To say that The Labyrinth of the Spirits is one of my most highly anticipated novels of the year doesn’t really begin to cover it. I adored The Shadow of the Wind which to this day remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this final instalment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.
As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.
Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an electrifying tale of passion, intrigue and adventure. Within its haunting pages Carlos Ruiz Zafón masterfully weaves together plots and subplots in an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits reunites the reader with some old friends (and that is how it feels to me) as well as introducing some new characters into the mix. Daniel now runs Sempere & Sons along with his wife, Bea, now that his father is less active in the management of the business. Fermin, of course, is still present, and much the same as ever, doling out little seeds of wisdom (irrespective of whether these have been asked for), and generally being as cheeky as he feels as he can get away with. I’m extremely fond of both Daniel and Fermin, and it was a pleasure to be reunited with them, and to see what they were up to two years on from The Prisoner of Heaven.
Whilst Daniel and Fermin feature in this novel, the main character is Alicia Gris. Alicia was orphaned during the war, and still suffers from the effects of an injury sustained at that time. Since then, she has been recruited into a role in a special unit of the police – one that seems to go unnamed throughout the novel. This latest case sees her return to Barcelona in order to find Mauricio Valls, Minister for Culture and former head of Montjuic Prison. Alicia’s character is an interesting one. I didn’t find her as immediately likeable as Daniel and Fermin, but she grew on me as the novel progressed. Bold and beautiful, she allows no one to get close to her, and hides behind a persona of femme fatale. I loved her determination to get a job done, no matter how much pain her old injury causes her. She is intelligent, and I loved her perseverance in getting to the bottom of this mystery even as things don’t go to plan.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits has a dark, gothic atmosphere, and this novel seemed to be more of a thriller than other novels in series, with the investigation into the disappearance of Valls uncovering a much broader and longer running conspiracy. The storytelling is second to none, and whilst this is a long book, I read it relatively quickly, desperate to uncover the truth behind Valls’s disappearance.
One common theme running through the whole series is that of a love of books, stories and of reading, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits is no exception. Here, the rare book in question is one by Victor Mataix, and is part of a series he wrote for his daughter, Ariadna, which features her as a heroine, facing up a series of horrors, fictionalised yet inspired by Spanish history. Whilst this seems like an aside, it becomes clear that this book, and is author, Mataix, have a role to play in the story and in Alicia’s investigation. It’s a dark and thrilling story, and if this novel perhaps contained more violence than the earlier novels, this is very much in keeping with the story as events come to a head.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits brings to a close an epic narrative, and I wouldn’t recommend reading this as a standalone novel. I think that the whole series has been pitched as being a set of interconnected stories that can be read either as a series or individually, and in any order. However, I think that because of the way in which this final instalment brings everything to a close, tying up all the loose ends from the earlier novels, that this should be read after The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven. Additionally, The Shadow of the Wind has long been one of my favourite novels, and is one that I recommend to everyone.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits will be published on 18 September by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an early copy via Netgalley.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