In a novel first published in Spain in 1999, Zafón (The Midnight Palace) transports readers to 1979 Barcelona, where 15-year-old Oscar Drai lives a dreary boarding school life. That’s until he meets a girl named Marina, who takes him to an old cemetery where a cloaked woman conducts an odd ritual over a nameless grave. Soon they uncover a twisted tale of hereditary disease, murder, and horrible experiments, all of which took place years ago and whose central figures are dead. Or are they? Zafón is a master of both the subtle simile (“A strange sound throbbed in the darkness. A metallic murmur, like the sound of a venetian blind quivering”) and the outrageous image: “The light filtering down from above revealed the face of a harlequin. Two diamond shapes covered its glassy eyes, and steel fangs protruded from its lips of polished wood.” On a rational level, the tale, like many Gothic thrillers, is preposterous, but readers are never given time to think rationally. Unlikely discoveries in mysterious, half- ruined mansions alternate with spine- tingling action sequences to create a grotesquerie that will delight horror fans. Ages 12–up. (July)
* "This beautifully written work of historical fiction is impossible to put down."—School Library Journal, starred review
* "Zafón is a master of both the subtle simile and the outrageous image.... Unlikely discoveries in mysterious, half-ruined mansions alternate with spine-tingling action sequences to create a grotesquerie that will delight horror fans."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"This sweeping gothic mystery...delivers gritty atmosphere, perilous action, [and] propulsive storytelling."—Booklist
Like Paris in Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, Ruiz Zafón’s Barcelona is a character in its own right, linchpin for this richly atmospheric, genuinely scary tale.Oscar Drai, 15, leads a solitary existence at his boarding school, marking time until he can escape to wander Barcelona’s cold misty streets and decaying neighborhoods. While exploring the garden of a decaying mansion, he hears a beautiful voice singing and impulsively follows it indoors to its source, an old gramophone, next to which is a pocket watch. When the room’s furious occupant suddenly confronts him, Oscar flees back to school before realizing he still has the watch. Returning it, he meets Germán, its owner, and his beautiful daughter, Marina, who befriends him. Soon, Marina invites Oscar to accompany her to a lonely graveyard, where, hidden, they watch a veiled woman in black place a flower on a gravestone that’s carved with the image of a black butterfly then disappear into one of the abandoned buildings nearby. Curious, they follow her and discover a greenhouse in an overgrown garden and make a horrific discovery. What lies behind the ancient facades—and in the fetid darkness beneath the city streets—is a mystery as layered as the city’s history. It’s well-known which road is paved with good intentions—none are more lethal, Oscar learns, than love and pity.High-quality gothic genre fiction with a classic Mary Shelley sensibility. (Horror. 12 & up)
Praise for The Midnight Palace:
"With shades of modern horror classics....Zafón has crafted a highly original plot set within an exotic setting."
Gr 8 Up—Set in Barcelona, Spain from late 1979 to May 1980, this gothic novel centers around 15-year-old boarding school student Oscar Drai. Instead of studying during his free time, the teen explores the city, and one day ends up in an area that seems deserted. Drawn in by music coming from an old dilapidated house, Oscar is given a scare by the owner, an eccentric and haunted German artist. Having accidently taken a watch from the house, the boy returns to bring the valuable item back and meets the enigmatic Marina. Realizing that they both like mysteries, Marina invites Oscar on an escapade to a graveyard to observe a woman who leaves a red rose on an unmarked grave. The two follow this woman, lose her, but eventually wander into an abandoned greenhouse filled with sinister marionettes and grotesque photos. Soon, the narrator becomes embroiled in the lives and histories of a presumed dead actress, recluse tycoon, and mad scientist obsessed with escaping death. From the very first page, this beautifully written work of historical fiction is impossible to put down. With elements of romance, mystery, and horror, none of them overwhelming the other, this complex volume that hints at Mary Shelley's Frankenstein manages to weave together three separate stories for a cohesive and eerie result.—Jesten Ray, Seattle Public Library, WA