Carlos Ruiz Zafón has been the star of my beach reads for years now. As a teenager I completely lost myself in the shady Barcelona streets of The Shadow of the Wind and again, later on, with The Angel’s Game. A winning formula of creepy alleyways, abandoned libraries and enigmatic ‘baddies’, I am always kept highly entertained and am so, so anxious to dip into his recent offering; The Prisoner of Heaven.
An area I am not too hot on however is…wait for it….Young Adult Fiction; a genre that ordinarily omits a ‘yikes NO thanks!’ from me. I know YA novels are a hot topic at the moment but I really do struggle to see how I, as a 27 year old woman, can really get everything out of these books that the authors perhaps intend and the same goes for those written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. That said, Mummy Relish read and adored The Prince of Mist, a glowing recommendation indeed and, bearing that in mind, I snaffled up The Midnight Palace whilst panic spending my rupees at Delhi airport!
Frankly, my opinion is still up in the air. And here’s why:
Calcutta, the 1930s. We are introduced to ‘The Chowbar Society’; a self-proclaimed band of teenage detectives and orphans living at St Patricks; a refuge for abandoned children lying deep within the ancient City of Palaces. Amongst them are Ben and Sheere, twins separated at birth in order to protect them from an evil force that once upon a time threatened their doomed parents and now, the teenagers themselves. The combination of Zafón’s electrifying imagination and Lucia Graves’ impeccable translations are always an absolute treat. As I learnt back in June, Lucia (Robert Graves’ daughter don’tcha know) translates Zafón’s drafts and redrafts as they are churned out, making for such fluid, thoughtful English prose that we forget this is translated fiction at all.
The Midnight Palace is big on the action and entertainment, call it a more exotic and much darker ‘Secret Seven’ or ‘Fab Five’. Good battles an Evil that is really quite monstrous (even by adult standards) and the wildly different yet fairly stereotypical teenage characters; i.e. the ‘artist’, the ‘hero’, the ‘geek’, etc, allow the reader to become all the more invested in Ben and Sheere’s story, however implausible it might be.
That said, although entertained, by the end of this short read I felt a distinct something lacking. First of all, I love India but, despite being set in Calcutta, there was hardly any flavour of it here. Living in such an insular teenager world with (despite the situation) all its petty little nitpicks, it might as well have been set in Barcelona for all we saw of the great city itself. And, after all is said and done, I’m afraid the main problem I had with this book is that I am simply not the target audience. The plot is so simple to the point of being contrived. The characters so stereotyped to the point of being corny. And the loose ends….well loose ends don’t usually bother but, well, let’s just say I let them bother me in this case.
Would I consider YA novels in the future? You’d be hard pressed to convince me. However, I’m never completely closed up to anything really….anyone got any suggestions?