The Angel’s Game

angelsgameDavid Martín has been getting by writing penny dreadfuls under an assumed name. It’s a living, but it’s not what you’d call making a name for yourself. He’s lost the love of his life, his mentor is receiving all the accolades for a book he did most of the work on, and he has a brain tumor that will soon kill him. When he gets offered an opportunity to write a book that men and women will kill and die for, he can’t help but be tempted, even if he is highly suspicious of Andreas Corelli, the man who makes the offer.

In Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novel, The Angel’s Game, we see Martín struggle to take control of his own life, even as he gets more deeply entangled in a world of shadowy figures and men who know too much. Soon, people start dying, and Martín is under investigation by the police. As the labyrinthine plot unfolds, it becomes impossible to know what is real and who can be trusted.

The Angel’s Game exists in the same world as Zafón’s previous novel, The Shadow of the Wind, which I read and enjoyed years ago, but ultimately forgot. It takes place years before the events of Shadow and includes some overlapping characters and locations, but it can stand alone as a complete work. I remember very few details of Shadow, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of this book. Whether this book sticks with me more than its predecessor did remains to be seen.

I did find The Angel’s Game to be a gripping read. I had a hard time putting it down and was always eager to get back to it. I could never quite tell where the story was going to go. Zafón is brilliant at creating atmosphere, and this book is dripping with it. Each location, from the cursed Tower House where Martín lives to the homey Sempere and Son bookshop to the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books, has a distinct personality. The characters aren’t exactly likable, with the exception of Isabella and the Semperes, but they are interesting, if only because you can never be sure where most of them stand or what they are going to do.

As the book goes on, the complexity builds, and the concluding chapters are jam-packed with action and shocking revelations. The cumulative effect is rather overwhelming, and as I put the book down, I was somewhat more bewildered than satisfied. This is not necessarily a bad thing; some of my bewilderment has to do with the fact that Zafón intentionally doesn’t reveal the true story to the reader. We’re left to decide for ourselves, which is awesome. I love that kind of ambiguity. However, upon reflection, I’m not sure all the narrative threads paid off adequately. But I’m still chewing it over, and I can’t complain too much about a book that gives me so many questions to mull over when I’m done.

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15 Responses to The Angel’s Game

  1. Juxtabook says:

    I loved Shadow of the Wind especially the atmosphere of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the bookshop. Like you say the plots twist and turn in a crazy way and the charaacters don’t really stay with you but some how Zafon’s narrative is just a pleasant ride. I look forward to reading this.

  2. Steph says:

    I’ve never read Shadow of the Wind, because I had a friend who read and hated it, but now I really want to try it since it seems like she was the outlier in this case. This book sounds awesome, but since it does inhabit the same universe as Zafon’s first book, I figure it can’t hurt to start at the beginning…

  3. Lisa says:

    My boys gave me this book as part of my birthday present. I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ve read rather mixed reviews to date. Not sure what to expect not having read the earlier book. Thanks for your take on the book.

  4. savidgereads says:

    I loved Shadow of the Wind (am actually thinking of re-reading it before I read this) and so have been hankering after this since before it came out. Is it me or has this not caused the ripples that the previous one did. Am glad to hear you enjoyed it so much.

  5. CB James says:

    I was going to re-read Shadows of the Wind first, like Simon, but now I think I’m going to have to rush out and buy Angel’s Game. I really want to read this one.

  6. Teresa says:

    Juxtabook: This book is indeed a great ride. I think it will stick with me a little longer than Shadow did, only because it has more ambiguity. But it’s still mostly about the ride.

    Steph: I think if you go into either of these books expecting something profound, you’ll be disappointed. They’re just really intelligent thrillers. Most people I know who didn’t like Shadow were expecting more than that. (Not that that’s necessarily your friend’s complaint.) This book actually takes place before the events in Shadow, so I think you could read them in either order.

    Lisa: I do hope you enjoy it. I don’t think you’ll need to have read the previous book to enjoy it. In fact, a lot of the mixed reviews I’ve seen are from people who are disappointed that they didn’t like this as much as Shadow, so maybe you’re better off coming into this one without that baggage.

    Simon (savidgereads): You know, I think it took a while for Shadow of the Wind to really catch on here in the U.S. I don’t think I heard anything about it until it came out in paperback. Angel’s Game was just released here a week ago, so there hasn’t been much time for excitement to build. It’s been out longer in the UK, though, hasn’t it?

    CB: I wasn’t sure if I should read Shadow of the Wind first, but I don’t have a copy and didn’t feel like tracking one down. I don’t feel like I missed anything by only having vague memories of the earlier book..

  7. adevotedreader says:

    I’ve avoided both of Zafon’s novels because of all the hype. I do mean to read them one day, and will bear in mind I should expect a literary thriller and not profundity!

  8. Jenny says:

    I, too, found Shadow ultimately forgettable (though very enjoyable while I was reading it.) Interestingly, I picked it up in an airport bookstore in Madrid on my way home from Spain in 2004. It was the first I’d heard of it at that time. Thanks for the great review!

  9. Kristen M. says:

    I did the re-read first and was glad I did but it certainly wasn’t necessary. I had just remembered really liking the first book and I think most of why I liked it was the atmosphere which was definitely there in the second book as well.

  10. litlove says:

    I read Shadows of the Wind and thought it was okay. I was a bit disappointed, but probably because I’d heard such good things my expectations were set too high. This one, by contrast, I’ve only read negative reviews for, and yours is the first to like it. I’m quite tempted to read it (and I liked your review of it very much). I’ll probably cave in when it comes out in paperback!

  11. Teresa says:

    adevotedreader: I think I was lucky to have missed a lot of the hype. Both books are very good at being what they are.

    Jenny: I suspect Angel’s Game will ultimately be forgettable too. There’s enough ambiguity to make it stick for a while, and it is great fun while it lasts.

    Kristen: Yes, the atmosphere is one of the best things about both books. Zafon does a great job establishing mood.

    Litlove: Hype can definitely backfire when it causes us to expect too much. I wonder if a lot of the people who have disliked Angel’s Game had built Shadow of the Wind up in their minds as being so much better than it was. I didn’t find this book to be that different from Shadow (although I admit that my memory of the earlier book is vague). It’s darker, I think, and there’s more ambiguity about what really happened, but those are, in my mind, improvements.

  12. 3m says:

    Great review, Teresa! You’re so right about Zafon creating atmosphere. One of the things that definitely stands out about his writing.

  13. Teresa says:

    3m: Yes, he just got me totally immersed in his settings. Definitely one of his more significant gifts.

  14. Kathleen says:

    Everyone is talking or blogging about this book and I am starting to feel left out that I haven’t read it!

  15. Teresa says:

    Kathleen: I know what you mean–I get that same way about some books, and most movies. I think in this case so many people loved the first book that they’ve all been eager to read the second book. (Plus, the publisher sent out lots of review copies.)

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