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From The Prince of Mist to All Quiet on the Western Front

It’s been an interesting journey through the twists and turns of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Prince of Mist, but now it is finally drawing to a close.

So overall, what did I think of this? I think that this is a good book, if quite hit and miss at times.
In terms of the story, it’s very engaging and I imagine that if I had picked it up when I was around 13, I would have loved the mystery and the secret history that the characters have. But that isn’t to say that it’s perfect, far from it. My main problem with the book was the sheer amount of pointless scenes, seemingly purely to show that these characters are as normal as normal can be; an audience should not still need convincing of this around chapter 9, seeing as there are only 18 chapters in total. My other problem is how the ending is dealt with. For a conclusion to the conflict that’s as brutal and uncompromising as this, the final chapter and the epilogue did a poor job of dealing with it.
The characters are, for the most part, wonderfully written. Out of all the characters though, the one who seemed to have the most attention lavished on him was Cain, the eponymous Prince of Mist. I’ll admit, he was probably my favourite character, if only because he made me laugh sometimes. He goes through a strange process of becoming less scary the more the reader knows about him, which is probably why we’re never actually told what his origins are, which is nice I suppose.
Overall, an imaginative, well-written book with plenty of suspense and mystery, that is let down by the occasional weak moment. It’s going to sound odd, but I think that if Zafon had written this with adults in mind instead of “young adults”, the weak moments could have largely been avoided; having read both of the adult works of his that have been translated into English at around the age of 15-17, I can say with confidence that he is much more in his zone as a writer when addressing an older audience. In any case, the overwhelming sense that I got from my time growing up is that adults seem to think that we’re simpler than we are: a story is more engaging when the author isn’t simplifying his language for the 13-17 year old sales demographic, because we know that the author isn’t pandering to us. But, I will admit that this is Zafon’s first published novel, so I can forgive him for some mis-steps, considering he wrote two of my favourite books ever. My final rating: 3.5/5

Now to preview my next book for review. Largely considered a classic war novel, I’ll be reviewing All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. My edition is somewhat unhelpful by not providing a blurb with which I can give you a taste of the kind of thing that is to come, so I’ll be using one from Wikipedia. It’s sad, I know.

The book describes the German soldiers’ extreme physical and mental stress during the war, and the detachment from civilian life felt by many of these soldiers upon returning home from the front.” 

Not a very good blurb, but the only one I could really find that got the job done. I’ll admit, I’m not going into this one completely blind, as I watched the film adaptation as part of my high school History class, but I don’t remember it that well, considering that the class was pretty noisy as it was the last lesson before summer holidays and the teacher looked to be on the verge of mental collapse. So I’m near blind, which is good too. In any case, I hope you enjoyed joining me with The Prince of Mist and I hope that you enjoy All Quiet on the Western Front as well.

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 18 & Epilogue

Hi there guys, and welcome to the final instalment of my chapter reviews for The Prince of Mist. Now, as you may have noticed, I’m reviewing two sections here instead of my usual one. Basically, this is because the epilogue is a bit too short to get a decent review out of it, so I’m combining it with chapter 18 (which is also pretty short) to make the review a normal size. Anyway, last chapter Roland was killed. I’m still a bit shocked by it, so please excuse me if I sound a bit more disbelieving than usual.
So it turns out that the day after the storm, Irina wakes up from her coma and is allowed to go home with her parents. But as soon as they get back, Mr Carver can tell from Alicia and Max’s behaviour that something happened while they were gone. But there’s something in their faces which tells him not to ask, which is handy really, seeing as trying to think of a suitable lie to cover “Roland was drowned by a dead man” might be a bit of a stretch at this point.
We now switch to the train station, where Max has gone to say goodbye to Victor. There’s a brief conversation between the two of them about where Victor will go now, but he won’t say, only remarking that:

“Wherever I go […] I’ll never be able to get away from here.” 

The train is about to leave, when Victor gives Max a box, which he doesn’t open until the train is gone. What he finds in there are the keys to the lighthouse. Max seems pleased with it, but it seems a bit of a creepy present to me. Almost like trying to sell someone a house where the last occupant was murdered, or something like that. Anyway, chapter 18 is done, so on to the epilogue.
So the epilogue starts with some historical context, as it seems that the war is on its last legs at last. Mr Carver has opened up his watchmaker’s shop in the town, and it seems to be going well. Irina’s completely recovered and conveniently can’t remember her accident. Max goes to the lighthouse every evening to light the lamp and gaze out to sea. And Alicia goes down to Roland’s beach hut to stare out at the sea. I’ll admit, the tone of these two last sections doesn’t quite sit right somehow. It tries to smooth over the consequences of Roland’s death a bit, which feels, I don’t know, disrespectful somehow. I mean, a character that we’ve gotten to know really well over the course of most of the book has died, meaning that our heroes lost to boot, and it’s just kind of skimmed over. The only character that really seems to act properly grief-stricken is Alicia, and while I’ll admit that she has a bit more reason to be traumatised by this, Max and Victor only seemed vaguely melancholic, which was bizarre. In any case, it does turn out that communications between Alicia and Max have suffered because of Roland’s death, but conversely has also tightened their emotional bond. And that’s pretty much where the story ends.

So yeah, a bit of an odd ending. In the context of what happened the previous chapter, it feels really weak, which is pretty disappointing really; after such a strong chapter last time, I had hoped that the ending would be equally as strong, emphasising the consequences of his death more. An overall review and an introduction to my next book will be coming up next update.

