The Prisoner of Heaven brings back all the characters you loved from the first two novels in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series – Daniel Sempere, now a father and husband to Bea; his fast-talking friend Fermín Romero de Torres; the author David Martín; Isaac, the caretaker; and of course poor, dead Isabella Sempere. Daniel’s mother. David Martín’s best friend.
In The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and, most recently, The Prisoner of Heaven, Zafón is writing an ever expanding narrative. He not only creates connections between characters, but suggests new interpretations of events. After a sinister stranger arrives at Sempere & Son’s Bookshop looking for him, Fermín is forced to reveal his the secrets of his past to Daniel. As he tells his story, hidden doors open and new mysteries arise. The two embark on another grand adventure. Not everything is resolved by the book’s end, hinting at what the author might have planned for his next installment.
I’ve always believed that one of Zafón’s greatest strengths is his ability to create atmosphere, and he continues to play to that strength in The Prisoner of Heaven. As the title suggests, a good portion of this tale takes readers inside the walls of Montjuïc Castle, where both republicans and nationalists were imprisoned and executed, and their bodies dumped in mass graves at the neighboring cemetery during the Spanish Civil War. In Zafón’s hands Montjuïc becomes a prison worthy of Dumas – damp, dirty, deadly. It looms over the city of Barcelona. The warden is, of course, a monster. And the sadistic Inspector Fumero, introduced in The Shadow of the Wind, lurks (appropriately) in the shadows.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away. The plot twists and turns, doubling back on itself, and then veers off in a seemingly random direction. Yet by the novel’s end, almost unbelievably, Zafón manages to connect all the dots. Not just in this novel, but the entire series. Including the book I imagine he is currently at work on.
Zafón claims to have written the novels so that they can be read in any sequence (influenced a tiny bit by Cortázar, perhaps?), and I keep trying to imagine how the story could unfold with the order mixed up. I don’t believe it would make a significant difference. If you want to read the books in strict chronological order begin with The Angel’s Game, move on to The Shadow of the Wind and then read The Prisoner of Heaven. But I recommend following the order Zafón wrote them and in which they were published. The Angel’s Game struck me as a bit inscrutable when I first read it, but I dismissed my reaction. I assumed it to be a stand-alone set in the same Barcelona as The Shadow of the Wind. Eventually I came to understand that, like The Empire Strikes Back, The Angel’s Game creates a bridge between books. The significance of which isn’t apparent until after reading The Prisoner of Heaven.
All three books are translated by the legendary Lucia Graves. She is the daughter of the poet and novelist Robert Graves, as well as a novelist and memoirist in her own right. She excels at genre fiction, always keeping perfect pace with the author’s text. Her translations are fresh and unaffected. The Prisoner of Heaven maintains the (high) level of quality which I expect from a book with her name on it – and I hope she will continue to work on Zafón’s novels, at least until the series reaches its conclusion.
Publisher: Harper, New York (2012)
ISBN: 978 0 06 220628 2