20 October 2011

Review: The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

In 1916 Calcutta a soldier sacrifices his life saving two orphaned newborns from a mysterious evil being. He takes the infants to an old lady, who leaves one them, Ben, at a Catholic orphanage. The boy thrives, eventually joining a secret society that meets in a ruined house the children have dubbed "the Midnight Palace." Each year, the orphanage releases the sixteen-year-olds out into the world. On the eve of Ben's departure, the evil presence reappears to claim the boy's life. The teens must find a way to defeat the magic and stay alive.

Although Carlos Ruiz Zafón wrote The Midnight Palace for a young adult audience, this Gothic tale misses its mark. The plot lacks some sophistication and thus seems better suited to a middle grade reader. On the other hand, the creepiness factor could very well be too much for preteens.

When I read the novel, I hadn't realized it was a sequel to The Prince of Mist, which I haven't read. Fortunately, the novel stands on its own, and I didn't feel as if I were missing background information. Although I loved Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind, written for adults, I found The Midnight Palace to be a disappointment.

The first problem was I didn't have a strong sense of place; I wasn't immersed in colonial India and felt the story could have been set almost anywhere. In addition, I thought the lifestyle of the orphans and their level of education and expectations for their future didn't ring true. For example, there was no explanation (or perhaps I missed it) for how one of the orphans was able to sail to London to pursue a medical degree. I doubt orphans in 1930s Calcutta had those kind of resources. Perhaps a younger reader would be caught up in the action and magic and not think to question these issues, but an adult reader will find it difficult to believe the setup.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Hachette Audio, 7 hr, 9 min) read by Jonathan Davis. My full audio review was written for AudioFile magazine and will eventually appear on their website and/or in the magazine. Here's a hint: you may want to pick this one up in print.

EDIT: After some Twitter conversation and a bit more research, I discovered that The Midnight Palace is likely not a sequel to The Prince of Mist. Zafón's website says it is "the second in a series" of young adult novels. I'm not sure he is using the word series here to mean interlinked books; instead I think he means a group of, a number of young adult novels.

This review will be linked to both Kid Konnection, hosted each Saturday by Julie from Booking Mama, and Murder, Monsters, and Mayhem, a month-long event hosted by Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves.

Published by Hachette Group / Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780316044738
Source: Bought, both print and audio (see review policy)
Rating: C

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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Julie P. 10/20/11, 6:41 AM  

Bummer! I didn't enjoy THE PRINCE OF MIST very much either, but I loved THE SHADOW OF THE WIND. Won't be rushing to pick this one up.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 10/20/11, 6:52 AM  

I hadn't heard of this one until now, but then probably because I don't tend to read much YA. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

Marg 10/20/11, 6:58 AM  

I was really disappointed in this one as well. I loved Shadow of the Wind so much, but had avoided reading any more in case it didn't live up to my expectations. Turns out I was right to be worried.

Sandy Nawrot 10/20/11, 7:10 AM  

I guess Davis must be the go-to guy for all of Zafon's works, and no wonder. He does a great job. But while I loved Shadow of the Wind and its prequel, The Prince of Mist didn't do much for me. I thought it was way to superficial and a stereotypical, two-dimensional "ghost story". My kids loved it though. I'm curious now that you said this was a sequel. I'm wondering if my kids would be interested.

Word Lily 10/20/11, 7:18 AM  

Prince of Mist was actually the first book he wrote, and if this is a sequel, I'm guessing it's the second. I haven't picked this one up, because I was so disappointed by Prince of Mist. I think maybe, hopefully, he just got better with time? Which would mean there would be some titles still to come to an English-speaking audience from his backlist that, eventually, might at least deserve a place on the shelve next to Shadow.

Chinoiseries 10/20/11, 7:33 AM  

Too bad that it didn't live up to its expectations. I still have Shadow of the Wind in my bookcase, should start on it soon.

Zibilee 10/20/11, 8:55 AM  

I adored The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, but have heard that his other books are somewhat lackluster, and so I have sort of stayed away. I hear that there is going to be a third book in the Shadow of the Wind series, and I am really anxious to try that, though I do have to say that reading The Angel's Game sort of gave me a bit of a breakdown when I realized it made me question a lot of things that I had always felt really strongly about. Sorry to hear that this one wasn't a favorite for you. It sounds like it might have disappointed me as well.

Melissa (Avid Reader) 10/20/11, 12:11 PM  

I adore Zafon's two adult works, but I was disappointed in The Prince of Mist. I may hold off on reading this one.

Audra 10/20/11, 12:45 PM  

Nice review -- I hadn't realized this was a YA novel but I'm going to pass -- my TBR is too huge at the moment.

Meghan 10/20/11, 2:15 PM  

Your reaction to this is pretty much identical to mine for THE PRINCE OF MIST. I didn't think it was worth reading this - looks like I was right. I did love SHADOW OF THE WIND though.

bermudaonion 10/20/11, 4:12 PM  

I wasn't crazy about this book either. I thought the characters and the plot needed to be developed more.

caite 10/20/11, 7:16 PM  

to be in India in the early part of the century and not able to recreate the feel of that time and place seems like such a..dare I say...failure of the author.

joanna 10/21/11, 5:35 AM  

I loved Shadow of the Wind but haven't heard much good about his other books... what a shame, this story idea sounds like it could be great!

Kailana 10/21/11, 9:36 AM  

I have never read this author before at all. It is too bad this book didn't work very well!

Jenners 10/21/11, 9:00 PM  

I keep seeing raves about the first books in this series. Sounds like I should start there instead. I didn't realize they weren't "adult" books.

Andi 10/24/11, 1:01 PM  

I have mixed feelings about Zafon overall. While I enjoyed the bookish bits of The Shadow of the Wind, I found it a little overly melodramatic. I tried The Angel's Game and didn't have much luck with it. The premise of this one sounds interesting, but underdeveloped is bleh.

Michelle 10/29/11, 6:28 PM  

This one never jumped out at me to begin with. Hearing that you felt it missed the mark only goes to confirm that I've made the right call in taking a pass on it.

Kris 10/30/11, 7:01 AM  

Sorry this one didn't live up to your expectations.

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