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The Labyrinth of the Spirits

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The Labyrinth of the Spirits continues and concludes the 4 part: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series based in Spain during and after the Spanish Civil War and its repercussions centring around the Sempere family and their second hand bookshop in Barcelona. The first thing I did after reading this gripping conclusion, was start at the beginning of the first book again! As well as its own story this book fills in so many of the questions I’ve had buzzing around my head for so long. Loose ends are tied; explanations and details given. In itself it’s another mastery of gothic suspension, horror, suffering and the mindblowing cruelty man can inflict on others but at the same time a celebration of the strength of the human spirit and how people can overcome great tragedy, misfortune and deliberate harm.

We centre on Daniel, his wife Bea, their son Julian with Daniel’s old irrepressible companion, Fermin and learn how the latter came to be in Barcelona narrowly escaping death in the process. The ‘current’ time is after the Civil War when Franco’s regime is at its height. Corrupt Ministers abound and we focus on one, Minister Valls whose sudden disappearance sparks an investigation by the fascinating Alicia Gris, another victim of the past Civil War. We learn hidden secrets even within the Sempere family.

The horrors of ordinary citizens being arrested en masse, their torture, imprisonment and murder in Montjuic Castle under the Franco regime make for sobering reading and Carlos R-Z brings back the group of creative writers and journalists mentioned in the previous instalments and we learn their fates. Balanced against this is the humanity and warmth of the Sempere family, their friends and acquaintances and of course the eloquent humour of the oversexed, irreverent lover of Sugus, literature and women, Fermin! (Love him!)

You experience the author’s total passion for literature, his need to protect the creative process, freedom of speech and his belief in writing as an art form with the ability to transform people, lives and regimes. Also his distress that so many authors and ‘word artists’ were imprisoned and killed by a regime whose only use for the written word was for propaganda, lies, political diatribes and false biographies. He speaks for the ‘unknown voices’, many of who vanished at this time. That’s not to say this is a stolid, heavy argument in the story – the story itself is utterly gripping, suspenseful, violent and shocking - but with this additional, totally moving emotion behind it. Superb.

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Having read 'The Shadow of the Wind', I was eager to return to Zafón's post-civil-war Barcelona, and 'The Labyrinth of the Spirits' does not disappoint.

The language is a literary feast: rich, complex and multi-layered, but topped with a more bitter sauce. The violence is more frequent and more graphic, so that reading this book is, at times, the literary equivalent of staring at a Hieronymous Bosch painting: a fantastical picture of hell and madness, populated with strange and evil creatures from your worst nightmares. The story is breathtakingly told, and a cause of a certain amount of sleep deprivation: both while reading it, when it was impossible to put down, and afterwards, as the story lingered long, swirling around in my mind.

I don't speak Spanish, so can't compare the translation to the original, but the beautiful linguistic flow would lead me to believe it is a highly skilled rendition of a masterful text.

Although the book states that the Cemetery of Forgotten books cycle can be read in any order, I would recommend reading at least 'The Shadow of the Wind' before turning to this one, as it helps give 'The Labyrinth of the Spirits' more context. I didn't feel I had missed out by not reading the other two books in the cycle, but this has definitely prompted me to return to them.

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I must admit to having struggled with this. It's been a long time since I read The Shadow of the Wind, and the beginning of the book certainly felt like I should have remembered the details. The book is also dauntingly long - even for a reviewing reader! - and when I struggled to get into it, I actually had to give up because life's too short.

What I read was well-written, but it didn't grab me enough to wade through it all. I like to think I'll give it another go with more success.

Thanks for NetGalley for the ARC

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Definite 5* from me!!

The last book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series and i was not disappointed at all!!

Full of this gothic atmosphere i love in general and more specifically in Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books!

In this installment everything is put into place and all questions will be answered! Very well written, as always as well as very well translated!

Best final book in the series that could have been written!

