Title: The Prince of Mist
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US) /Orion Children’s (UK)
Publication Date: May 2010
Hardcover: 224 pages/208 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Why did I read the book: Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the author of The Shadow of the Wind one of my all time favorite novels. Like, top 5 all time.
How did I get this book: I received an ARC from Orion
The Prince of Mist is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s first novel, originally published in Spain in1993 as “El Principe de la Niebla” which became a bestseller in Europe. It was not until 2004 though, that the author joined the ranks of worldwide publishing stardom when his book, The Shadow of the Wind was translated and published in English. The Shadow of the Wind is one of my all time favourite books and I have been following his career ever since. His sophomore adult effort, The Angel’s Game did not rock my world but when I learnt that his first four novels, all published as Young Adult, were finally going to be translated – by the same fantastic translator, Ms Lucia Graves – I was overcome with giddiness and excitement.
The Prince of Mist is the first of these four novels to hit the market and it certainly delivers as a horror novel. I was positively terrified reading it and nearly lost my mind in terror at least twice.
It is 1943 and WWII is raging across Europe. Max’ father, a watchmaker and inventor, decides to relocate his family to a small seaside town in an attempt to flee the effects of the war. The beach house that they bought was previously owned by Dr Richard Fleischmann whose family is surrounded by tragedy after the death of their son, Jacob. Strange things start happening to Max and his family: his older sister has weird dreams; his younger sister has the feeling of a presence inside their house; the finding of old family films which belonged to the Fleischmanns and the strange cat that the family has adopted both add to the mystery. All of these combine to make Max believe that something is going on, especially when he finds, in their overgrown garden at the back of the house, surrounded by mists, a garden of six statues surrounded by a fence with a six-pointed star. All statues represent members of a circus troop and at the center lies the statue of a creepy clown whose hand seem to move when Max looks at it up close.
Then, when Max’s new local friend Roland takes him diving around an old sunken ship and Max sees a flag with the same six-pointed star and he learns that the boat sank after a terrible storm and only one man survived – Roland’s grandfather – and no bodies were found – the bodies of a circus crew led by a man known as The Prince of Mist. Then things get really, really frightening.
Zafon is a writer of atmosphere and he is capable of infusing the smallest sequence with an incredible sense of mystique and ambience. Reading The Prince of Mist, I was transported to this small town and was able to follow Max and his family as they navigated the murky waters of this story. The author is a very visual writer – the best comparisons I could make would between this book and two movies, rather than other books. Both the story and above all, the atmosphere reminded me a lot of The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth: with the slow building of tension, the introduction of the characters prior to the introduction of the Terror, which slowly creeps up. ( The Prince of Mist precedes both movies by a good decade). Interesting to note: the author is unquestionably capable of moving the story very slowly especially if you consider that the book is about 200 pages long but without missing out on pacing or characterisation.
I would even argue that the author went a bit too far trying to disclose several characters to the reader by shifting point of views in the middle of the story. I am not sure that it worked that well and I felt that Max’s could have been the sole PoV without detriment to the story. It was quite interesting to see this world and the other characters via the lens of a 13 year old. Part of what makes this book such a great story is not only because of the creepy horror but because of Max’ observations: as he looks at his father’s soothing smile and tries to emulate it when the time is appropriate; when he observes his sister falling in love with Roland and muses about it to the point where even the short moments without his PoV made me miss him.
A supernatural mystery and a Faustian figure are both recognisable tropes that are present in the books I read by him so far and they make an appearance here. But, although unbeatable in terms of atmosphere and sheer sense of terror, too many questions were left unanswered to my liking. My inquisitive mind asks far too many questions about the Why, the How, the Who of the Prince of Mist’s background and motives. And this is exactly why horror is not a genre I am prepared to wholeheartedly embrace because I often forget that horror sometimes has no reason to be. It just is. That sense of pure unmitigated, senseless, hopelessness and horror is clear here and the author never shies away from the fact that horrible things happen to good people too, almost for no reason at all. This book is about loss: of life and of innocence and the author does write this very well even if it makes me want to crawl under the covers to hide…..and cry.
Notable Quotes/Parts:One of the parts that made me lose my cool and I admit to sleeping with the lights on that night. A scene where horror strikes Max’s sister Irina:
Irina realised then that she was alone in the house and therefore the voice she thought she’d heard must have been imaginary. Until she heard it again, this time in her bedroom, like a whisper filtering though the walls.
The voice seemed to come from far away, the words impossible to decipher. She stood in the center of the room ,motionless. She heard the voice again. Whispering. It was coming from inside the wardrobe. For the first time since she’d arrived at the beach house, Irina was afraid. She stared at the door of the wardrobe and noticed there was key in the lock. Without thinking twice, she ran over and hurriedly turned the key to make sure it was properly locked. She stepped back and took a deep breath. But then she heard the sound again and realised it wasn’t just one voice but several, all whispering at the same time. (…) She was about to leave the room when, suddenly, she felt an icy breeze on her face. It swept thought the bedroom, slamming the door shut. Irina ran towards the door and struggled with the knob, which seemed to be stuck. As she was trying in vain to open it, she heard the key in the wardrobe door slowly turning behind her. Irina stood against the door of her room, too afraid to look. She closed her eyes tight, and her hands were shaking. The voices, which appeared to emanate from the very depths of the house, seemed much closer now. And this time they were laughing.
Additional Thoughts: To coincide with the release of the book in the UK (end of May), on June 1st, we will be posting an interview with Carlos Ruiz Zafon where we discuss amongst other things, Young Adult books, genre reading as well as running a giveaway of the book. Make sure to mark your calendars!
Verdict: A beautifully written horror novel which effectively scares and engages the reader. It may have been Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s first novel but it certainly does not read like one.
Rating:7 Very Good
Reading Next: Shade by Jeri-Smith Ready