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 17

Penultimate review for The Prince of Mist. I’m actually surprised at how quick this has been. I mean, it’s probably pretty slow compared to how you would read normally (it certainly is at my normal reading speed), but  considering the format, I’d say this has flown by. But anyway, I’m getting distracted. For those of you that came in late, we left off last time with Max on a bunch of rocks, having been flung off the Orpheus by Cain, and our antagonist is probably off to kill our other protagonists, Alicia and Roland. So overall, the good guys aren’t doing all that well.
We begin the chapter with Alicia, who is still stuck in the captain’s cabin, where she decides to put on a brave face as Cain enters. This probably won’t help her all that much in the long run, but I suppose that if need be it’s probably better to die with some measure of dignity as opposed to screaming and crying. Then there’s one really odd turn of phrase:

“The magician grinned like a dog at her show of arrogance.” 

Firstly, since when were dogs grinning supposed to be scary? All I can think of now is my boyfriend’s dog, Jasper, who is possibly the dumbest a dog could be without having a frontal lobotomy. Not really a good image to conjure, in all honesty. Secondly, surely it’s more defiance, as opposed to arrogance? As far as I was aware, arrogance was the act of being overly proud, which doesn’t really work in the context. In any case, he seems to take a liking to her and offers to trade Roland/Jacob’s life for the life of her first-born child. To which she gives the morally upright option (and, working on the assumption that she lives through this, the more sensible long-term option) by telling him to go to hell. To which he replies:

“My dear girl, that’s exactly where I’ve come from.” 

Now this has gotten somewhat confusing now. Okay, so let’s assume that Cain definitely died on the Orpheus all those years ago: presumably that means that he ended up in hell as a sinner of the highest degree. But then how does that explain the powers before his “death”? As far as I could tell, his powers seem just as powerful then as they do now, so does that mean that he’s been in hell before, maybe supporting the idea that he’s Cain in the Biblical sense? Or is this part of a Faustian deal of his own? Oh well, hopefully this will be revealed by the end . Anyway, having had his offer rejected, Cain leaves, with Alicia still stuck in the cabin, but surprisingly unharmed. Although maybe he would have been more merciful killing her quickly, seeing as the ship is sinking again. Oh joy.
The next paragraph starts with Cain appearing to Roland just as he realises that the ship is sinking. After taunting him with this knowledge, Cain offers to tell Roland where Alicia’s being held captive, so long as he agrees to follow Cain’s orders. Roland agrees and, while there is a small part of me that is thinking that letting Cain win is a very bad idea, the majority of me can really understand the self-sacrificing bit. So he goes to get her out, with water rushing in behind him. Unfortunately, as he gets Alicia out, Roland’s foot gets trapped in the ship’s debris and she’s forced to leave him behind to drown. I’m actually kind of shocked that it’s really gotten to this point. I mean, it feels like the right course for the story to go, but this is a hell of a lot darker than I remember book plots being when I was 13 or so. I mean, letting the bad guy win? That’s still rare in Adult novels, let alone the comparatively light and fluffy stuff that you get in Young Adult stuff. There’s a little bit where Victor finds Max and Alicia on the shore and struggles to comprehend that his grandson is gone, then the chapter ends.

Again, I’m stunned. I kind of assumed that they would figure out something to ultimately defeat Cain with, maybe a loophole in the original deal. But no, they actually killed off Roland. That’s harsh. I mean, I can’t imagine giving this to my 13 year old to read. Regardless, a very tense chapter, with an absolutely brutal finish. I honestly don’t know what else to say.

