The Labyrinth of the Spirits ★★★★½
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Genre(s) | Historical Fiction, Mystery, Spain
Goodreads Rating | 4.45
Humpo Show Rating | 4.50
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Published: First published in Spanish in 2016, my English language edition is the limited proof copy sent to me upon request from Orion (translated by Lucia Graves)
Publishing 18 September 2018
The fourth instalment, fierce and enormous, spiced with perfumes from all the earlier ones, would lead us at last to the centre of the mystery, uncovering all the puzzles with the help of my favourite fallen angel of mist, Alicia Gris. The saga would contain villains and heroes, and a thousand tunnels through which the reader would be able to explore a kaleidoscopic plot resembling that mirage of perspectives I’d discovered with my father in the heart of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Not my words, but the words of two Julians: Sempere and Carax.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits is the culmination of thousands of pages’ worth of story, character and world building by Zafón, and each of the preceding three books play a part in the events that transpire in this final instalment. The masterful storyteller maintains his winning formula by exquisitely writing another exhilarating mystery concerning itself with the disappearance of a cultural icon of the Spanish intelligentsia, the discovery of a novel by a Montjuic prisoner and a police investigation that has seemingly hit a dead end.
There aren’t enough words to do justice to this huge tome that packs the histories of the Sempere family and Barcelona between its pages. The story is told through a myriad of perspectives, covering differing time-frames and multiple locations, but at the heart of it all is Zafón’s unmistakeable flourish of his pen that decorates the pages with wondrous images of the city made of shadows, beguiling characters and a mystery that sucks the reader in and never lets go.
The usual suspects are at the centre of this multi-strand web of a story: the Sempere family and Fermin; but there are reappearances from David Martin, Mauricio Valls and Fumero; along with a catalogue of enthralling new characters in the form of Alicia Gris, Captain Vargas, Leandro Montalvo, Hendaya and several others. But perhaps the main character is the city of Barcelona itself.
In the darkest corner of her heart, Barcelona, mother of labyrinths, holds a mesh of narrow streets knotted together to form a reef of present and future ruins.
The massive structure, its facade covered in ocher stone and its roof crowned with pinnacles and domed turrets, was known as Casa Rocamora. It oozed the fastidious craftsmanship and grand melodrama pervading certain examples of architecture only found on the streets of Barcelona.
Zafón’s descriptive prowess is on full display when depicting the city. He uses a litany of wonderful phrases that help the reader form images of an intriguing and a captivating setting. There are dangers and secrets hidden in every crevice of the city, and he is exceptionally adept whenever he mentions the imposing structure of Montjuïc Castle, a harbinger of darkness.
The train hurtles into the tunnel with a hellish roar. When it emerges at the other end, the silhouette of Montjuïc rises before him, with the castle outlined on the hilltop, enveloped in an aura of crimson light.
Madrid wasn’t exempt from Zafón’s eloquent penmanship either:
They found a city shrouded in fog. A wave of mist crept over the towers and domes crowning the rooftops on Gran Vía. Veils of metallic steam wafted through the streets, wrapping themselves around cars and buses…
I could continue to regale the writing style of the author forever – he is undoubtedly one of my favourite writers. He manages to fit a plethora of wonderful descriptions seamlessly into a story, which is exactly what I like to see in all forms of fiction.
At 811 pages, The Labyrinth of the Spirits is a hefty book, and although there was a period in the novel where progress of the narrative was slow-ish, Zafón manages to maintain a steady flow for the unravelling mystery. He populates the mystery with plenty of twists and turns; surprising revelations; beautiful links; and heart-pounding action. It is a an absolutely fantastic conclusion to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, and I can’t wait to read more of Zafón’s standalone books.
To finish, Alicia Gris perfectly sums up how I feel when I turned the last page of a Zafón novel…
Listening to him from Carax’s pages, allowed her to lose herself in a forest of words and images that she was sad to leave.
The Humpo Show | Richard