Hello! Welcome to a slightly different format for Booksquad. Usually I film a video and post on our YouTube Channel, but I decided this month to trial a written post instead, and see whether that is a better fit. Let me know whether you prefer this or the videos, either in the comments or on Twitter.
If you haven’t encountered Booksquad before, it is basically a virtual Geekstalk book club – each month I pick a book (some suggested by you, some of my own choosing) to read, and invite you to read along to. At the end of the month I come and tell you what I thought of the book, and include any of opinions that you have to offer on the book too. Suggestions for future Booksquad reads are always welcome, and I am going to include a list at the end of this post with the current suggestions I have on the list (as well as a list of the books already ready).
Anyway, on with the March read – I chose The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I’ve previously read other books by Zafon, including the popular The Cemetery of Forgotten Books trilogy, The Prince of Mist and Marina, all of which I had enjoyed immensely. I really enjoy Zafon’s style of realistic setting, with a focus towards architectural detail, combined with mystical and magical elements that are never so fantastical that you notice yourself falling into the fantasy genre. It is fair to say that I had quite high hopes for The Midnight Palace, and although I wouldn’t say it is quite on par with his other works, I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the book.
The blurb of the book states; “Ben and his friends are due to leave the orphanage which has been their home for sixteen years. Tonight will be the final meeting of their secret club, in the old ruined they christened The Midnight Palace. Then Ben discovers he has a sister – and together they learn the tragic story of their past, as a shadowy figure lures them to a terrifying showdown in the ruins of Jheeter’s Gate station.”
**SPOILER WARNING – Whilst I don’t go into huge details of the story, there are some elements in my post below which are spoilers for the story**
The Midnight Palace is a young adult fiction, and it was noticeably easier to read than some of Zafon’s other novels. The story moved at a quick pace, and didn’t have too many in-depth mysteries or riddles to slow down the plot. The characters also had slightly less depth to them, although that might also have been due to the number of personalities within the ‘Chowbar Society’ – although at times I found that I couldn’t quite remember which character was which, outside of the main three of Ben, Sheree and Ian. I didn’t object to the first person diary type entries written in the voice of Ian, although I don’t think I’d have missed them had they not been there.
The book begins sixteen years before the events of the story take place, giving a tease of the origins of Ben and his sister, without fully explaining the circumstances. During this introduction, we are immediately flung into fantasy, with the sinister Jawahal stopping bullets and using demonic powers to deadly effect outright. In other novels by Zafon, I’ve found the magic to be interwoven very subtly, simply alluded to early on, before being built up over time to a reveal. Here the magic is stated from the beginning, and clearly sets the tone for the mystical horror that is to come.
One thing that did distract me, was that early on in the book it’s discovered that the events revolve around Ben’s parents – particularly his father, who is named as Lawahaj. I immediately noticed that to be Jawahal backwards – I presume that there is an assumption most younger readers may not notice that immediately, but it did tell me straight away that the sinister character was clearly going to be Ben’s father. When various accounts were then later given by Ben’s grandmother about his parents, including that Jawahal was a childhood friend of his fathers’, I found myself confused. It did mean that the ‘big reveal’ of the demon as being Ben and Sheree’s father was made, I was underwhelmed and felt a slight pang of annoyance that none of the characters had noticed it was simply Lawahaj spelled backwards.
I occasionally felt other pangs of annoyance when some of the teenage characters made clear poor choices – Isobel choosing to go wandering the abandoned tunnels alone, Ian leaving his friends in the haunted mansion etc – but did then remind myself that at 16, I too probably made poor choices and thought myself invincible.
I didn’t however see the twist coming with Sheree sacrificing herself, and whilst I didn’t shed a tear, I did feel a pang of sadness that Ben lost her so soon after finding her. I also found the impact that had on Jawahal to be surprisingly believable, and I liked how his story came to an end. The actual full story around Lawahaj and the tragedy of Jheeter’s Gate did feel slightly convoluted, particularly with him not considering that loading a weapon designed to self-destruct onto a train full of children would clearly end horrifically. I also didn’t feel particularly connected to the idea of the twin’s mother as the Princess of Light, although I liked the balance it brought to the story.
Overall it was an enjoyable read, although it felt slightly lacking compared to Zafon’s other books. I would largely put that down to this being a Young Adult book, and so not covering the same depth as many of his others. The Midnight Palace was slightly more blunt than the subtly crafted stories I’ve encountered in his other works, but it was an incredibly intriguing story and I still found points where I couldn’t put it down!
Over to you –
Ken Major @KenMajor83 posted a review on Goodreads.com;
“Having also read The Prince of Mist this month, which I thoughtlessly adored. It’s fair to say that I went into Zafon’s second YA story with massive expectations. The initial mystery of the story as to why were twins Ben and Sheree separated at birth and place in orphanage was intriguing, but I couldn’t quite engage with this book like I had the previous one. But the novel was well written and the supernatural elements were fun especially with the final act being intensely gripping. Enjoyable, I’m looking forward to reading more of his work. But maybe not expecting a masterpiece each time!
The next pick –
The next read is for April 2018, and is again a book I’ve chose from my own bookcases. This was brought for me for Mother’s Day and I’m keen to get stuck into it! It is actually a follow-up to a book I have already read – The Girl With All the Gifts – although I don’t believe it is a direct sequel, so if you haven’t read that one I don’t think it will impact on you reading my choice of – The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey.
I adored The Girl With All the Gifts, which I only read last year, so again I’ve got high expectations for this book. Be sure to let us know if you do read along, or if you’ve read it before – either in comments or over on Twitter – and please make suggestions for future Booksquad reads.
Books we have read so far; All That She Could See by Carrie Hope Fletcher, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Frank Derrick’s Holiday of a Lifetime by J.B. Morrison, The Peshawar Lancers by S.M Stirling, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, and The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Books suggested for future; The Fandom by Anna Day, Girl on a Train by by Paula Hawkins, and Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks.