Friday, May 29, 2009

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - 470 pgs

In 1920's Barcelona, a young orphan named David Martin is working as a lowly assistant in a newspaper office, with the hopes of one day becoming an author. Living in near squalor and pining for a woman who does not share his passion, he finally gets his chance to write. But far from being a masterpiece, it comes in the form of Penny Dreadfuls that he must write under a pseudonym. Stuck in this unfulfilling career and noticing the early symptoms of a serious illness, David is dispirited and dejected when he is approached by a mysterious man who wishes to commission him to write a most strange and unusual book. David, swayed by the money and promises of untold rewards, takes the commission and agrees to write the tome. Soon though, he begins to see that something is not quite right. He begins having prophetic and haunting dreams, strange and unsavory coincidences begin to crop up in his life, and his publisher seems to have the preternatural ability to know just what his next move is. As David tries to uncover the secrets behind the strange commission and its benefactor, he becomes enmeshed in a world of lies, stolen identities, and a deeply hidden and diabolical plot that may not even be human at all. Richly dark and macabre, The Angel's Game twists the borders of reality, keeping its readers spellbound.

Most of what I have to say about this book can be summed up in two words: utterly fantastic! I had been a bit worried that this book would suffer in comparison to The Shadow of the Wind, which is one of my all-time favorite books, but I was genuinely surprised to find that I liked this one even more. The writing in this book was extremely precise and smooth, and rather than it feeling like a linear set of events separated into sections, it felt more like the type of story a storyteller would tell: a whole and well-polished narrative, like something that could be finished in one sitting.

Zafón also is a master of ambiance and atmosphere, and his talent in this book was no different than in Shadow. The city of Barcelona that he portrays was almost a character in itself, dark, foreboding and completely three-dimensional. The backdrop set an aura of delicious suspense and it was the perfect setting for this Gothic and cryptic tale. There was no abruptness in the story, nothing faltering or out of place; instead everything was created with perfect symmetry and gravity. In fact the whole book moved like well-oiled machinery, and that was one of the elements that made it so easy to lose track of everything else but the story that I was reading.

The dialogue was very natural and most of the character exchanges were witty and barbed, which lent a touch of humor to what would have otherwise been a very morose story. The banter between David and his assistant was particularly amusing, and in general, the ease in which the characters conversed was a high point in the book. Couched into the narrative, there was a good deal of exposition regarding human nature, theology, and philosophy, but Zafón had a knack of not reverting into a preachiness or sanctimony that would have spoiled Daniel's revelations. At times though, his examination and estimation of spirituality and theology seemed to be rather cynical, but it tended to land more into the region of philosophy rather than verge into the areas of morality.

There was a time in the story that I felt as though I may be dealing with an unreliable narrator, but further reading lead me to discover that Zafón had another, more exciting ace up his sleeve, and just when I thought I had this story all pieced together, I realized that that I was completely wrong. I suppose that there is more than one way to digest the conclusion of this story, and I think that because Zafón gives the reader a choice in this matter, it makes this story all the more distinguished. This book had all the qualities that make it unforgettable: narrative force and drive, mystery, and elements of dramatic horror that were masterfully depicted. Above all though, the thing I enjoyed most was that this was a book about books and how they shape, change and enrich your life and the lives of others. This work showed an increased maturity and darkness in the author, and was much more measured and introspective than his debut novel. I have to say that taken together, the two books are an extremely promising piece of the four book endeavor the author has planned.

This is the kind of book that I want to enthusiastically push on every reader I know. It was a stunning reading experience, the kind I am searching for in every book that I open, but rarely find. Haunting, tense and thrilling, The Angel's Game is a modern masterpiece that I give the heartiest of recommendations. A simply fabulous read.

11 comments:

Steph said...

Has this been released yet? I know there were some ARCs floating about the book blogging world... I haven't read Shadow of the Wind, simply because I had a friend who I used to talk books with and she HATED it. But since then, almost everyone else I've talked to has liked it, so I think I will have to try it one of these days just so that I can form my own opinion. This sounds really good, and I'm glad you had such fun with it!

Meghan said...

I have this ARC. I can't WAIT to read it! I'm so glad you liked it, too. Your review has made me feel very enthusiastic about it. =)

Elizabeth said...

I'm excited to read this one - it sounds like a fantastic novel!

Zibilee said...

Steph,
This one was an ARC. It will be out on June 16th. I have met a few other people who didn't like Shadow as well. It's not a perfect book, but there was a lot there to love. This book was very different from Shadow in that it was much darker and more complicated. One of the reasons I really preferred this book over the first is that Zafon seemed to really stretch into areas that he hadn't hit on before, and it made it much more of an ambiguous read. I really hope you do get a chance to read it. I would also be interested in hearing what you think of it.

Sarah said...

Like Steph, I haven't read Shadow of the Wind yet because of some negative feedback. I will obviously have to reconsider that and try it for myself.

Nymeth said...

You know, before I started blogging I hadn't even heard of this author, but reviews like yours have me wondering how I've lived for so long without his books! I definitely plan to read this and The Shadow of the Wind.

Marie said...

Sweet. I'm so excited you loved it. I have the ARC and just haven't gotten to it yet. Thanks so much!

Diane said...

It was great to read your review, as I have this one to read/review and I've been looking forward to it.

Aarti said...

Fantastic review, Zibilee! I loved this book, too, though I prefer Shadow of the Wind. I also really, really don't think I fully understood the ending... maybe we should chat about it!

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

"utterly fantastic!" well, tell us what you *really* think! :)

I don't mind a book that has an untidy ending, and I find that you and I are often drawn to the same books ... your review has me looking to bump this up in my TBR!

The Tome Traveller said...

Oh, I just got this in the mail and I can't wait to start it, especially after that fantastic review! I'm so behind, I haven't gotten to Shadow of the Wind yet, either. Better get busy!

Carey

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