Top critical review
A new hope...?
on 28 June 2015
First came The Shadow of the Wind, which I can honestly say is one of the most surprising and wonderful books I’ve read this century. Then came The Angel’s Game, which I can honestly say is one of the books I’ve read this century. Now The Prisoner of Heaven, which falls between the two in terms of quality, though partly because it feels like only half a story – it’s sort of The Empire Strikes Back of the series, though I say that as someone who really doesn’t understand all the fuss about Star Wars. If you’re a Star Wars fan, it’s probably Attack of the Clones: getting things a bit back on track after the previous instalment buggered up everything you loved about what had come before.
Mostly this is the dark, miserable and extraordinarily convenient story of Fermin – kept in a nightmarish prison for reasons unknown and escaping with an ease that highlights just how bad Zafon’s plotting is in this volume: everything falls to convenience and contrivance so that characters can be moved into place for the concluding book. Anyway, a shadowy presence from Fermin’s past appears and so we get this long-winded and rather uninteresting story that eventually peters out and finishes with 50 pages of such drawn out, meticulously dull happenings that you just know Zafon is going to expiate it all with a staggering reveal or twist on the final page to get you slavering for Book 4.
Well, no. It just sort of ends, after a mawkish plea to inveigle its way into your good books that only kind of works because the characters are so gorgeously realised. It improves upon The Angel’s Game significantly, but falls some way short of TSotW – Fermin is impressively shackled down from raging firebrand puffed up on his own mythomania to a delicate and broken man, but too many strands are picked up and then left in mid-air, with Zafon evidently anticipating you being able to recall not only them but also the events the TAG in a few years time when the final chapter of this saga eventually sees the light of day.
Overall I’m sort of indifferent. Lucia Graves has done another achingly superb job in translating this, and the odd moment of beauty and care sparkles amid the coincidences and lazy plotting, but we’re a long way from the pinnacle Zafon evidently achieved far too early in this series. If you read and loved The Shadow of the Wind and are hoping for a return to the glories of that indescribably rich and moving tapestry then this, it’s for to say, is not the book you’re looking for. Unfortunately, though, it’s about as close as you’re likely to get.