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.
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