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This is the final book of the four book series that started with The Shadow of the wind. It is the denouement of all the mysteries left unexplained in the previous three. The sense of evil and darkness that clouds previous books has gone and now seems to be a metaphor for the evils perpetrated during the Civil War. Alicia is the main protagonist, an agent of the political police, she is tasked to find a missing government minister. She is a damaged beauty, with painful injuries she suffered a a child in the bombing of Barcelona. As the plot evolves more and more heinous crimes committed in the war emerge. The action is bloody, fast moving and utterly compelling.
Only a small negative, in the early part of the book some of the dialogue in the translation sounds slightly too modern to be credible 1950s dialogue,.
No one who has read Zafon will want to miss this one.

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A stunner of a book. Beautiful writing, wonderfully translated. I’ve loved every one of the series and this rounds it off nicely. The conclusion is very cleverly thought out and masterfully done. I’m now returning to Shadow of the Wind to re-read the lot in one go. A complete joy.

I now wish I hadn’t been so free and easy with some of my previous 5 stars as this blows most of them way out of the water.

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In The Labyrinth of the Spirits Carlos Ruiz Zafón brings the reader full circle, completing the story which began with The Shadow of the Wind. I highly recommend first reading that initial novel, along with The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven as Ruiz Zafón has here constructed an intricately woven narrative which draws together the lives of the many characters whose stories were told both within the words and between the lines of those previous books.

As with the other books in this series, we travel a Barcelona that is full of Gothic-noir mystery. The streets swirl with smoke, shadows and words unsaid, and buildings loom as ominously as the threat of the political police.

The story returns to the fate of bookseller and amateur investigator of literary mysteries, Daniel Sempere and his family, but the real shining stars in this novel are Alicia, Fermin and Vargas. Each brings something unique to the narrative to liven, lighten or illuminate the darker depths. Personally, I have always found poor Daniel a bit too brooding and serious. In contrast, despite troubled histories and pained presents, Alicia, Fermin and Vargas face each trial with straightened spines and witty, sardonic banter. My kind of people!

The narrative is a non-linear affair, with the story told in flashbacks and Inception-style stories-within-stories. In fact the whole series is a love song to books, literature and reading. The author describes the act of reading as only a true bibliophile can, encompassing every sense: literature is perfume, it is chocolate, it is a musical symphony. The love of books and stories pours from the pages and the book-loving reader is warmed and uplifted in turn.

The first half of the novel is a deliberate meander through misty, rainy, shadowed Spanish streets, building up a slow-burning tension as the edges and corners of the huge, complex puzzle gradually begin to unfurl. In contrast the second half of the book gathers pace imperceptibly as the torture and violence increases, until by the climax we are pounding the stormy streets at breathless speed, running on caffeine and alcohol fumes and no sleep at all, as the literary mystery explodes into a frenetic thriller and plot twists leap out from the shadows as we speed past. Finally the ending slows again and allows the reader time for breath and thought, as the final pieces of the story are confidently slotted into place and the full picture revealed at last.

Anyone who has read any of Ruiz Zafón’s novels will already know that this writing is exquisite and precise, whether he is painting an almost-supernaturally spooky setting like a cemetery or abandoned mansion, or perfectly skewering the everyday error of overordering food when in an expansive mood. This skill draws the reader fully into the world created, and I should warn that this makes the scenes of sadistic torture particularly vivid and disturbing. In order to see the light, and the subtle shades of grey, we need the dark for contrast, but I appreciate that this may not be an easy read for the squeamish!

As I am sure you can tell from my purplish prose (oh for a Carax of my own to correct me!) I absolutely loved this novel, and would personally say that it is the best of the whole series. I cannot recommend this highly enough, but will again add that you must read the whole series in order to make full sense of the individual stories!


Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog

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'The Labyrinth of the Spirits' is the fourth and final installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. I don't mind telling the world that this happens to be one of my favourite series of all time, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon is very much criminally underrated in my view. Having loved the previous three books, I was hoping to be completely blown away once again by Zafon's superb storytelling ability. It's safe to say he didn't let me down, and this lived up to my incredibly high expectations. One thing I would say is that although this is stated as working as a standalone, I feel you will be landing in the middle of the action with no clue what is happening, and you'll miss out on the all important background information from previous books which I feel is required in order to completely immerse yourself in the story.