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 16

Well, this is it, the beginning of the end. Hopefully our final battle should start around about now, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this turns out. Before I start, just a recap of last chapter: Victor finally revealed the truth about Roland’s past and Alicia was kidnapped because Max didn’t think to forewarn them.
So we start off with Max finally getting to the beach hut, only to find the Orpheus has risen from its resting place at the bottom of the cliff and Roland staring at it. So Roland sets off to confront Cain and hopefully get his girlfriend back, ignoring Max’s pleas for him to stop completely. With Max tagging along behind him, presumably because he can or should.
We switch to Alicia’s point of view as she’s dragged along by Cain, who decides to shut her in the captain’s cabin, possibly to keep her out of the way. I’ll admit, the description of Cain here seems far too stereotypically evil for it to really scare that much: granted that being in the control of someone who is far stronger than you and hates you to boot, but somehow he seemed scarier when he first appeared, when he was preying on children’s vulnerabilities. In any case, Alicia’s now trapped in the captain’s cabin, which she can’t really see in since the one porthole is covered in seaweed and rust. While looking around for something to get herself out of the room with, she stumbles across something that I’m surprised Roland didn’t find himself on one of his dives: propped against the wall is the remains of the captain’s corpse. Granted, this is a big boat, but Roland’s been diving in there at least long enough to fill his beach hut with nautical paraphernalia so he must have covered a fair bit of ground in exploring, yet he never found the human corpse. A bit unlikely maybe, but I’ll let it slide. In any case, Alicia’s reaction is the standard scream in terror. Standard, but in these circumstances, totally justified.
We switch back to Roland’s point of view as he struggles to reach the ship through the stormy sea. Considering that Cain wants him dead, you’d think that Roland would be smart and take a boat, but oh well. In any case, it turns out that he can’t climb the sides of the ship and thus the only way in is through the crack in the hull that sunk the ship in the first place, which is effectively a death trap if he times it wrong. Okay, I’ll give it to Cain that he does know how to make some good obstacles.
We then switch to Victor’s point of view as he finally gets to the beach and sees the Orpheus sailing straight towards the cliff-face. He has his whole moment of darkness/despair/weakness (delete as applicable), then rushes to the beach hut just to check if Roland’s there or not. There’s a light in the hut, but this turns out to be one of the statues, which distracts him as someone knocks him out with a blow to the back of the head.
We then switch back to Max, who’s realised that he won’t be able to get to the crack in the ship before he gets too tired to move and gets pulled down by the current. At that moment, the ship crashes into the cliff-face, causing a mast to snap, with the tip landing in the water right near Max. How lucky of him. He starts to climb up it before it’s torn away by another wave, unaware that there’s someone waiting for him on deck.
Switch back to Roland again. Please let them reunite soon, it’s getting tiring switching between perspectives. Anyway, he’s gotten into the bilge safely, at which point he rushes up to deck level because there isn’t a whole lot you can do at bilge level. He gets up to the bridge where he has a great view of the cliffs moving to meet them. Anyway, he tries to steady himself for the crash, but the deck is slippery, causing him to fall. I almost wrote fail there, which would also work, but is perhaps a bit mean-spirited. In any case, he hears Alicia screaming somewhere close by. Roland to the rescue then.
Switch to Max, who’s gotten on-board the ship where, surprise surprise, Cain is waiting for him. Cain does his whole villain routine: show Max his watch, taunt him a little, crush the watch, taunt some more. Again, I’m getting less and less scared of this guy as it goes along. Anyway, Max asks the question of why continue pursuing Jacob’s life if Cain has already killed Dr Fleischmann, obviously as a diversion. To which the answer is surprisingly mundane: interest on repayment; Dr Fleischmann’s death was the interest that had accumulated on the death, but until Roland is gone, the debt is still unpaid. So basically he’s the supernatural version of a loan shark. In any case, this sets him off on a rant that is almost immediately interrupted by Roland’s voice calling out to Alicia. So much for Max’s diversion. Cain turns to make good his payment and Max decides that this would be a good time to make a run for it. Apparently he wasn’t as good with timing as he was with diversions: Cain catches him and throws him overboard. After another bout of taunting. But Max doesn’t die, as Cain apparently threw him into a patch of water next to a conveniently placed bunch of rocks which could be climbed. Seriously, you’d think that this guy would take a little more trouble with his murder attempts, but no: he passed up throwing him just a bit more either side, causing Max to either drown or become a broken bag of bones on the rocks. As it is, he’s failed to kill a 13 year old boy. Impressive. Anyway, this half-arsed attempt at murder is where the chapter ends.

Overall, a good chapter, but there are a few too many moments of carlessness/idiocy by both our protagonists and antagonist for the tension to really build enough. That said, I still don’t know how this will turn out, so I suppose that’s a good thing.

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 15

Wow, still reeling a bit from the twist at the end of the last chapter. Oddly enough, while I thus far prefer the other two novels of Zafon’s that I’ve read, I prefer the twist in this one; while The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game were fabulous examples of storytelling, the former gave the reader to many clues regarding the twist and the latter gave too few clues (although this is just my opinion). Anyway, so last chapter we found out that Roland is actually Jacob Fleischmann, which still leaves some unanswered questions, mainly those of 1) what actually happened when Jacob “drowned”? and 2) why has it taken Cain so long to actually try and take him away?
So Victor and Max seem to be taking the impeding crisis fairly well, by drinking tea. How very British. Anyway, Max confronts Victor with his knowledge that Roland is actually Jacob, hopefully prompting a few answers to the few remaining questions that we have. That prompting only gets stronger by Max effectively blackmailing Victor by only promising to tell Victor where Roland is if he’s told the truth; while this is certainly an effective way of getting the rest of the answers to this, it is a bit mean considering that Victor’s outright stated that Roland is in danger. So it turns out that pretty much everything up to Jacob’s birth was true, Victor just didn’t finish the story. So little Jacob was born and absolutely spoiled rotten, but Victor knew everything wasn’t quite right when he dreamed of Cain the night Jacob was born. Nothing much happened until Jacob was five, when he got lost playing out the back of the house. After some frantic searching, Dr Fleischmann remembered that there was an abandoned animal enclosure behind the house, which is where he found Jacob. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only thing that he found there: for reasons unknown, the statues has appeared there, signalling that all was not well. So Fleischmann went to Victor and made him promise that if anything were to happen to either of the parents, he would continue to look after Jacob. Max then interjects to find out what happened on the night of Jacob’s drowning. The night of the drowning, a large storm starts to brew and the similarity to the storm that wrecked the Orpheus caused Victor to realise that Jacob was in danger. Sure enough, Jacob is walking along the beach, towards the same watery creature that tried to drown Roland that day. Victor wonders why Jacob’s parents aren’t trying to save him, when he looks around to see that the other statues are holding them back on the porch. So anyway, Jacob is pulled beneath the water but Victor dives in to save him. By the time they get him back to the surface, however, the boy had stopped breathing and there was no sign of a pulse. In a surprise turn of events though, Jacob wakes up again, in shock and hardly remembering his own name. At this point, Eva Fleischmann asks Victor to take care of Jacob for them, as he’ll never be safe as long as he lives with them. So he takes the boy home, the Fleischmanns leave and are never seen in the town again. A year later, Victor hears that Dr Fleischmann had died from an infected dog bite and he has no idea what has happened to Eva. For all those years, Victor looked after Jacob, renaming him Roland and creating a new past for what he can’t remember anymore. In a final twist to the story, it turns out that Jacob’s tomb was put there by Cain, so that one day he can actually be buried there. At this point, Max realises what an idiot he’s been spending so much time on this new information and that Roland is probably in extreme danger, as well as his sister by extension.
So we now switch to Alicia’s point of view as she wakes up to find that the storm has hit shore and is really getting violent. She also notices that there’s a rather worrying amount of mist that brings with it the sound of whispering voices, prompting her to shut the door, like a smart person. This wakes Roland up, who watches as the mist curls in through the gaps in the door and pulls Alicia through. He goes to try and save her, but is blocked by Cain. Who is again, dispatched in one punch. Anyway, the mist starts dragging Alicia away, with Roland following her and trying to get her back. But he’s knocked over by a wave, causing her to be dragged away. And this is where it gets interesting. In the light of the storm, Roland sees that Cain has brought the Orpheus to the surface, where Cain stands on the bridge, Alicia at his feet, taunting Roland to come up and get her if he doesn’t want to see her die. And with that, the chapter ends.

