I've mentioned before how much I loved Shadow of the Wind, Zafon's first novel translated into English. The prequel, The Angel's Game (which was published after Shadow of the Wind) is equally as compelling, albeit much darker. What makes the The Angel's Game so good is the story, which isn't to say it's not well-written because it is. But for me it was the story that sucked me in. Chapter by chapter I just wanted to know what would happen next.
We meet David Martin when is a struggling writer living in Barcelona circa 1917. Within the first page Martin states, "A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story... A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price." As the story unfolds, Martin is commissioned to write a book for a mysterious publisher of religious texts and eventually realizes that by accepting this work he has in fact put a price on his soul.
Like I said, the story itself will suck you in. Zafon is an amazing story teller. His novel is filled with intrigue, suspense and murder (which make it a great summer read) but also offers much more than that. The Angel's Game speaks to the power of literature and it's importance. We are taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where Martin says, "This place is a mystery. A sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands, a new spirit...". If you are a reader who loves the idea of books - a reader who loves the smell and the feel of books and the notion that they can offer everything from understanding to compassion to an entirely new outlook of the world - then you will like this book. There were also many literary allusions throughout the novel, from Great Expectations to Jane Eyre, which, as a book lover, I really enjoyed.
I also want to mention that this book offers a strong sense of place, by which I mean the city of Barcelona is almost like a character itself. The backdrop of this city adds a lot to the novel, both in terms of beauty, uniqueness and mystery. As far as places go, this seems like a great one.
All in all I really liked this book. However, I think I liked The Shadow of the Wind more. So, if you haven't read either I suggest you start with the ladder. Each offer two unique story lines that focus on two different yet connected generations, but one isn't necessary to understand the other.
The New York Times also did a nice review of the book that you can read here. I enjoyed the ending, when they say, "The pleasures of “The Angel’s Game” are guilty ones. As he did in “The Shadow of the Wind,” Ruiz Zafón provides, along with sex and death, a nice slide show of old Barcelona, a handful of affectionate riffs on favorite books (among them that other, very different mysterious- benefactor tale “Great Expectations”) and a pervasive sense of the childish joy of credulity — of surrendering to a story and letting it take you where it will, whatever the consequences."
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Year of First Edition: 2009