Carlos Ruiz Zafon,
The Angel's Game (El juego del angel)
(Doubleday, 2009)

The Shadow of the Wind, penned by Carlos Ruiz Zafon a bit earlier in the decade, is undoubtedly one of the best books I've had the pleasure of reading. It's lengthy but moves along at a brisk pace. Countless characters -- of past and present -- inhabit its pages. Subplots reveal their own subplots. It's a stunning read.

Zafon's prequel to The Shadow of the Wind -- the recently translated The Angel's Game -- is a worthy follow-up to his phenomenal debut. Yet the tome lacks the "magic" of the original.

The author takes too much time at the onset to set up his premise and insert his characters into the action. Thus, the narrative merely trots along for quite awhile, encompassing at least 150 pages (if not more) before things get moderately interesting. Then Zafon steers a strange turn as the story begins wrapping itself off -- leaving behind a number of significant plot holes and moments of confusion in its path.

The consequence? I'm left with an odd taste in my mouth, and a firm belief that The Angel's Game is no Shadow of the Wind.

The story, part two in a planned four-part series set in Barcelona, backtracks about 20 years to the 1920s and '30s. It follows young writer David Martin, a masterful crime saga storyteller, who's approached by a mysterious man to write a book for him. What follows is a race to uncover the book's purpose and to investigate the secrecy behind the last person charged in penning the same thing.

Before I have you mistakenly believing that The Angel's Game is entirely skippable -- it isn't! -- I'd like to point out that Zafon's gorgeous storytelling (and Lucia Graves' faithful translation from the author's native Spanish) is just as good as what we read in the debut. And it's to be expected, given that Zafon didn't publish the prequel until seven years after the original.

Also, as a special treat, are return visits to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Sempere & Sons bookshop -- two locations Zafon used the last time around. We also get to really know well a number of characters who scored nothing more than brief mentions in Shadow of the Wind, including a woman we previously knew to be dead.

The Angel's Game deservedly earns the recommendation nod from me. Just don't go in expecting to be completely floored.

review by
Eric Hughes

4 July 2009

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