A pretty action-packed chapter, yet it didn’t really appeal to me as much as some of the earlier chapters, simply because a lot of the stuff that happened was filling in gaps and the villain setting up the final confrontation. While that is pretty exciting stuff, the heroes are, for the most part, pretty passive, which doesn’t quite sit right. In any case, a pretty good chapter, with what looks to be an epic final battle coming up (so long as Cain isn’t dispatched by a single punch again).

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 14

So here we go. Chapter 14, only 5 chapters left to read. Plus an epilogue which seems to be only 2 pages long, so I might just combine it with my review of the last full chapter, save some time. Anyway, the last chapter isn’t all that difficult to recap, it could be summarised in five words: Cain tried to drown Roland. Simple enough, even if it doesn’t quite convey the creepiness of a giant snake with Cain’s best clown/paedophile face. 

So we open in Victor’s point of view as he visits the Carver house, where his old flame used to live. He’s going to go round back and try confronting Cain, isn’t he? Yup, that’s what he’s gone and done. What do you have to do to become a literary character, get a frontal lobotomy? So anyway, he goes round back to where the statue garden is, and a thick mist is already starting to form in there. Because of this, he’s decides to hang back and look at it for a bit, presumably until the mist gets to him rather than the other, more proactive and slightly stupider, option of charging straight in. While he’s waiting, he muses on how old he feels and how likely he is to die; again, if that’s what he thinks, why didn’t he tell one of the kids, otherwise known as the only people who actually believe him, what he knows in case the worst should happen? Anyway, he starts to make his advance, where the reader finds out that he was actually smart enough to bring a gun and a torch with him. Maybe he won’t die all that quickly then. He enters the garden, only to find that it’s empty: the pedestals are there, but the actual statues have disappeared. Well I certainly wasn’t expecting that, that’s for sure. If that’s the case, maybe they knew Victor was out to kill them; now if I were a supernatural evil that knew when my enemy was going to try and kill me, I’d try a pre-emptive strike, targeting his home and loved ones. But maybe I’m thinking a bit too far ahead. This paragraph certainly doesn’t give me any clues, as Victor inspects the pedestals for a bit, hears a storm in the distance, then realises something that he doesn’t disclose to the audience. 
We now cut to Max as he suddenly wakes up from a nightmare. Presumably into another, real life nightmare, but again I may well be getting ahead of myself. He goes outside to get some fresh air, calm down a bit and again try to figure out what the hell is going on. During his thinking, he realises that the centre of this whole situation is Jacob Fleischmann and whatever events contributed to his death. Deciding that he needs to watch the rest of Jacob’s films to figure out the missing piece in the puzzle, he goes back home. Without bothering to wake Alicia and Roland. He’s just told himself that they can’t wait until the next day for Cain to strike, and then just leaves his sister and new friend totally defenceless. Has there been some unconscious desire in Max for one or both of them to die that I somehow missed, or is he just stupid? 
By the time he gets home and gets the projector working, Max has noticed that the storm seems to have gotten closer and is getting rather violent now. Anyway, he starts the tape to find that this one takes place in the corridors of the house, back when Jacob was living there. The camera goes up to what will eventually become Irina’s room, where we see the door slam open and Cain steps out. All that, I was kind of expecting, but this is the point where it turns into a bit of a mind-trip. Cain extends his hand to reveal Max’s pocket watch. Since when was time travel part of this narrative? In any case, getting past the weird factor here, the hands of the pocket watch start moving anti-clockwise, gathering speed until the mechanism can’t keep up and it catches fire. The film then has a jump cut, to where it’s facing a dressing table with a mirror, which we keep getting closer to until it’s clear who’s manning the camera. Which it turns out is Roland. That was an unexpected twist, to be quite honest. Although looking back at what we knew about Roland’s past anyway, it fits pretty much perfectly. At this point, the film sticks and Max sees Victor tapping at the window. And that’s pretty much where the chapter ends. 
Well, that was a bombshell. It certainly makes sense now why Cain is back after all this time. I probably don’t need to tell you how much I loved this chapter as it simultaneously answers so many questions and ups the ante tenfold. There’s only one thing I’m still confused about: how is Max able to find exactly the right film for the occasion? I mean, if he’d found this particular film earlier in the narrative, what would that entail? 
Signing off, 
Nisa. 

