I am aware that I am in the minority with what I am about to say here, this book has sold over seven million copies worldwide and is the second best selling book in Spanish history, so I could well be wrong, but I really struggled with this. I nearly gave up on it on several occasions, which I never do.
The story, and I can only give a really topline summary here, because it is so complicated, begins as Daniel is taken by his father to a hidden library called 'The Cemetery of Forgotten Books' and asked to choose a book to look after. The Cemetery is run by collectors of rare books and is used as a place to store forgotten books so they will remain in existence. Daniel chooses 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Julian Carax and falls in love with the book.
When he begins to be followed by a disfigured man and other people begin to offer him exorbitant prices for 'The Shadow of the Wind' he realises he hasn't simply picked a book, but become involved in a mystery.
So far so good, an interesting premise and what seems like it could be an exciting read in the vein of Da Vinci Code. It is based on a reliable formula, there is plenty of intrigue and the plot line twists and turns impressively enough. It is however the storyline that makes this a failure for me. There is no doubt that it is an intricate and well-planned plot, but what makes something like Da Vinci Code so emminently readable is the effortless way in which the story is played out. Dan Brown has many failures as an author, but telling a good story is not one of them. Zafon's story unfolds with none of the ease of Brown's books, on the contrary, The Shadow of the Wind is weighed down by it's story.
Characters are introduced only as a way of moving the story on, if Daniel needs to find something out he simply meets someone and they launch into an essay of exposition; often in such detail that I flipped between being overwhelmed, bored and feeling like I was being cheated.
Where it is worst, it is terrible and inept.
While the majority of the text is written from the position of Daniel, the novel suffers from horrible point of view problems. One character, a priest who went to school with Carax, suddenly lapses into third person omniscient for a twenty page information dump of purple prose. Worse still, the vast majority of this information is about things that the priest simply could not of known and at the end you realise that the only point of the whole section was to reveal a plot twist which could have easily been delivered in one sentence.
Worst still, as a reader I felt no empathy for Daniel and for the most part he was only there as a device to move the plot forward, I couldn't have cared less when he was in danger and considered him purely as a conduit for information about Carax.
The main villain of the piece Fumero is little more than a pantomine bad guy, laughing behind his cape and when he begins swearing it seems so incongruous with the rest of the book that it renders him little more than a caricature.
Additionally, the novel dips hugely in the centre- I think a good editor could trim 100 pages from it and make a much faster paced, smoother read and probably tidy up the transitions between past and present. I don't know whether this is the fault of the translation, but there is at least one place the narrative switches from the first person "I" to the second person "you", an error which I found particularly disconcerting.
I was really disapointed that I didn't enjoy The Shadow of the Wind, I didn't expect it to be a masterpiece of literature, but at the very least I wanted a gripping storyline and an enjoyable holiday read. What I got was a flabby overlong storyline pretending to be a novel.