very skilfully as the book slowly but surely becomes darker. The nostalgia of the earlier chapters is lost amid a growing and palpable sense of danger which doesn't let up until the climax.
The Prince of Mist is also very well-paced and well-written. Although intended as a young adult's book. Zafon doesn't make the mistake of assuming that children are stupid. Certainly, the plot is rather less layered and complex than those of his later, adult novels; but it's just as gripping a tale. It feels like a proper, old-fashioned ghost story - simple, but well-told, with a strong atmosphere and no need for unnecessary plot complications.
True, this does mean that most adult readers will probably guess the secret at the heart of the plot long before it is revealed, but there is nothing wrong with that - the same is true of many adult novels, and at least this one doesn't pretend to be particularly deep or complex.
There are a few aspects which younger readers will perhaps accept more readily than adults. The manner in which Zafon brings his characters together is slightly contrived and a little too convenient to ring true. Perhaps it's a reflection of these more cynical times, but it's hard to see friendships forming so quickly between a boy from the city and a boy from the country; suspicion would surely be the order of the day.
The other issue is that Zafon really only wants to concentrate on four main characters - the three children and Roland's grandfather. Yet the nature of the plot means that some peripheral characters are still required - most notably the parents of the three children. These are nowhere near as well developed as the main characters and play only a marginal role in what unfolds (another slightly-too-convenient plot device is used to get them temporarily out of the way.) It is perhaps this aspect that shows that, back in 1993, Zafon was still a journeyman novelist who had not yet discovered discovered his full narrative powers.
You could actually argue that all of the characters are sketchily drawn. Even Roland and Alicia are paper-thin and we only ever really get inside the head of Max. In this particular instance, though, it doesn't matter. Zafon manages to give his three leads a sense of childhood innocence and fun, which is essential to counter the darker elements of the plot and to make you care when the children are faced with danger. Again to draw the same parallel, they are no worse than some of Enid Blyton's characters and it does mean that the plot can proceed at a great pace.
True, there's not much reading here. The book is considerably smaller than a standard paperback and contains only 200 pages, in a fairly large font. For most adults, there's not much more than a couple of hours' reading. But that's OK, because the couple of hours that you do spend with Max, Roland and company are so entertaining that you won't care.
This UK edition is very nicely presented. In keeping with the nostalgic tone of the plot, it is printed in hardback with a cover full of incredibly intricate writing and some simple but effective diagrams. Each chapter begins with a small line drawn illustration which captures some crucial element of the events to come. This attention to detail makes it feel like everyone - author, illustrator, and publisher - cares deeply for this book and that, in turn, increases your affection for it. This is definitely a book you will be proud to display on your shelves, even if it is supposedly a "children's book". And best of all, you can pick up this little item of loveliness, brand new, for just £5 if you shop around online.
I'm sure it will come one day, but Carlos Ruiz Zafon appears incapable of writing a bad book. Sure, his follow a basic formula (oppressive atmosphere, long-hidden secrets threatening happiness in the present) but the plots are all different and fascinating to read; and if it works, who cares? The Prince of Mist might have taken almost 20 years to reach British shores, but was definitely worth the wait.
The Prince of Mist
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
© Copyright SWSt 2011
If they did a Desert Island Discs but with books, then one book I would have to take with me is Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind. The author's beautiful writing and sheer love for books seeps through with every word. His subsequent adult full length novel, Angel's Game, was not as good, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. He has also writtne a number of stories for younger readers, and while I definitely wouldn't call them children's books, they're not as hard to read, there's less detail, but it still maintains the spooky and thoughtful beautiful prose he has. As far back as 1993, when he wrote The Prince of Mist, a tale of a boy who has a summer of adventure that he will never forget.
The story starts off with the young Max and his family moving to the coast so his father can start up his own business. His father, also named, is a watchmaker, and there's something magical in the relationship between the father and son, something that remains throughout the book. As the family set up, events start to occur that are slightly strange. First, a clock seems to be going backwards, then strange noises in their new house. When Max finds a seemingly deserted ornamental garden stretching away beyond the back of the house, it almost seems as if the statues within its perimeter can move. The mist that comes rolling in also seems rather sinister. When Max's sister, Alicia, meets local boy Roland and his eccentric grandfather, the tale gets even more mysterious and the tale of Cain, an age old magician, makes Max think that the strange goings on are no accident to the timing of his family taking up residence in the small coastal town, as their lives are all soon in danger, too.
It took me a while to pick this up. For some reason, I thought it would take a while to read. I couldn't have been more wrong. It's not very long, a mere couple of hundred pages long, and there's no great substance to it, as it's designed for younger readers. The first couple of chapters fly by, but set the scene very well. You get a real feel for Max, the narrator of the tale, and just when you think it may be a gentle tale, the spookiness happens. Zafon has the ability to turn a tale on its head, to give you some beautiful prose for a while before suddenly hitting you with something chilling, making a shiver run up your spine and the hairs on your next stand to attention. Needless to say, when this happened, I was gripped and found it hard to put the book down.
