Almost a decade before he burst on the international scene with the mega-bestseller The Shadow of the Wind, author Carlos Ruiz Zafon released his first book, a Young Adult novel titled The Prince of Mist. It was the first of four YA novels that until this year were only available in Spanish. Thankfully for Zafon's legions of English-speaking fans, these will be translated and released over the next four years, one each year. The Prince of Mist is the first of the newly translated books.
Most readers in the U.S. and U.K. know Zafon primarily through The Shadow of the Wind, which was both a critical and commercial smash, selling more than 15 million copies worldwide. And most of those readers likely thought it was also his first novel. But in 1992 Zafon published The Price of Mist, a book that in reality goes well beyond the Young Adult tag his Spanish publishers saddled it with. Zafon himself has said he did not write it for teen readers, but rather for everyone who loves to read.
The book is set in an unnamed country in 1943, in keeping with Zafon's habit of placing his books in the early to mid part of the 20th century. To distance his family from the encroaching menace of World War II, watchmaker Maximilian Carver moves them from the city to a small coastal town. Right after this move his 13-year-old son Max and 15-year-old daughter Alicia begin to experience strange and troubling occurrences. Along with their new friend Roland, the nearby lighthouse keeper's grandson, they begin searching for answers to the mystery of the Carver's new house, a sunken ship that lies just off their coast, and a mythic and possibly demonic figure known as the Prince of Mist.
This book is considerably shorter at 214 pages than the 400+ pages of The Shadow of the Wind and the book that followed it, The Angel's Game. This is not surprising, as the plot of The Prince of Mist is not nearly as intricate as Zafon's two most recent novels. Nor does it have the same level of suspense that is generated in those two "adult market" efforts. But the novel is very, very good, and in it we get a glimpse of what Zafon will give us in those later books, particularly in his ability to use beautiful language to give the reader a real sense of mood and place.
In both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game one of the characters says the following:
"Every book has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and 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."
This was certainly true of those books, and it is equally true of The Prince of Mist. This is a book that not only gives us amazing writing but also gives a glimpse into the early development of one of the greatest writers of the past 100 years. Buy this book, give it to your friends, and read it with your children. It may be the best 200 pages you read this year.