At 832 pages in length, this is a rather daunting prospect when you first open the book. I thought to myself that so long as the writing is as exquisite as ever, I would have no problem with the page count. As always, Zafon is expert at grabbing the readers attention and pulling them into the story, and because of this it actually felt a lot shorter than it actually was. It's a complex and intricate novel that requires your full attention, but boy are you rewarded highly! Essentially, this is a story about the insufferable and traumatic barbarism of Spain's fascist past. An enchanting and haunting tale written by one of the most talented writers of the fiction world. If you're a fantasy/historical/mystery fan this is well worth your time. I am really sad that this is the end of the series, but it was certainly a fitting conclusion. Unmissable. I look forward to Zafon publishing more of his work.

Many thanks to W&N for an ARC. I was not required to post a review, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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Although it states you can read this book as a standalone, I found it difficult to get into the story and empathise with the characters. The sheer length of the book demands that you feel something for the characters and I couldn't. The language and imagery are noteworthy, but it isn't enough if you can't grasp the plot and what motivates the characters.

So this is one I didn't finish. If you're familiar with the author's other books you should enjoy reacquainting with some characters and the storyline and style may appeal. It's not a story you can dip into you need to be a fantasy fan, and the fantasy created by the author needs to be one you can relate to, I wasn't able to.

I received a copy of this book from W&N Orion Publishing Group in return for an honest review.

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"[Any] story is an endless labyrinth of words, images, and spirits, conjured up to show us the invisible truth about ourselves."

At first glance, an 800+ page book is a daunting ask, even when you're a big fan of the writer's work. But this work is (often) beautifully written, as one would expect from Carlos Ruíz Zafon. I say "often" because the work is not perfect. I'm still not convinced it had to be this long, but the tale's strands are all very neatly tied and the narrative really speeds along once it hits its stride - around 80 percent of the way in. That's not to say it's turgid before that - it could have just done with a few edits - it's difficult to maintain the sense of suspense required with a book of this length. Perhaps I wouldn't feel that way if I hadn't read the first book "The Shadow of the Wind", which stands as one of my all-time favourites.

While a note at the opening of the book reads:

"Although each work within the cycle [that is, the series of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books] presents an independent, self-contained tale, they are all connected..."

I'm not sure it's true to say that the novels can be read independently. As an enthusiastic reader of each of the books in this series - I'm not sure I'd have had any idea what was going on if I had not read the earlier books. I also wished I had re-read the earlier books before starting this one as a reminder of where things were last left.

More overtly political than its predecessors, this book contains more "reality" and less of a magical quality than the earlier volumes. To that end, it's also worth saying that the reader will require a rudimentary understanding of the Spanish Civil War before embarking on the book.

This book's lead character is Alicia Gris and very much our Alice in Barcelona's shadowy Wonderland. What a joy that in this series we finally have a female heroine at the helm to assist solve the ongoing mysteries relating to authors of the past and their families. I felt it was a shame though that she and other female characters were so sexualised - nearly all comments about Alicia from other characters were about the lust she inspires through her looks - with other characters assuming she is either a "whore" or a "luxury courtesan". To that end, each of the women in the book it seems are either virtuous madonnas or alluring whores. I would have preferred more emphasis on Alicia's wits and less on her, well...stockings.

Fermín (to be forgiven - possibly - for his era-appropriate misogyny) however is still one of the great literary treasures and he outdoes himself in this book. I also really enjoyed the introduction of Julián Sempere, clearly Ruíz Zafon's autobiographical foil.