It's not just this instant switch he seems to have. It's just as much the way he develops his characters. This book doesn't really allow you get used to them quite as much as his fuller work does, but there's still just enough time for you to form images and ideas of who they are and what they look like, as well as picture the setting quite clearly. The writing has a certain amount of magic about it, the sort that makes you hold the book with care, turn the pages gently, and soak the whole thing up, as if you were holding a classic Spanish tale in your hands. I'm not saying Zafon doesn't have that magic feel, but this isn't exactly a masterpiece. It's extremely well written, but doesn't have the depth that it needs to be excellent. Yet at the same time I couldn't see this working as a longer tale, or even one that is pitched at an older audience. What it does is aim right at those it should and give the right length for it as well. Any shorter, you wouldn't be able to get a feel for the characters and the setting. Any longer, and it would drag. As it is, and for what it is, it pitches just right.
I'm going to hunt out more of Zafon's work. I love his style of writing and how he manages to create and develop his characters and environments. It's impressive that he has endeavoured and persevered and finally branches to an English speaking world, and that his earlier Spanish work is getting the same treatment, and hopefully everything he writes will be given the same translation in order to bring it to our attention. I strongly urge you to read his work - he is clearly a lover of books and their magic - and while Prince of Mist isn't as good as his more recent work for adults, it has that raw undeveloped talent and is pitched just right. Recommended.
The Prince of the Mist was published in 1993 but only released in the UK in 2010 after the success of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's other novels 'The Shadow of the Wind' and 'The Angel's Game'. It was written as a book for young adults (which I like to think includes me at 26!) but I believe this would appeal to all age groups and anyone who enjoys a really good mystery.
1943. 13 year old Max Carver's family escape their war-torn city to an old house by the sea. But great dangers lurk in their new house and its sinister, overgrown garden of circus character statues. Max and his two sisters soon start to experience mysterious events which they feel might be connected to Jacob Fleischman, a young boy whose family previously owned the house, who had drowned years earlier.
Max becomes friendly with Roland, a local older boy who has been raised by his grandfather, Victor Kray. Victor was the sole survivor of a shipwreck years ago, however the boys and Max's sister Alicia believe that the old man has more information than he is letting on about the shipwreck and that it might be linked to the death of Jacob Fleishman. Further investigation reveals the story of 'Cain', a mysterious villain who would grant local children whatever they wanted, in exchange for their undying loyalty. He was known as the 'Prince of the Mist' because he would disappear into the shadows and wouldn't be seen for a long time, but would always reappear just as the locals had forgotten about him. He would always come to collect, even if the person hid for years, Cain would track them down. If they did not fulfil his wishes he would come back to claim it himself or turn their body into stone.
Max believes that Cain was the reason behind Jacob's drowning and all the statues in the overgrown forest garden. The children also realise that they are in danger themselves and that they need to unravel the mystery of the Prince of the Mist before he comes for them.
Price and availability...
The book is available at most good bookshops and online stores with the three below selling it at the cheapest price.
The Book Depository £4.99
The book has an attractive red cover with fancy writing and a weird clock image on the front. I especially like the hardback version which looks very smart and would probably grab attention even without knowing what the book is about. It is only 197 pages long, which means that is suitable for carrying around or a quick holiday read.
Is it any good?
YES! I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's other work and think he writes beautifully. The Prince of the Mist was written for a younger audience but with its dark story and beautiful writing I think most people would enjoy the book. I love a good mystery and this was the perfect mixture of mystery, romance, suspense and tragedy. It's a fairly short book which is perfect for those who don't have a lot of time or a short attention span! His details really pulls you into the book into another world of mystery and adventure. It left me wanting to read more and I dearly wish that Carlos Ruiz Zafon had some more books I could get my hands on!
This review is of the hardback book "The Prince of Mist" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, first published in Spanish in 1993, and now republished in hardback format in English for the first time. The book is actually a ghost story for older children, but it has an appeal to adult readers as well. The author also writes for adults, and more of the author's works are now being translated into English.
The basic plot of the book is centred around Max Carver and is set in 1943. His father decides to move to a new area to escape the threat of war, and moves to what is to Max an intimidating house. Before they even get settled into the house there are strange goings on, with a backwards clock at the train station to a frightening looking cat. Max decides to look around the house and garden, and is fascinated by a statue in the garden. At the same time, there are strange discoveries in the house which appear.
Without giving too much of the plot away, Max's experiences with the statue garden and his discoveries whilst diving around a local wrecked ship, lead him into a quest for answers. He finds these from the family of his new friend, Roland, but everything is more complex than Max first realises. Max discovers that the previous owners of the house to which they have moved, the Fleischman's, have a sad story to tell, especially that of the son, Jacob.
The book isn't a subtle read designed to avoid scaring young readers, it is actually quite dark and chilling, with a super-natural undertone which is actually quite frightening. Most children will probably love this style of challenging writing, but any very sensitive younger adults might be best to avoid the title.
I found the writing style good, but maybe not that polished. I think this is likely to be because it was the author's first work, although it is possible that something has been lost in translation. This doesn't however take away from the good character development and a very believeable atmosphere which the author creates.
The book retails for 9.99 pounds, but at the time of writing, a new copy can be obtained from Amazon for 5 pounds including postage. Second hand copies are at the moment about the same price as the book has just been published in this format, but sites such as eBay and Amazon will likely have more affordable second hand copies available soon. The ISBN of this book is 9780297856429 and the book is just under 210 pages long.
This is an engaging book, which is easy and enjoyable to read, and should interest many younger readers, as well some older ones. The book isn't overly long, so shouldn't put younger readers off, but is fast-paced. The story unfolds so that Max discovers the story of the wreck, and how it relates to a ghostly figure, the Prince of Mist. A satisfying read, and at the moment, good value from Amazon at just five pounds for the hardback including postage.