The Prisoner of Heaven
By: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Barcelona,1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife Bea have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julian, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past. His appearance plunges Fermín and Daniel into a dangerous adventure that will take them back to the 1940’s and the dark early days of Franco’s dictatorship. The terrifying events of that time launch them on a journey fraught with jealousy, suspicion, vengeance, and lies, a search for the truth that will put into peril everything they love and ultimately transform their lives.
And here we are, the new book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. As some of you may know, I had re-read The Angel’s Game (review) and The Shadow of the Wind (review) last week in preparation for reading this book. It’s part of a cycle that Zafon has written concerning the Cemetery of Forgotten Books so I wanted to rehash my memory of all of the characters connected to the cemetery before proceeding with the latest novel. Contains some spoilers ahead!
I guess I will start by saying that this novel is a lot slimmer compared to The Angel’s Game and The Shadow of the Wind. Closing in to 300 pages, it makes you wonder what will be covered in the novel. Indeed, it’s not as intricate as the previous two novels but the story that is in between the covers is just as exciting and intriguing as the previous novels. The story starts innocently enough–Christmas in Barcelona with our familiar friends, the Semperes, Fermin, etc.–but the story soon takes a interesting turn when a figure from Fermin’s past shows up.
I guess this is what intrigued me the most when I first heard about this novel coming out. Fermin was my favourite character in The Shadow of the Wind with his witty elaborations and his good-spiritedness but naturally he has his secrets. The Prisoner of Heaven definitely delivers on this account, revealing Fermin’s experiences during and after the Civil War. I had noted that the previous volumes sort of touch on briefly on the larger events happening in Spain but this is the first novel where the aftermath of the Civil War really comes up to the front. Unlike the uncertainty of The Angel’s Game and the Gothic eerieness of The Shadow of the Wind, the horrors of the war–the state of political prisoners, the sea of dead, the hardships of the wives and other people outside–hovers over Fermin’s experiences like a storm. It was a dark book but the mystery compels you on, wondering how Fermin got out of the situation he was in.
But what also makes this book interesting is all of the connections. It works as a prequel and a sequel to the previous books in the cycle because of how connected Fermin is to the two stories. Finishing the novel I did not realise how interconnected The Angel’s Game and The Shadow of the Wind are (I’m not going to mention the specifics because it was quite an interesting development). Unlike the two movies though, this book I think would not work as a standalone, not only because of these connections to the other two books but because it feels very much like a prelude to something really big, whatever Zafon is planning for the last novel. If there’s any complaints about this novel, it’s probably that: the resolution does not really feel like a resolution because you know there’s something bigger on the way.
Overall, The Prisoner of Heaven is a wonderful read, reintroducing readers back into the world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It’s also an intriguing read; for those who thought that The Angel’s Game was a little bland, it may prompt a re-read because it really props the novel up and makes it more interesting from another perspective and storyline. It also raises a lot of questions about this whole world and all of the connections emerging amongst characters and motives. If there’s anything I’m worried about going into the last novel as a reader who cares about these characters, it’s that I hope that Daniel isn’t going down some dark path. He can be a little foolish sometimes (and who wouldn’t in some of the situations that he’s found himself in) but he’s overall a genuine and kind person and I’d had for him to go through some tortuous, dark and twisted path. I also wonder if the timeline of the last novel will go beyond 1966 since the epilogue of The Shadow of the Wind laid out what happened to most of the characters at the end.
In any case, if you were a fan of The Shadow of the Wind and all of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s works, it’s worth checking out.