The Prince of Mist – Part 13

And back again for another chapter. Considering last chapter’s hints that something might happen to Victor in the night, I’m expecting some exciting stuff to happen this chapter.
So we start this chapter where we left off last chapter, with Max in his room reading to try and distract himself from Cain, just a few hours later. He hears Roland and Alicia get back home, although they don’t immediately part ways again. They don’t do that until after midnight, which is probably a bad idea for Roland. In any case, Alicia doesn’t disturb Max but goes straight to bed. This is probably one of those paragraphs where it could have been shortened a bit, but it isn’t as obvious as some of the others, which is nice.
The next morning, Max sets off early to get to the bakery in order to avoid Alicia’s version of cooking. While at the bakery, he’s asked about Irina’s condition as this seems to be one of those towns where everyone knows everybody. He gets back and barges into Alicia’s room and they start to eat breakfast. This was yet another unnecessary paragraph. Why bore me with details of their everyday lives? You’ve shown me walking, face-melting statues and you now expect me to be content with mundane daily routine?
Oh well, let’s move on. We presumably skip them cycling, because the next paragraph starts at the beach where Roland is standing next to a boat. On the prow, he’s painted on the boat’s new name: Orpheus II. That’s a bad sign. Last time I checked, in the world of novels naming something after a dead/cursed item mentioned earlier in the book, that new thing will almost inevitably turn out the same way. He might as well have called it Titanic. So it turns out Roland managed to get it from a fisherman who was going to use it as firewood. He intends to use it to get far enough out that they can use his underwater windows (boxes with glass at one end really) to see the original Orpheus without having to dive down. So they lay anchor, have a look through the windows and Alicia and Roland decide to do some actual diving. Kinda subverting the point of the windows…oh well.
So this paragraph switches to Roland’s point of view as he guides Alicia along as they dive. It’s all rather romantic as he appreciates being able to share this place with friends, at least until they decide to go back to the boat. As they’re swimming back, Roland notices a dark shape swimming beneath them; he eventually sees what looks like a giant snake that is rising to meet them. Well that went wrong quicker that I anticipated it would. In short, they manage to get Alicia back in the boat, but the creature wraps itself around Roland and pulls him beneath the surface. And it’s moments like this that remind me why I hate swimming in the open ocean.
My fear of the ocean is magnified by this paragraph, which is very short and sweet. In it, Roland realises that the creature is more liquid than solid, but then is distracted by the face of Cain (as if I needed to tell you) as it shows its row of long sharp teeth. He then loses that sight as he’s dragged into the hull of the ship. This is pretty much the part where part of my begins to think that Roland’s going to die. And I rather liked him too. I would say it’s the curse of the dead favourite characters, but for some reason I don’t actually have a favourite in this. It’s an odd feeling.
So Max starts preparing to dive in an attempt to rescue Roland, even though he barely knows how to dive. I’m sorry, but surely Victor has seen this, considering the amount of time that he spends looking out for signs of Cain. Maybe he’ll have a Big Damn Hero moment later in the chapter. As of this moment, we have Max. Goody. So he dives down and reacts fairly badly to the pressure and the temperature down there, which makes sense seeing as most people sort of work up to that point instead of doing it all at once. Anyway, he can see some sort of light down there which he assumes is where Roland is being dragged. So he goes down into the hold, following the light and finds Roland and Cain in one of the rooms in the hold. There’s a stand-off of sorts when Roland goes limp and Max grabs him to bring up to the surface, but it has to be said that Cain doesn’t seem all that bothered at letting them get away. I mean Max only has to hit him once and he vanishes. Anyway, they get to the surface where Roland is dragged into the boat and given the kiss of life. It all gets rather emotional as Max rows them back to shore.
So they get Roland to his little cabin where he falls asleep whilst Max is tending to some cuts that Alicia got while they were getting Roland in the boat. There are some emotional exchanges then they both fall asleep as well.

Another chapter that was slow to start, but ended up being excellent. I thought that the fact that Cain’s threat is now more than just standing around grinning at them was really well timed, but I thought the actual confrontation bit between Max and Cain was a little disappointing.

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 12

Hey guys, back again. I’ve just realised how odd that greeting is: of course I’m back again, and it’s not as if I was away for any significant amount of time either. Oh well. So, just to recap, last chapter saw Max review some (well, one anyway) of Jacob Fleischmann’s films, only to find that everything that the reader confirmed the chapter before was true regarding Cain and his troupe. I almost caved in and did another review yesterday, partly through being stir-crazy and partly because it’s getting really interesting now. But anyway, on with the review.
So we start the chapter with Max waking up the following morning, only to find that he’s actually indulged in many a teenager’s favourite activity, the lie-in, hence the fact that it’s actually noon and therefore afternoon (just about anyway). He goes downstairs to find a note from Alicia who says that 1) by the time he wakes up she’ll be at the beach with Roland and 2) Mr Carver called earlier that day with the news that there’s been no change in Irina’s condition but the doctors think that she should come out of the coma in a few days. Max decides to join them and ends up diverting to get something to eat at the bakery. I’m getting a horrible feeling that this is going to be one of those chapters where nothing seems to really happen. That and the last line of this paragraph just doesn’t seem right to me:

“Two sweet buns and two chocolate bars later he set off for the beach with a saintly smile stamped on his face.” 