Ultimately, we are reminded that authors carry "the hope every maker of tales carries within: that readers will open their hearts to these little creatures made of ink and paper, and give them a part of themselves so they can be immortal, even if only for a few minutes" and that is certainly true here. Only in this case, several hours.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Orion Publishing, W&N and the author for a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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I received my review copy of this book with joy and trepidation. Joy because the first book in this cycle, The Shadow of the Wind, remains one of my favourite books. Trepidation because this fourth book has been on the cards for a long time and the second and third books did not work as well as the first for me. Once again we are mainly in Barcelona and it features some of the characters from the earlier books as well as books mentioned in the other books! In the main it is set in the same era as the other books too, the era of the Civil War and Franco's rule.

The start was evocative and very much in keeping with the earlier books. The Civil war rages and it's Fermin's story (& an unwelcome but unsurprising return for Fumero). Fermin has always been a favourite character of mine and to have some background sketched in was good. It also managed to introduce a new favourite character Alicia (I am fairly sure she did not appear in the earlier books though it is a while since I read them).

The language is so good, richly descriptive and poetic. It conjures up rich images, dark and gothic at times. The interweaving of the previous books is very clever. I often understood that I'd seen this part of the story before but from a different angle. To do that over 4 books does suggest the writing is of a very high order. There are time shifts but they are well enough signposted.

I enjoyed meeting old friends again and discovering some new ones. As I said Alicia particularly is a great character and her co-worker Vargas was very good too. Even the more minor characters are often very rich. Zafon manages to bring some light into very dark places via some nice humour from Fermin and others. The book overall is both wide ranging and quite long. Some may find this an issue however it is not a book to be rushed. That said I was left with a slight feeling that the book could have ended earlier and just as satisfactorily.

I'm fairly sure that I recall the author saying in the first book in this cycle that they could be read in any order. For me that applied to the first three and I have reread them in differing orders. However I do think this last book should probably be treated as just that - the last book. Things are revealed in this that I'm fairly sure would change the impact of any of the other ones if read before them.

The Shadow of the Wind is without doubt my favourite of the cycle however this would definitely be the second. I think fans of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle should find it satisfying. Maybe not quite a 5 but 4.5 happily.

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I’m afraid I couldn’t get into this one but perhaps I just wasn’t in the right mood as I am a big fan of Zafon’s books. Don’t let me put you off. I start again when I have less on my mind and am sure I will live the book as I have the others.

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How to explain why I love this author and, in particular, this series of wonderful, enchanting yet haunting books centred on the Cemetery of Forgotten Books? Is it the way we are immediately transported over several time periods to the intreguing cities of Barcelona and Madrid? Or is it how we become completely entrapped in the interlinked stories of our familiar characters (and a few new ones) - sucked down into an Alice in Wonderland like labyrinth of love, deceit, cruelty and hope?

Yes to all of the above but, most importantly, it is the beautiful language the author uses that gives a complete sense of people, places and atmosphere as he weaves the last book in the series which, by gradually pealing back the segments of the overall mysteries, opens the reader’s mind to the real truth of what happened to each character.

I laughed, I cried, I felt anguish for all the souls who were caught up in the Civil War and the aftermath of the totalitarian regime of Franco. If you cherish humanity read this book. As for me, I’m going back to start reading the series all over again - from the first word of the first book!

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To say that The Labyrinth of the Spirits is one of my most highly anticipated novels of the year doesn’t really begin to cover it. I adored The Shadow of the Wind which to this day remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this final instalment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.

Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an electrifying tale of passion, intrigue and adventure. Within its haunting pages Carlos Ruiz Zafón masterfully weaves together plots and subplots in an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits reunites the reader with some old friends (and that is how it feels to me) as well as introducing some new characters into the mix. Daniel now runs Sempere & Sons along with his wife, Bea, now that his father is less active in the management of the business. Fermin, of course, is still present, and much the same as ever, doling out little seeds of wisdom (irrespective of whether these have been asked for), and generally being as cheeky as he feels as he can get away with. I’m extremely fond of both Daniel and Fermin, and it was a pleasure to be reunited with them, and to see what they were up to two years on from The Prisoner of Heaven.

