The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If you've read any of Zafon's work, you'll know what a master of wordcraft he is. Even in translation, he can weave description like none other, set a mood to rival the gothic novels of the 19th century, and create a character you can picture standing right in front of you. But aside from his masterpiece, The Shadow of the Wind , I've yet to be impressed by his plots.
While I think you could read books #1 or #2 of this series independently of each other, this novel really requires a knowledge of both. It pulls all the main characters together and interweaves their stories. The character who takes center stage is Fermin Romero de Torres, a friend of Daniel Sempere, who, in SOTW, was found as a penniless wretch on the street. Turns out Fermin has a twisting past dating back to the war, and a mysterious stranger has shown up to dig it all up again.
Here's where things get wonky for me. Zafon makes no attempt to hide that Fermin's story pays homage to Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. Not close enough to be a rip-off, but it employs a similar plotline without doing much to make Fermin's story stand out on its own. In fact, it lacks the very thing that makes The Count of Monte Cristo so spectacular: revenge. This book is all about revelation of the past, but as it is told in flashbacks, we know exactly what is going to happen, and there are only the matter of details to uncover. And when they are uncovered, nothing is done with them. I should have known when I picked up a 278-page book instead of a 500-page, but this story felt unfinished. There was no fallout, only buildup with nowhere to go.
Another disappointment was the lack of attention to Daniel's story. Sure, Fermin and Martin are more of the protagonists, but Daniel's was the original story told and I always find myself most interested in his plot. (view spoiler)[He has his own family with Beatriz and their son, Julian, and their own troubles within the marriage. Toward the end, this finally tied in with Fermin's story, but so little of the Valls plot or even the resolution between Bea and Daniel is explored. (hide spoiler)]
Oh, how I wish I could give this a good review. It was just so short, I felt cheated of the masterful story that I know Ruiz is capable of crafting. I have no doubt the end of this story set us up for a sequel, but I wish he had left us with more in the meantime.
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