Why a saintly smile? Maybe this is a translation problem and in the original Spanish is makes more sense, but that line did one of the worst things that a straightforward novel can do: it reminded me that I was reading a book. You might think that’s a bit odd of me to say (considering that I’m reviewing it and all, therefore knowing full well what it is) but I think one of the most unfortunate things a book can do is use vocabulary and phrases that don’t quite make sense in context or that just feel clunky, reminding you that this is a book and destroying the suspense of disbelief. The only kind of novel that can get away with that is metafiction, but then that’s more an example of a very fragile fourth wall. But I digress.
So Max gets to the beach and ends up seeing Alicia and Roland kissing in the sand. Fairly tame, but pretty awkward on his part all the same. Now, I’ll admit that while I may have complained a hell of a lot about some of the quieter moments, I think one of the things that has been consistently good was the Alicia/Roland romance sub-plot, especially when it focuses on Max’s feelings about it; Zafon has caught the feeling of being the fifth wheel of the group really well. But anyway, Max ducks back, obviously not wanting to be seen as that tends to bring up awkward conversation. Still, he decides to take one more peek at them through the grass, which is a bit weird but I’ll run with it, and thus we see that while Roland seems to be enjoying the view, he’s also very nervous about it. A fair enough reaction. Max goes in for another peek, but realises that spying on them is a bit of a weird, creepy thing to do, so re-traces his steps to his bike and leaves them to it. As he goes, he does a bit of soul-searching about how he actually feels about their relationship and eventually comes to the conclusion that if Roland makes Alicia happy, then he’s fine with it. I’ve just realised what an uncannily mature kid he is. Most of the boys I knew when I was 13 were immature little brats who would have made a huge show of their disgust at people kissing. Oh well, it’s a nice change and certainly prevents he awkwardness getting any worse. Anyway, he rides back to the town centre to find something to occupy himself seeing as his beach plans are pretty well scuppered, where he finds a map of the town. On the map, there’s the location of the local cemetery. So, obviously, he decides to go see if he can find Jacob Fleischmann’s grave. Thus we transition from sweet to macabre.
So he gets to the cemetery, which is your standard small-town graveyard. Although I love this line that comes up in the description, if only for the absurd connotations it has:

“There was nothing particularly original about it, he supposed.” 

Original? Really? Last time I checked, a graveyard only really has one purpose, so you don’t really need them to be “original”. I mean, for the most part graveyards aren’t exactly what you’d call tourist spots, or at least they weren’t last time I checked. Anyway, he eventually finds Jacob’s grave, a mausoleum that has been seriously neglected over the years. The gate to the tomb is slightly ajar, so Max decides to become a more benevolent version of a grave-robber and enter. Anyway, on Jacob’s tombstone Cain’s six-pointed star has been carved underneath Jacob’s name, which is a little eerie, but not totally unexpected. Anyway, this freaks him out just a little bit and is about to leave when he realises that he’s not alone. He looks up to find that a stone angel, much like the one outside the tomb flanking the gates, is walking on the ceiling. While that is vaguely surreal and a little silly, it still works. It works even more when it stops, grins and has its features melt to match Cain’s features. I’d say that Max has two smart options: run or panic. Maybe both. He chooses the second option and panics, but for some reason Cain leaves without actually doing anything to him. Regaining the use of his legs, he gets out of there as quickly as is humanly possible. Deciding that he needs to talk to Victor some more, he sets off to the lighthouse, realising part of the way there that he’d dropped his pocket watch in the tomb. Quite what relevance that will have later on, I’m not sure. in any case, it seems kinda weird that the watch wouldn’t have a clip of some kind so that losing it like that wouldn’t happen. Oh well, never mind. I’m sure it’ll come up later.
Anyway, he goes to see Victor and explains what just happened in the graveyard. He then accidentally accuses the old man of lying to him, which I can’t see going down well. Apparently I was wrong, with Victor taking the accusation fairly well, kind of implicitly agreeing with Max at one point as well. So Max surmises that everything that has happened so far are signs that Cain is about to make a move of some kind. Although personally I’d say causing Irina to fall down the stairs was definitely a move by him, but I suppose Max hasn’t made that connection quite yet. But, while Victor admits that he’s hiding something, Max is effectively told to stop investigating and to stay away from Roland. Which is kinda harsh considering Max has taken all that’s happened so far pretty well.
So Victor watches Max cycle away and the reader begins to find out why he was so harsh in his rebuttal. Overall, it’s well thought out and quite realistic: because of Cain, Victor has lost friends and the only woman he ever loved and also had to live for 25 years with the knowledge that one day Cain will come back. Why would you allow a 13 year old boy to get involved in a mystery that has already caused so much misery? Anyway, that’s the main gist of this paragraph, but it ends with a rather ominous bit of foreshadowing:

“There were still a few hours of sunlight left before the darkness crept in and night fell – perhaps his last night of vigil in the lighthouse.” 

Presumably this is still effectively Victor’s inner monologue. If so, then why the implication that he might not live the night. If Cain is that big a threat that Victor might not be able to stop him, then why keep it to himself? Surely if Cain is that dangerous, he should pass on some knowledge to someone else in case the worst happens. So that well thought out and realistic reason for sending Max away has just been made redundant with the implication that he won’t actually be able to stop Cain.
The last paragraph basically chronicles Max getting home and trying to put together the pieces of this puzzle about Cain but failing but Victor won’t tell him that one bit of info that will presumably make everything fall into place. That’s pretty much where the chapter ends, but there’s one thing that is sort of mentioned and then brushed aside that feels somehow important. Near the beginning of the paragraph he finds that Alicia’s note is still where he left it, so he assumes that she’s still with Roland. It might just be me, but there’s part of me saying that Alicia’s not actually safe anymore. I’ve been wrong before though, so she might actually be with Roland still.

