Book Review: The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Book Review: The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 6 of 5 stars

For years, I thought The Shadow of the Wind was a standalone novel. When I learned that wasn’t the case, I ignored that information for more years. I thought The Shadow of the Wind was pretty nearly perfect on its own, and didn’t need expanded upon. I’ve read some marvelous books that should have been left alone, that had further books tacked on later that didn’t measure up to the first, and somehow manage to tarnish that first book. I didn’t want that to happen to my magical experience with The Shadow of the Wind, so I just ignored the rest of the series for a long time. But then, I found a gorgeous copy of The Labyrinth of the Spirits, the last of the quartet, on sale. I had to buy it for the cover alone, because it just captivated me. But I still didn’t think I intended to read it, or the two books between it and that first novel I had so loved.

“Most of us mortals never get to know our real destiny; we’re just trampled by it.”

That is, until I shared a picture of my purchase, and Petrik immediately fell in love. If you know Petrik, you won’t be surprised to know that he quickly researched the book, which lead him to the rest of the series, and decided that he had to read The Cemetery of Forgotten Books as soon as possible. His enthusiasm was infectious, and TS decided to join him in reading the series. They both adored it, so much so that this particular book ended up being both of their second favorite novel of the year. Obviously, since the copy I bought had started them down this path, I had to give in and read it, along with its two predecessors.

“Truth is never perfect, never squares with all expectations. Truth always poses doubts and questions. Only lies are one hundred percent believable, because they don’t need to justify reality, they simply have to tell us what we want to hear.”

I really liked The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, but they didn’t quite capture me the way The Shadow of the Wind had. And then I arrived at this final installment, the book that I hoped would tie everything together and contain nearly the same magic as the first book. While it did indeed tie things together beautifully, it did not match The Shadow of the Wind. It by far surpassed it. The Labyrinth of the Spirits was brilliant in every way, and made me retroactively love every other installment of the series even more. It, and the three preceding books in hindsight, has to be among the most mind-blowing, intelligent, moving novels I’ve ever read in my entire life.

“There are times when it’s more honorable to die forsaken than to live in glory.”

Within the text, Zafón stated his belief that “stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them.” That’s not an idea I would have fully grasped before reading this series, but it’s absolutely true of the way in which Zafón designed The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. While I would still heartily suggest starting with the first novel and progressing in a linear fashion, each book is an entry point into the same sweeping story. I’ve never come across anything else set up in quite the same way, and this structure is part of the genius. The entire series truly is a labyrinth, and this installment brings us to its heart. I was totally awestruck.

“Sometimes, when the gods aren’t looking and destiny loses its way, even good people get a taste of good luck in their lives.”

While the structure is absolutely brilliant, it’s far from the only impressive element. I’m blown away by the intricacies of the plot. So much happens over the course of these four novels, and no detail is ever forgotten or misremembered or shrugged away as unimportant. Every single one of those details matters. The setting is incredibly lush and dark and vibrant, and Barcelona is truly a character in her own right. I am also constantly amazed by the fact that the beautiful prose is in fact a translation, which speaks volumes of both Zafón and of Lucia Graves for her work translating the original Spanish into English. Zafón says so much about the importance of stories and the trials of the writing life that ring so achingly true.

“A story is an endless labyrinth of words, images, and spirits, conjured up to show us the invisible truth about ourselves.”

But my favorite thing about these books, through which I think Zafón shines the brightest, is the cast. The characters are so multifaceted, so wonderfully and heartbreakingly real. They grew to matter so much to me, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly stop thinking about them. All of them had such glaring failings, so many beautifully fragile strengths. If you can’t tell, I was deeply invested, and their stories will no doubt stay with me for a very long time.

“Tell our stories to the world, and never forget that we exist so long as someone remembers us.”

I’m so incredibly thankful to have read this series as a whole, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits in particular. Zafón was an incredibly gifted author, and I’m so glad he was able to leave the world this magnum opus. If I’m ever able to visit Spain, Barcelona will be the destination of me. I hope someday I can wander the streets and wonder if another city, one comprised of paper and ink, is waiting for me beneath the cobblestones.

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