Whilst Daniel and Fermin feature in this novel, the main character is Alicia Gris. Alicia was orphaned during the war, and still suffers from the effects of an injury sustained at that time. Since then, she has been recruited into a role in a special unit of the police – one that seems to go unnamed throughout the novel. This latest case sees her return to Barcelona in order to find Mauricio Valls, Minister for Culture and former head of Montjuic Prison. Alicia's character is an interesting one. I didn't find her as immediately likeable as Daniel and Fermin, but she grew on me as the novel progressed. Bold and beautiful, she allows no one to get close to her, and hides behind a persona of femme fatale. I loved her determination to get a job done, no matter how much pain her old injury causes her. She is intelligent, and I loved her perseverance in getting to the bottom of this mystery even as things don't go to plan.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits has a dark, gothic atmosphere, and this novel seemed to be more of a thriller than other novels in series, with the investigation into the disappearance of Valls uncovering a much broader and longer running conspiracy. The storytelling is second to none, and whilst this is a long book, I read it relatively quickly, desperate to uncover the truth behind Valls’s disappearance.

One common theme running through the whole series is that of a love of books, stories and of reading, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits is no exception. Here, the rare book in question is one by Victor Mataix, and is part of a series he wrote for his daughter, Ariadna, which features her as a heroine, facing up a series of horrors, fictionalised yet inspired by Spanish history. Whilst this seems like an aside, it becomes clear that this book, and is author, Mataix, have a role to play in the story and in Alicia’s investigation. It’s a dark and thrilling story, and if this novel perhaps contained more violence than the earlier novels, this is very much in keeping with the story as events come to a head.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits brings to a close an epic narrative, and I wouldn’t recommend reading this as a standalone novel. I think that the whole series has been pitched as being a set of interconnected stories that can be read either as a series or individually, and in any order. However, I think that because of the way in which this final instalment brings everything to a close, tying up all the loose ends from the earlier novels, that this should be read after The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven. Additionally, The Shadow of the Wind has long been one of my favourite novels, and is one that I recommend to everyone.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits will be published on 18 September by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an early copy via Netgalley.

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A wonderful lyric finish to this spectacular series. Beautifully written, evocative and complex the characters and setting are slowly drawn together to produce a stunning and gripping conclusion.

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This was a great book, really enjoyed the style of writing and the continuing story in this series, I think it can be read stand alone though, but either way I really loved it. Just read it people :)

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As someone with a background in fine art, who loves books (and a librarian for 30 years), loves mystery /detective writing and loves Spain and Spanish history, this was an absolute pleasure to read! His writing is so evocative, and after his other books left me feeling like I'd walked through a dream rather than read a book I was so exited to read it! His writing had a dark side to it, which I find similar to the dreamy landscapes of 'Pan's Labyrinth', but with a safer, less threatening feel. The final book's main character, Alicia, embarks on an epic journey of discovery which leads to some horrendous discoveries about things which happened decades earlier. Without spoiling the ending it's a strong ending to the series.

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Minister Valls has disappeared and Alicia Gris is tasked to find him with the help of policeman Vargas. She will have to go back to the Barcelona of her youth and get mixed with the Sampere Family and the Cemetery of the Forgotten Books to understand what has happened. I really enjoyed this book. I read the Shadow of the Wind a long time ago and really enjoyed it but never read Carlos Ruis Zafon other books. The writing is great and the story is convoluted but very entertaining. I couldn't put the book down.