Overall, a pretty good chapter. A bit of a slow start and frustrating because of the lack of new evidence, but that’s more than made up for with the additional questions that it’s presented. I can see things really start to heat up next chapter.

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 11

Quick recap: last chapter continued Victor’s story about what he knew about Cain. Presumably this chapter will at least start to explain why everything Cain-related seems to be flaring up all of a sudden. Just one thing before I start: you remember in chapter 1’s review I waxed lyrical about how cool the pocket watch sounds? My edition of the book has little illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, with chapter 11’s being the watch. Frankly, I’m disappointed; perhaps the illustrator wasn’t feeling particularly inventive that day, but here the watch looks really unimpressive. Although I suppose my vision of sections of exposed clockwork might have been a bit ambitious considering the size of the pictures. Oh well, having argued myself into a corner, let’s go on.
So Victor has just finished his (in my opinion) gripping story. After which Max checks his watch. A bit of an odd thing to do, but okay. Maybe there’s a time theme this chapter or something. Outside, a storm is brewing, so Max and Alicia decide that now would be a good time to head home. Now, it might just be me, but after hearing that story, I’d be more than a little reluctant to go back there in all honesty. When they’re about to leave Max, Alicia and Roland have a group discussion as to whether they believe Victor or not. Considering the weird stuff that’s been going on and the fact that all of them were eager to hear what could be happening, it seems a bit odd for doubt to creep in now. So as he cycles along, Max tries to add what Victor told them to his own experiences with the statue garden and the house in general, eventually coming to the conclusion that there’s something that Victor is still hiding. So he decides to continue investigating by looking through Jacob Fleischmann’s films, which makes sense.
Max gets back to the house to find that Alicia and Roland beat him there and that Roland is about to head back to the lighthouse to keep his grandfather company. Why do I see this going horribly wrong? Just as he’s about to go, Roland also brings up the possibility of diving down to the Orpheus again the next morning. Why do I see that going even more horribly wrong? So Roland cycles off and Max is sent upstairs to change. On the way up, Max realises that he hasn’t seen Irina’s cat since the day she went into the coma, but shrugs it off as no great loss. Surely he must have made some sort of connection, considering that he and Alicia have been the ones consistently saying that the cat is really creepy.
So a bit later, Max and Alicia are downstairs waiting for a call from their parents at the hospital. A call that never comes. Hmm, eerie. After assuring Alicia that everything’s probably okay, Max goes to raid the shed for Jacob’s films.
So, first film that’s put on is the camera focusing on a clock face. Weird, didn’t realise you really got avant-garde 7 year olds. The hands begin to move anti-clockwise, gathering speed as it goes, and the camera back up to see that the clock is hanging from a chain suspended from the hand of a statue. Ah, oh dear. So Jacob moves amongst the statues, stopping and focusing on each of their faces as he goes past them. Still fairly eerie, but nothing really alarming yet. Eventually the camera gets to Cain’s statue in the middle, where Max notices a detail about the statue that wasn’t there before: a cat sitting at Cain’s feet. At this moment, Max finally makes the connection between Irina’s cat and Cain’s cat. So the camera pans up and focuses on the statue’s face like all the others. Max is just about to change the film when he notices something in the last few frames: the statue’s face is moving, just a tiny bit. Excuse me while I retreat to my happy corner and cower a bit. My urge to cower has just increased considering the expression that Cain’s statue has pulled. It smiled, showing sharp teeth. A bit overused, but it really works well here. So thoroughly creeped out, Max goes to bed instead of watching a few more films to try and figure out anything else, thus ending this chapter.

Another well-written chapter, with the saving grace being that film at the end. It’s perhaps a bit clichéd, the whole inanimate object moving thing, but it’s one of those clichés that, written well, never seems to get old.

