David 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.