The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books (Book #2 of 4)
Genre: Historical fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Translation Edition Published: 2009 by Weidenfield & Nicholson, Orion Books (UK) & 2009 by Doubleday (US)
The Angel’s Game was equally as spellbinding and bewitching as The Shadow of the Wind, but in a totally different way.
While The Shadow of the Wind narrated a captivating story from the perspective of a reader, this book took a more disturbing and sinister path into the mind of a writer. The timeline of The Angel’s Game took place before the events of the first book; a prequel that was about David Martìn; a devastatingly tragic story about a broken character who was a brilliant but misconstrued writer. David was a complex, compelling, and immensely sympathetic character. However, compared to Daniel Sempere, the main protagonist from the first book, David could not exactly be considered as a nice person. Having said that, he was the product of a harsh environment and depressing life experiences which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. My heart totally ached for him as I was held spellbound by his story.
“The only way you can truly get to know an author is through the trail of ink he leaves behind him; the person you think you see is only an empty character: truth is always hidden in fiction.”
The disturbing and sinister part of his tale comes from what appears to be a descent into madness in David’s mind, of which I wouldn’t elaborate too much to avoid spoilers. It was a brilliant move to tell his story from a first person perspective as David represents the quintessential unreliable narrator. As a reader, the lines between reality, memory, dreams and imagination slowly but surely became indistinguishable. The realisation of this though didn’t happen till pretty late in the book (for me anyway), which made the reading experience absolutely mesmerizing. Given this, the setting of The Angel’s Game took on an even more gothic feel that bordered on the supernatural. There were certain scenes which outright sent shivers down my spine.
“I stepped into the bookshop and breathed in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever though of bottling.”
Just as in the first book, Sempere & Sons, the bookshop remained as an important highlight of the story, as was the Cemetery of Forgotten Books itself. The Sempere family and their bookshop formed the sole source of comfort in David’s life. The wholesome goodness of the Sempere family and the magic of books permeated these pages, grating the reader the much needed reprieve from the unrelenting doom and gloom of David’s story.
“Poetry is written with tears, novels with blood, and history with invisible ink.”
All the above already made for great storytelling, but what made these books even more incredible was the writing. I can’t read Spanish so I wouldn’t be able to tell how accurate or faithful the translation was, but what I could say was that it was phenomenal. I do believe that it’s both the original writing and the translation together with made the prose so beautiful. There’s simply no other way to describe it. Even in its darkest note, and there’re plenty in this particular volume, there is an undeniable and sublime beauty in the music of the prose.
“We think we understand a song’s lyrics, but what makes us believe in them, or not, is the music.”
I think this series will become one of my all-time favourites if the quality of the prose, its engaging and emotionally powerful storytelling continue with the last two books. The Shadow of the Wind felt like a stand-alone story. But once you’ve read The Angel’s Game, there’s no turning back from reading the rest as it promises so much more to come.