In an attempt to evade the war that is sweeping through Europe in 1943, Max Carver’s father moves his family from the city to an old wooden house on the coast. As soon as they arrive, strange things begin to happen. Max discovers an overgrown garden where the statues appear to move, clocks seem to go backwards and his father unearths a stack of mysterious home videos from the previous owners.
Together with his sister Alicia and their newfound friend Roland, Max begins to draw connections between the wreckage of a ship that sunk twenty years ago, Alicia’s bad dreams and the drowned boy who used to live in their house.
The Prince of Mist is a thrilling ghost story full of mystery and magic. As soon as I’d read the introductory chapters at the beginning and the story really took off, I was unable to put the book down until I had finished it that same night. The pacing of the story and slow unraveling of the mysteries within it are so effective that I believe anyone would speed through these 202 pages in no time.
Having read some of Zafón’s later works, I recognized some elements in the story that the uses more often. Each book I have read by him so far features a creepy scene in a sarcophagus and The Prince of Mist, like The Angel’s game, has an underlying theme of “a pact with the devil”.
The story itself is much shorter and less complex than The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, probably due to it being the first novel Zafón published and its target audience of Young Adults. Published in Spanish in 1993, the book wasn’t translated into English until 2010, after Zafón had become a bestselling author through some of his later works. However, just because it isn’t as successful or literary, it doesn’t mean that this is an inferior book. I very much enjoyed the accessibility of this story: as the characters in The Prince of Mist aren’t as complex, flawed or simply unkind as in some of his other books, I immediately felt a strong affection towards them. This made the reading more ‘pleasant’ and also made me feel genuinely worried about them throughout the scary parts.
That said, The Prince of Mist is more than a ghost story alone. Though the Second World War doesn’t feature heavily in the story, we can draw parallels between the way it looms over our characters in the background and the more personal, local suspense that forms the plot of this book. Moreover, I very much appreciated the extent to which the novel explores the way the relationship between Max and Alicia develops as a result of their shared experiences. I haven’t read many books that foreground the relationships between siblings, even though they often form such an important part of our lives.
In short, I encourage anyone who likes Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s later works or is up for a good thrill to give this book a try. Don’t go into it expecting the same kind of storytelling as in his 600 page works but enjoy it as its own thing. And remember: don’t read it before you go to sleep 😉.