Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Prince of Mist

At the risk of sounding like a literary snob, I love reading Spanish Magical Realism. If you're unfamiliar with that genre, it is a mix of reality and fantastical elements by Spanish (or Mexican) authors. Great examples includes authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Laura Esquivel and books such 100 Years of Solitude and Like Water For Chocolate (my personal favorite). Last year when a coworker introduced me to a new author from Barcelona, I immediately devoured the two adult works of Carlos Ruiz Zafón that had been translated (The Shadow of the Wind and it's companion The Angel's Game). Those are amazing books, some of the best I've read in years, but definitely adult books. I do not recommend them to kids or teens. That why I was so excited (thrilled, over the moon, doing a happy dance) to get a copy of his first (translated) book for teens.

Book: The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves
Vital Stats: Published in May 2010 by Little, Brown and Company, 200 pages
Marketed Toward: Teens
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended, with a few reservations, for teens 14+

Book Synopsis
It's 1943 and the war is pressing in on daily life in Spain. On his 13th birthday, Max's father announces he is moving the family away from the city to a coastal town to escape the war. There his father opens up a watchmaker's shop and they move into a beach home abandoned after tragedy struck and the son of the previous owners drowned. That was not the only tragedy to strike this small community: years before a ship had sunk leaving only one survivor. Said survivor built the town's lighthouse and took in his orphaned grandson to raise. Max and his older sister become friends with the grandson, Roland, and together discover a mystery surrounding the drowned ship, the lighthouse keeper, a garden of creepy statues, and the previous occupants of the house. It's primarily a ghost story, with a bit about a deal with a devil thrown in, and of course a sense of magic.

My Take
I am not a person who enjoys being scared for the sake of being scared, but I loved this. The intertwining of the real and the not-quite-real is brilliant. It's not as fluid and poetic as Zaf´o;n's adult works, but it is much shorter and a quicker read. The story is less complex and fleshed out, but has the same interweaving of characters and places that make Zaf%acuteo;n's works so spine-tingling. Anyone who likes a creepy read, or beautiful writing, will find something to like here. However, I do have a couple of reservations, as always, read on.

Possible Issues
The first line of the book sets the stage: Max would never forget that faraway summer when, almost by chance, he discovered magic. So yes, this book includes magic. Choose for yourself how you feel about that. No main (or likeable) character practices magic, magic is shown as an evil force, and a consequence is always paid for practicing magic. The titular "Prince of Mist" is an evil-magician who grants wishes for people for a terrible price. (There's a nice object lesson about making a deal with the devil.) I do not feel that the presence of the supernatural element in this book should automatically preclude it from being enjoyed by an older Christian teen. Parents should also be aware that in the developing intimacy between Max's older sister, Alicia, and Roland, there is some physical intimacy. Max observes the two kissing and rolling around in the sand on the beach. Alicia also removes her dress before going swimming with Roland. Nothing is ever graphically described and at no point do they explain to exactly what level the intimacy between Roland and Alicia progresses.

"Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds. I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. Then you will know that I am the LORD." -Ezekiel 13:20-21


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