The Watcher in the Shadows
By: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Format/Source: Hardback; my copy
When fourteen-year-old Irene Sauvelle moves with her family to Cape House on the coast of Normandy, she’s immediately taken by the beauty of the place–its expansive cliffs, coasts, and harbors. There, she meets a local boy named Ishmael, and the two soon fall in love. But a dark mystery is about to unfold, involving a reclusive toymaker who lives in a gigantic mansion filled with mechanical beings and shadows of the past.
As strange lights shine through the fog surrounding a small, barren island, Irene’s younger brother dreams of a dark creature hidden deep in the forest. And when a young girl is found murdered, her body at the end of a path torn through the woods by a monstrous, inhuman force, Irene and Ishmael wonder–has a demonic presence been unleashed on the inhabitants of Cape House? Together, they’ll have to survive the most terrifying summer of their lives, as they try to piece together the many mysteries and secrets hidden in a town torn apart by tragedy, amidst a labyrinth of lights and shadows.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon became one of my favourite authors after reading The Shadow of the Wind (commentary) and I’ve pretty much have been picking up every novel of his that’s been translated since. He’s apparently written a number of young adult titles prior to The Shadow of the Wind and have since been slowly translated into English. I never got around to reviewing the first two novels in the Nieblas series, The Prince of Mist and The Midnight Palace, which is strange because I thought I did. But anyways, this title recently came out, which was exciting.
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
As always, Zafon weaves a very spooky tale. While the Seaside home has this quiet beauty to it that’s far away from any populous centre, there are Gothic elements present in the novel, namely from Lazarus Jann’s castle-like domain. The castle with its endless halls and the toymaker’s workrooms with automatons that are just incredibly life-like is just the perfect setting for eerie happenings. Not to mention the local village and surrounding natural vistas are ripe with ghost stories and strange occurrences. Some of the stories have that underlying feel of danger that’s reminiscent of his adult works that adds a chilling layer to the overall atmosphere of the story. One character in particular from his adult stories makes an appearance in this novel, which was a thrilling surprise for his fans.
The characterisations are not that expansive so it was hard for me to connect with the characters as they investigate the strange happenings in their new-found home. Dorian, for example, pops in here and there but for the most part the reader follows Irene, followed by their mother, Simone. However, I wanted to know what was going on and whether the Sauvelle family would be able to survive the eerie things that were happening around them.
As an aside, I did have a minor issue about the language. The story takes place in the coasts of Normandy but other than the “madame” and “monsieur”, there was nothing else to indicate that this story was taking place in France. It would have taken place anywhere else. Which, okay, I didn’t mind that, but for some reason it did start getting on my nerves when either Irene or Dorian called Simone “Mom”. I expected “Maman” or “Mama” or even “Mother” but there’s something about “Mom” that draws me out of the moment and back to the present.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed The Watcher in the Shadows for the tale that it was. Zafon had mentioned time and again that he wrote these books because they were the kind of stories that he wanted to read growing up; I would say that I agree, these are certainly books I would’ve lost myself in growing up and I think if I were younger, I would certain rate this higher, lol. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, I think it might be my favourite of the three YA titles (though I have to re-read the other two at some point because my memory of what happened in both is rather fuzzy). I would recommend this title for fans of mystery and adventure with Gothic undertones as well as YA readers.