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Prince of Mist – Part 10

Hey guys, back again. I would have been at this earlier today, but the Royal Wedding was on. I know it’s weird to watch a wedding on TV, but I can’t help liking the monarchy. But anyway, now we’re back to the supernatural events of Victor’s early life after that excellent beginning to his explanation.
So, a few months after Angus’ death, Victor’s father gets a promotion at work, so takes his family on an outing to an amusement park. I’m sure we can all guess what will happen there. So the evening starts out splendidly, considering the fact that this is apparently now a very good job. I’m not too good at social history of the time (I’ve only ever been taught political history and I rather like it that way) so I can’t really say whether it’s really such a huge step up. But in any case, Victor starts queuing up for the Big Wheel, when he sees a fortune-telling booth belonging to Dr Cain. Unsurprisingly, he is mysteriously drawn from the queue to the harmless ride to the tent that its almost certainly rife with danger. He goes in to find that in the past few months, Cain has picked up an eerie pale-skinned brunette as an assistant and a black cat with yellow eyes. And my immediate reaction is to scream “CAT!!” like the Nostalgia Critic; if you haven’t seen that review (End of Days) you really should. But yeah, he ends up going right up to Cain who starts speaking. If I didn’t know that Victor lives to a ripe old age, I would be tempted to have an inner commentary resembling this: “You are going to die. Well done for winning a Darwin award by the way.”
So the next paragraph doesn’t change scene or skip forward in time or anything like that, but instead the perspective changes from 1st person as old Victor speaks to 3rd person. A bit weird, but I’ll run with it. So Cain starts to talk to Victor, rather pleasantly too which is a bit unsettling. That and he’s making the clock on his table go backwards. Even more unsettling. But anyway, Cain asks Victor if he’s decided what he wants to wish for. Because of course he’s going to be stupid enough to make a pact with Cain after what happened to Angus. They have a bit of an argument regarding that until Victor asks a question that I’m sure many readers beside myself would like an answer to: what did Cain have to do in return for becoming the way he is now? (I’m betting on the Biblical Cain now. It just feels right.) But as soon as the question leaves his mouth, Cain loses his smile and looks as though he’ll pounce. Because of course he wasn’t creepy enough as it was. But he doesn’t (thank Lord) and Victor is lead out without further ado. Apart from a final aside from Cain as he goes to leave, about extending his offer for a wish to members of Victor’s family. A little stereotypical as threats go, but it works.
The next paragraph is another of those weird, short and overall pointless scenes, where back in the present Max wants to ask a question, but is told to wait until the end of the narrative. Why?
So back to young Victor again, where he decides to just let time go by and try to forget about Cain. A wise strategy in my books, but he’s almost guaranteed to meet with Cain again, because otherwise we would have no story. Or at least a story where Max’s family members are hunted down one by one by the cat until they decide to move away. Effectively House of Leaves then, if you replace cat with house and make it much less efficient and more mind-warping. So Victor’s family move to a new house, presumably as part of his father getting a better job, where Victor meets a kindly priest named Darius, who teaches maths and physics at his school. A talent for science blossoms, as is usually the case with subjects where the teacher is very cool, and he is persuaded by Darius to go to college and become an engineer. So Victor goes to college to study engineering, but Darius dies before he can graduate. So after about a page, Darius has been killed off. Why devote so much time to him? Anyway, while he’s at college, he meets Richard Fleischmann, who will grow up to become the doctor who builds the house on the beach. I sense plot. Richard seems to be an impetuous guy, throwing tantrums whenever something doesn’t go his way. Personally, I’m not sure I’m all that thrilled at the thought of a grown up spoiled brat being a pivotal character, but maybe he’ll surprise me. So Richard and Victor become friends because they both fall in love with a girl called Eva Gray, who turns out to be the daughter of the one tyrannical teacher that a school at any level is bound to have. So throughout college, Victor, Richard and Eva are pretty much inseparable, but the two guys know that one day one or both of them will be out of the running when it comes to getting the girl. On their graduation night, they decide to go drinking to get Victor to lighten up after Darius’ death, but it turns out that Eva can’t go. This doesn’t sound like a good idea. They get steaming drunk and decide that a go on the merry-go-round of the amusement park that just mysteriously appeared out of the mist would be a really good idea. I’ll give Zafon credit for having them be drunk before they do this monumentally stupid thing. So, guess who’s there? And guess what Richard is stupid enough to do? If you said Cain and Richard decides to go in his tent, well done. If you didn’t, shame on you. They wake up on a bench the next morning and part of them wonders whether the amusement park happened at all. But just in case, Victor asks Richard what he remembers, where it turns out that Richard wished for Eva to love him. A few months later, Richard and Eva marry and don’t see Victor for another 20 years. I think I have an idea why little Jacob drowned now.
Many years later, Victor notices that Richard has followed him home from the office. Trying to be nice to his former friend, he invites Richard inside, where he’s asked about their graduation night. Mood now soured, Victor straight out asks what he gave in exchange for Eva’s love. The answer is Richard’s first born son. Smooth. Didn’t think anyone outside of fairy tales fell for that one.
So it turns out that for the entirety of their marriage, Richard has been slipping Eva a drug that will prevent her from conceiving, but her desire for a baby causes her to sink into a depression. In order to save his wife, Richard goes to Victor for help, who agrees for Eva’s sake. After throwing Richard from the house, Victor follows him, where he conveniently finds Cain’s lair again. Cain likes messing with this guy, huh? So it turns out that Cain has changed his persona from a fortune-teller to a clown. Big surprise there. But along the way, Cain and his followers have alerted the suspicions of the police with a series of disappearances and thefts that follow them wherever they go. This villain isn’t particularly subtle, is he? Despite all his disappearing tricks, he still has all the subtlety of a brick in the face. Oh well. In any case, in order to get away, Cain tricks that Dutch captain from the earlier chapter, meaning that his crew and Victor, who has been spying on the troupe for two weeks, end up on the Orpheus. So the ship sinks, for reasons that even Victor is unsure of, but considering that the entire troupe was hiding in the bilge in case of surprise inspections, they almost certainly all drowned. So what about the statue garden? Where does that come into it?
So we’re jolted back to the present, where Max interrupts that the bodies were never found. Victor implies that the bodies were either dragged out to sea, which would make sense, or that something strange happened to them, which he will presumably now explain.
So after the shipwreck, Victor wakes up but doesn’t believe that Cain is actually gone for good. He built the lighthouse in order to wait for the time when Cain reappears. A few years after the wreck, he’s tracked down by Richard who, after hearing the story, believes Cain to be long gone and decides to build a house in the area and finally start a family. But then their son Jacob died. Thus, Victor decides that Cain has just been waiting and that he needed something strong to come back. Something strong like a promise. And that’s where the chapter ends.

Again, a very strong chapter, but now I’m left with some questions. Jacob Fleischmann’s death seems all nicely explained now, but what about the statue garden or the incidents in the Carver family? I can’t think of how the Carvers would be linked to Cain, yet they’re still being haunted, for lack of a better word, by him. Hopefully that will be explained fairly soon then.

Signing off,
Nisa.

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