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.”

Henry IV Part 1 and 2 and King John

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Henry IV Part 1 and 2
By William Shakespeare

Before he was urging on his troops with words like “band of brothers”, Henry V was just Hal. He liked to drink and carouse and ignore his father’s wishes. He was not yet the warrior king he would become. I loved watching him start to transform in this play. These plays are part of the eight that make up Shakespeare’s War of the Roses histories.

There are a few stand out characters including the clever and charismatic Hotspur (Henry Percy). Although he is technically our hero’s foe, this plot actually makes him a more sympathetic character than Hal. He fights for what he wants. He’s quick to anger, but he’s also willing to put himself in danger to protect what he loves. While Hal is leisurely screwing around in taverns, Hotspur is taking things seriously. 

Sir John Falstaff is another great one. He is the epitome of the classic fool. He is constantly looking for a new way to get out of work and cheat someone. He is the butt of Hal’s jokes and his drinking buddy, but nothing ever seems to faze the corpulent coward. He reminds me of Thénardier in Les Misérables

In Part 2 Hal finally decides to embrace his role as king he must choose a different life than the one he's been living. That includes distancing himself from the crowd he's grown so fond of.

“Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.”

There were moments in this play that felt much too familiar. They glorify the past while bemoaning their present situation.

“The commonwealth is sick of their own choice;
Their over-greedy love has surfeited.
An habitation giddy and unsure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.”

“Past and to come seems best; things present, worst.”

BOTTOM LINE: I particularly loved part 1 of this pair of plays, but they are both excellent. They show that one person can rise above and choose a more noble life. They give hope for personal transformation while at the same time they highlight the sacrifices that come with power and leadership. Someone Shakespeare marries those lessons with battle scenes, bawdy comedy, and even quiet moments of romance in a way that only he seems able to do.

I would highly recommend watching the Hollow Crown series either first or in conjunction with reading the plays. They are beautifully done and helped bring the work alive for me.
Part 1 Quotes:

“But thought’s the slave of life, and life time’s fool;
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop. O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue.”

“Youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.”

“O, while you live, tell truth, and shame the Devil!”

“The better part of valor, is discretion.”

Part 2 Quotes:

“Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it.”

“O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature's soft nurse, how have I frightened thee. That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness?”

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

“How quickly nature falls into revolt
When gold becomes her object!”

King John 
By William Shakespeare

King John's right to the throne is being challenged by the king of France. He believe's John's nephew, Arthur, should be the king. Conflict ensues and alliances shift as they struggle for power. 

King John was less memorable than some of the other histories, but it still held some powerful moments. There's one scene where a mother grieves for her child and no matter the context, it's a heartbreaker: 

“Grief fills the room up of my absent child, Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me... My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!”

Lady Constance was a melodramatic character that I would love to see portrayed on the stage. Like all of Shakespeare's plays, this one had beautiful lines, but overall it's not a new favorite. 

“Grow great by your example, and put on the dauntless spirit of resolution.
Away, and glister like the god of war
When he intendeth to become the field. 
Show boldness and aspiring confidence.”

“Mad world, mad kings, mad composition (agreement)!”