I saw this on a library shelf and fell prey to their assertion that, having read The Shadow of the Wind, I should read this too. Blair’s review is spot-on when she says “the story begins promisingly” but then “the book soon begins to get quite silly and more and more plot holes and unanswered questions pop up”. The Prince of Mist suffers from being, ultimately, a story without a heart. Carlos Ruiz Zafón tries to create characters for the reader to care about, but the central conflict and antagonist are so nebulous and ill-defined that the story ultimately languishes in the liminal space between sinister childhood mystery and cautious fairy tale.
Max Carver’s family relocates to the oceanside to avoid the worst of the Second World War. They move into a house that stands out for its troubled history, and Max meets Roland, who likes to dive around a shipwreck with its own grisly story. Max finds nearby a garden of statues of circus performers—which would be creepy by itself, but the symbol on the gates of the garden is the same as the one on the sunken ship. Soon, Max and his sister and Roland find themselves in the middle of a fight against an old and powerful foe who is not willing to die.
It’s a terrifying, almost invigorating prospect. And Ruiz Zafón does almost nothing with it. Cain’s origins are never explored; he remains little more than a bogeyman with a good backstory. The end of the book, which involves a sacrifice so that everyone else can escape, passes so quickly, and without enough explanation, that the sacrifice lacks the significance it should have. I’m not averse to stories with dark or tragic endings, but they need to earn it.
Then there’s the incredibly contrived and unbelievable way in which Max’s parents leave him and Alicia alone for days on end. Max’s younger sister, Irina, falls down the stairs and enters a coma; so, his parents accompany her into town to the hospital, where they stay by her side, occasionally phoning Max and Alicia to check up on them. Um, what? Last time I checked, there are two of them. Couldn’t they take turns in shifts sitting by Irina and taking care of two thirds of their children? But no, instead they leave Max and Alicia alone to undergo this strange adventure all by themselves. Again, I’m not averse to the need to get the parents out of the way in this type of story so that the young protagonists can face evil on their own. But when it’s done in such an unbelievable manner, it pulls me out of the story.
The Prince of Mist is definitely more fantastical and magical in terms of content than either of Ruiz Zafón’s novels for adults that I’ve read. Yet those novels are by far superior and by far more magical works of literature. That this is Ruiz Zafón’s first published novel does not surprise me, but it doesn’t leave me inclined to be any more charitable to it.
Though its length precludes it wasting one’s time overly much, I still don’t recommend it. The Shadow of the Wind and others are definitely worth a try, but The Prince of Mist has very little to offer a reader, be they younger or older.