The Labyrinth of the Spirits

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Labyrinth of the Spirits
by Carols Ruiz Zafón
★★★★

This is the 4th and final book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

To begin, The Shadow of the Wind will always be one of my favorite books. It is the first book in this series and a classic gothic novel. At this point, I've fallen so in love with Zafón's characters and his rich descriptions of Barcelona, that I have a hard time being objective about his work. I am more forgiving when there are plot hiccups because I'm already invested in the world he created. That being said let me dive into this latest installment.

The Labyrinth of Spirits picks up shortly after The Prisoner of Heaven ends. Our main protagonist is the troubled Alicia Gris. She's a bit of a femme fatale with her own troubled past and wounds, both physical and mental. The book pulls you in immediately with a scene from Fermin's past, but then we move forward in time and the middle has some pacing issues.

The plot is so convoluted with extra characters and layers upon layers of history that at times it’s hard to follow. I didn’t barrel through it as quickly as The Prisoner of Heaven or savor the atmosphere like The Shadow of the Wind. Instead I found that I enjoyed it most when I could sit and give it my full attention for a large chunk of time. Clocking in at over 800 pages (at least in ARC form), you need to sink into this world to juggle the different characters. Once you do, you are rewarded with slow but sure development. Obviously my favorite moments are when we return to the Sempere family. Once Alicia's path crossed with theirs I felt more connected.
***After this point my review assumes you’ve already read the whole series, but there are no spoilers for this book*** 

There's a moment in the book when Zafón actually explains the arch of the series. It's just perfect and gives an insider's wink to anyone who has read all four books. About The Labyrinth of Spirits he says,
 “The fourth installment, fierce and enormous, spiced with perfumes from all the earlier ones, would lead us at last to the center of the mystery, uncovering all the puzzles with the help of my favorite fallen angel of mist, Alicia Gris.”

It's a perfect summary. Despite the author's sometimes loquacious tendencies and a pile of characters that it's easy to confuse (Gris' detective partner Vargas, her mentor Leandro, Inspector Fumero's apprentice Hendaya, the banker Sanchís and his wife Victoria Ubach, the author Víctor Mataix and his daughter Ariadna, the fumbling stalker Rovira, the journalist Vilajuana, the missing political minister Mauricio Valls, the besotted Fernandito, Daniel's cousin Sofía, and on and on...), the book is still a delight. It's a bit of work, but it's worth it in the end because it ties the whole world together.

I'm so glad we get to know Isabella Sempere's character a little better. Often when we lose a parent at a young age, it's easy to turn them into an idealized saint. Seeing the real person, full of flaws and bad decisions, can be painful, but it's so much more real. We finally have a chance to meet her, full of fire and grit, and hear her story in her own voice. It’s always been a flaw out Zafón’s to paint women as either whores or saints instead of giving them depth. I felt like this book gave us a few that were more developed, although it's certainly still focused more on the men. I wish we'd had a chance to explore the world through Bea's eyes, but we never get that privilege. Instead, the story comes full circle with Daniel and Bea's son Julián. We also spend more time with Fermin, who I've grown to love in all his irreverent glory.

BOTTOM LINE: Heartbreaking and beautiful, the story brings all of his characters together, somehow turning all four books into one complete tale. It's a must for anyone who loves the series. If you're new to his work I’d recommend try The Shadow of the Wind first to see if it's for you.

“At the time I was just a kid and life was still a few sizes too big for me.”

“However many sorrows you drag along with you, you’ll only have walked a few steps before bumping into someone who will remind you that there’s always another person with a far worse set of cards then yours in the game of life.”

“Some would argue that no genre is more fictitious than a biography.”
“With the possible exception of an autobiography,” Mataix granted.

“Learning how to differentiate between why one does things and why one says one does them is the first step toward getting to know oneself.”

“The most sincere pain is experienced alone.”

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