What I really want to say is, “Stop what you’re reading, get this book and read it now!” I don’t want to spoil your reading experience with a review. But, why take my word for it, right? So, alas, here is something like a review.
First off, Angel’s Game is the best book I’ve read (I actually listened to it) this year. It has the beautiful writing, storytelling and romance of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the labyrinthine narrative of Borges and the intrigue and the paranoid conspiracy-theory feel of Umberto Eco. At which point, my husband interrupts and says with his biting New Jersey charm, “Now don’t get carried away,” which is good, because I was going to say “with a little bit of Calvino for good measure.” Sorry, but there really isn’t any Calvino.
Second, it has one of my favorite first lines from a book:
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story.
Okay, I love the rest of that first paragraph, too:
He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.
I should let that be my summary of the book as well, because it captures the heart of the novel so well. David Martin is a writer at the newspaper, the Voice of Industry, in Barcelona. His patron and fellow writer, Pedro Vidal, manages to use his influence to get Martin a publishing contract writing penny dreadfuls at breakneck speed. At the point when Martin thinks he is going mad, an obscure French publisher makes him an offer he can’t refuse. If Martin’s life until that point was dark and depressing, it soon becomes slightly more sinister.
I will try not to gush or over-exaggerate here, but here are some stats. The book is not scary, but there were several occasions when I started to feel that cold, creepiness of a ghost story. I gasped out loud at least 3-5 times. My heart was broken a minimum of 2 or 3 times and we’re talking crushed and devastated at least twice. By the end of the book, my heart was pounding like I was watching an action movie. It felt like I was on a roller coaster where all the screws were coming loose from the tracks behind me.
The story itself was fantastic and the setting of Barcelona was nicely done. The Tower House, where Martin lives is so eerie and powerful it dominates many a scene. But it was really the characters that make this novel work, because the story itself is not fast-paced until near the end. Like many a good writer, Carlos Ruiz Zafon has his way with his characters. His secondary characters are wonderful. Some are steadfast and others can’t be trusted. But often times even the characters I loved the most did things I couldn’t believe.
From Don Pedro and Sempere (a bookseller) who were the family that Martin has never had to the evil police who seem to be looking for a reason to arrest him. Then there is Andreas Corelli, the publisher, who has the ability to appear and disappear out of nowhere like the “Smoking Man” from the X-files. I thought that Isabella, Martin’s “assistant” was my favorite character. She is so full of life and she makes the world the way she wants it to be. But, I realized that it was Martin himself who was my favorite character. Partly because of his ordeal, his survival skills, but also because of his relationship with Isabella. I always liked him more when he was with her. He was often harsh with her, but he showed his greatest moments of tenderness with her, too. I want to note that the narrator, Dan Stevens, was fantastic. His voice was lovely and he flowed effortlessly from an English accent to Spanish proper nouns. He portrayed Martin with a certain biting sarcasm, that I don’t think I would have been able to capture in my own head. It was certainly something that made me like him more as a character.
Finally, I was incensed that I couldn’t pick up a copy of Shadow of the Wind immediately after I finished Angel’s Game. For that matter, what has taken me so long to read it? I’ve heard only good things about it. Truth be told, I confused it with another book for several years. Prince of Mist will be next on my list after that for sure.