After more than a decade of waiting, my reader radar sounded its deafening alarm, alerting me that Carlos Ruiz Zafón finally released “Prisoner of Heaven,” the sequel to his epic book “Shadow of the Wind!” So I did what every eager beaver bookworm does, I went to the nearest bookshop and grabbed a copy of “Prisoner of Heaven.” I feel like I’m the 10-year-old Daniel Sempere, the protagonist in “Shadow of the Wind,” holding one precious book from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This time, I’m holding its sequel! I read the book in roughly five hours but divided into two days (had to squeeze it in between my mommy duties). I was actually surprised that the book was only 278 pages long!
Before I move on with my review, let me just say that if you haven’t read “Shadow of the Wind” then you’re missing out on one of the best modern literary books of all time. Zafón has probably mastered the art of Gothic fiction. His three books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series—The Angel’s Game, Shadow of the Wind, and Prisoner of Heaven—are all filled with mystery, intrigue, noir, and unbridled romance.
“Prisoner of Heaven” follows the life of Daniel Sempere who is now married to Beatriz. He continues to manage the Sempere & Sons bookstore with his father and his close friend Fermin Romero de Torres. It was Christmas time and sales were not picking up in the Sempere bookshop. The seemingly uneventful season became alive when a grim-looking stranger appeared at the store. He bought the most expensive book and left it for Fermin with a strange dedication:
For Fermin Romero de Torres,
who came back from among the dead
and holds the key to the future.
This ominous visit led to a series of discoveries about Fermin’s life at the Montjuïc prison. Zafón’s description of this Spanish version of Alcatraz somewhat reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s “The Pit” in Dark Knight Rises. In this isolated no-escape prison, Fermin’s story intersected with the lives of two mysterious prisoners—the prolific writer David Martin and the guile Sebastian Salgado. He also came face to face with the vile prison governor Mauricio Valls and was even used against his will to extract information from the two inmates. The sinister events at Montjuïc prison later on unveiled the story behind the death of Daniel’s mother Isabella.
The novel ends with a cliff hanger that begs for the fourth and final installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.
You might probably be wondering what it is about Zafón’s novel that’s worth reading. For me, his pervasive storyline that highlights the significance books and the relevance of writers to society is what made me swoon over his books. I believe every bibliophile should read one of his novels!
Now back to my two cents worth. Filled with secrets from the dark alleys of Barcelona, “The Prisoner of Heaven” is a novel of truth and deception, love and lies, corruption and integrity, survival and demise. It’s like peeling off an old wallpaper to find out the original painting behind it and discovering that there’s so much more to the image you exposed.
There are certain authors that have a distinct voice and Zafón is one of them. As I was reading this novel, I knew that I was reading raw Zafón. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be to read his novels in Spanish! His narration and descriptions reminded me so much of “Shadow of the Wind” and “The Angel’s Game.” The way he romanticized the landscape of Barcelona while juxtaposing its lurking darkness was enthralling. The riveting suspense was addicting to the point where you’d feel the urge to eat all the remaining pages of the novel.
The ending was a total prequel to the final installment in the series. My head was screaming for a closure but then that’s what penultimate novels are supposed to do. I don’t know how long I’ll wait again for the sequel but I’m sure it’s worth the last trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.