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The final volume from the critically acclaimed Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle, in which the reader is transported once again into the mesmerizing world of intrigue, suspense and intriguing stories of beloved and new characters.
The beautiful and enigmatic Alicia Gris is at the centre of this final volume, and her investigation leads to the uncovering of some of Spain’s higher echelons darkest secrets. We meet her first as a young girl, orphaned during the Spanish Civil War and saved by Fermin de Torres who appears in previous novels. From that fateful night, their paths split and Alicia is thrown into the world of the Spanish secret police, working as one of their most successful undercover investigators.
As with all of the cycle’s novels, a very special book lies at the heart of the tale – a rare masterpiece by Victor Mataix, hidden in the office of Valls whose disappearance Alicia is charged with investigating. This discovery leads to a tangled web of widespread corruption and uncompromising wickedness that Alicia must discover the truth of, whilst also discovering some of the truth behind her own life.
The first half of this book is as charged and enthralling as Zafón’s previous books, with an added pinch of femme fatale and dark, action-filled noir. Alicia’s past and the current case are full of intrigue and mystery that lends itself to a nail-biting thriller, whilst still reveling in the lush language and gothic setting that the cycle celebrates. I did find, however, that the plot seems to unravel slightly as you read on, losing some of the pace and tautness that are present at the start. Alicia is also remarkable character, but I do think Zafón as done her a disservice by always portraying her as an object of desire. There are hidden depths that aren’t explored and it begins to become tiresome reading yet another paragraph on how another man desires her. This is also highlighted when Alicia is compared to other women, Bea for example is upheld as an angelic figure with Alicia a demonic counterpoint, and the comparisons are usually based on physicality, leaning towards the stereotypical ‘male view’. It left me with the feeling that Zafón is far better at writing a man than a woman.
Saying this, the intricacy of the plot with various narratives intertwining is superb. Zafón has created yet another book within the story which you find yourself wishing was real, and built a terrifying mystery around it. There are many secrets that run under and over the main narrative, giving you the sense of the labyrinthine world that suits the title exceedingly well. You are led by all the clues, assumptions, dead-ends and answers that Alicia uncovers, as you journey with her through the maze of a dark and deadly history.
‘Stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them’ – The Labyrinth of the Spirits

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Oooh this was a tough book to rate. Let's look back at this series:

The Shadow of the Wind - beautifully written, a haunting tale of love, loss, regret and death against the backdrop of gothic, post-war Barcelona. Five stars and still one of my favourite books.
The Angel's Game - Zafon ramps up the 'gothic' and in my opinion lost a lot of what made the first one beautiful - the characters, the love. This is about David Martin's descent into madness, a lot more creepy, a lot more violent and I didn't really know what to make of it. Three stars.
The Prisoner of Heaven - This instalment focuses on Fermin, who is easily my favourite character of this series, and automatically made the book much better than its predecessor. It also placed the second book in a different light, which generally gave me more confidence about the direction of the series. Four stars.

This bring us to the present - the long-awaited fourth and final instalment of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There were a great many things I loved:
- Alicia was a fantastic character and I was really happy to see a woman taking centre stage
- The way that books are interwoven into the fabric of the novel
- Zafon's cinematic writing (he is actually also a screenwriter!)
- Little Julian Sempere who leapt off the page in an adorable way
- The many moments that were completely gripping and so tense I was yelling out loud!

BUT. This book is Just. Too. Long. Unfortunately that coloured my whole experience of the novel because by the end I was worn out and irritated. The final instalment from Julian's perspective was lovely in many ways, but it was quite a change of tone from what had been a very tense and violent novel, and ultimately it dragged on longer than it should have done. By that point, I just wanted to know what happened to everyone at the end, I didn't want a new story. The core elements of it were wonderful, but it could have been half the length.

Another thing that coloured my experience of the novel was the increase in explicit, graphic violence. Much like the second book, there were a lot of moments that were so dark and creepy I was sometimes afraid to continue! This was what drove the stark contrast between the bulk of the novel and the section at the end - the end was much like the first book, lyrical and beautiful, while the rest of the book was a lot of knives and revolvers, blood and gore.

All together, 3.5 stars. I wanted so much to round it up to 4 because it was lovely to meet the Semperes again, and Shadow of the Wind remains one of my favourite books. Unfortunately, I had to round it down, because I just can't see why it had to be that long. This is not a bad novel, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it. However, if you enjoyed the second and third books more than the first, you may well love this final chapter.

Trigger warning - this book contains frequent graphic violence including torture, murder and references to historic sexual abuse.

Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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