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Book Review: The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a 2011 novel and the second in the best-selling Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It was originally published in Spanish and later translated to English.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón has said that you can read any of the series as a stand-alone novel but there are so many common characters between the novels that I recommend reading The Shadow of the Wind (the first novel in the series) as soon as you can – your reading experience will be much richer.

This Prisoner of Heaven begins on the week before Christmas 1957 in the Sempere & Sons bookshop. The book trade has been distressingly slow over the past few months but the addition of a Nativity scene in the store’s front window seems to have enticed Lady Luck to shine on them again.

This is until a mysterious figure enters the shop and insists on buying the most expensive volume on display. He then proceeds to write a haunting inscription in the novel addressed directly to the store’s loquacious assistant, Fermin Romero de Torres.

This is the beginning of an epic tale of imprisonment, betrayal, murder and love that involves some familiar characters in this series of novels.

There is something wildly romantic about Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s descriptions of mid-century Barcelona and his prose is sharp and playful as per usual. Credit must also go to his English translator Lucia Graves for allowing us to enjoy his mastery in English.

Fermin is the star of this novel and it was great to see some depth added to a character noted for his quick wit and loyalty, but not much else. Unfortunately, he is in less than desirable circumstances but you do learn how he became the beggar that Daniel stumbles across in The Shadow of the Wind.

While I enjoyed the novel immensely, it did feel underdone when compared to the first two. I was in awe of The Shadow of the Wind when I first read it and I loved The Angel’s Game but to a discernibly lesser extent. The Prisoner of Heaven is much shorter than those two novels, coming in at a mere 286 pages (compared to 587 pages for The Shadow of the Wind and 531 pages for The Angel’s Game). Length isn’t a sure sign of quality of course but this novel did take about half as long to write as the one that proceeded it and it shows.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much to love in this novel. It is still well written and at times brilliant. The hits just don’t come as often or as hard as they did previously. However, any fan of Fermin will love seeing him thrust into center stage, enjoying his salacious one-liners and getting to know more about some familiar characters, all whilst being transported to the gothic splendour of mid-century Barcelona.

Have you read this novel or any of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's? What did you think? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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