The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

In 2004 I discovered my favourite author.  As I was walking through a Christchurch bookshop (which is no longer standing) I spotted a beautiful book on the shelves with an intriguing title, The Shadow of the Wind.  As soon as I started reading it I became obsessed with the story and couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I didn’t want to do anything but read this amazing story that captivated me.  Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish author, transported me to post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona, and introduced me to Daniel Sempere, Julian Carax, Fermin, and The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  Ever since The Shadow of the Wind I’ve eagerly awaited Carlos’s other novels being translated into English.  In 2009, the prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, was released and I also enjoyed this.  After much anticipation, The Prisoner of Heaven, the sequel to The Shadow of the Wind, has just been released.  I couldn’t wait to meet my favourite characters again and discover what had happened to them after the events of The Shadow of the Wind.

The Prisoner of Heaven returns to the world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere & Sons bookshop.

It begins just before Christmas in Barcelona in 1957, one year after Daniel and Bea from The Shadow of the Wind have married. They now have a son, Julian, and are living with Daniel’s father at Sempere & Sons. Fermin still works with them and is busy preparing for his wedding to Bernarda in the New Year. However something appears to be bothering him.

Daniel is alone in the shop one morning when a mysterious figure with a pronounced limp enters. He spots one of their most precious volumes that is kept locked in a glass cabinet, a beautiful and unique illustrated edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. Despite the fact that the stranger seems to care little for books, he wants to buy this expensive edition. Then, to Daniel’s surprise, the man inscribes the book with the words ‘To Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from the dead and who holds the key to the future’. This visit leads back to a story of imprisonment, betrayal and the return of a deadly rival.

The Prisoner of Heaven was everything I was expecting and more.  I was immediately taken back to Barcelona to meet my old friends to find out how life had been treating them.   Carlos Ruiz Zafon has skillfully woven strands of the stories from The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game into The Prisoner of Heaven.  Characters that have shown up in each of those stories make an appearance in The Prisoner of Heaven and relationships between these characters are revealed.  The marvel of these three books (and what will ultimately be four books) is that they are amazing stories in their own right, but if you read each of them, you get even more out of the story because you know about key events that have happened in the other stories.  For instance, if you’ve read The Angel’s Game you’ll already know of the David Martin that is a prisoner in Montjuic Prison in The Prisoner of Heaven.

Several people have mentioned that they didn’t really enjoy The Angel’s Game because it was too confusing (I personally loved the story), but when you read The Prisoner of Heaven, pieces of the puzzle fall into place and you realise why David Martin’s story was so strange and dark.

A large part of the story concentrates on Fermin and his past.  Fermin was my favourite character in The Shadow of the Wind so I loved finding out more about him and how he came into Daniel’s life.  It is through Fermin’s tale that we learn of his connection to other key characters in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books.

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, my favourite fictional place, makes another appearance in this book.  The way that Carlos describes the sights and smells of this wonderful place makes me so unbelievably happy and I only wish that I could visit it.  If you don’t know about The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, you must read one of Carlos’ books just to discover it for yourself.

The Prisoner of Heaven has left me dying to read Carlos’ final book featuring these characters (not yet written) and I really want to re-read The Shadow of the Wind.  If you haven’t read any of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books I suggest you start with Shadow of the Wind.  You will fall in love with Carlos’ Barcelona, his memorable characters, and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books

Meet the Apocalypsies #1 – Leanna Renee Hieber

Today I’m pleased to welcome Leanna Renee Hieber, one of the first of the Apocalypsies to release her debut book into the world.  Leanna’s book, Darker Still, the first book in the Magic Most Foul series was released on 11/11/11 in the US (1st February 2012 in NZ).  Here’s the blurb:

The Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… New York City, 1880.Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart’s latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing… Lord Denbury’s soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.

It sounds intriguing and I’m really looking forward to reading it.  I’ll hand over to Leanna to tell us all about Darker Still and her inspirations.

I’m so excited to be here today! While I’ve written several novels, I’m here to talk about my YA debut, DARKER STILL: A Novel of Magic Most Foul. I’ve always wanted to write a haunted painting story: Ever since I was little and I saw Sesame Street’s DON’T EAT THE PICTURES where the Sesame Street gang get locked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art overnight. Ever since I read THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. Ever since I went to art museums wondering if the painter and the sitters infused part of their own life’s energy into the art. At last, I’ve written my haunted painting story. DARKER STILL: A Novel of Magic Most Foul begins the Magic Most Foul saga set in 1880 New York City. It tells the tale of a hot British Lord whose soul is trapped in a painting and the brave girl who must set him free.

I’m so excited to be shelved in teen fiction. But for my adult readership who know me from my Strangely Beautiful series about ghostbusters and Greek Mythology in Victorian England, don’t be deterred. DARKER STILL has the same flavors found in my Strangely Beautiful saga, it’s still the 1880s, it’s still romantic and spooky, (the Magic Most Foul series is far more spooky, actually) it’s definitely still Gothic. Similar attractions, different shelf. I want to be a “gateway drug to 19th century literature” for teens and for all readers. I want to build a bridge between today’s fiction and the books and style that defined me as a reader and a writer. When I was about 10 years old I fell in love with Edgar Allan Poe and haven’t ever looked back. Poe was my own “gateway drug” and my love of his work led me to appreciate Stoker, Shelley, and all the spooky 19th century classics. Especially Dorian Gray. (If you haven’t read The Picture of Dorian Gray, you should. It’s short, creepy, sensual and amazing.)
I hope you’ll be so kind as to check out DARKER STILL: A Novel of Magic Most Foul, it landed on the Indie Next List as a recommended buy in the Kids/YA section by the American Association of Booksellers, and Seventeen said: “You’ll love it if you love murder mysteries with a supernatural twist… the story is so different from other fantasy novels that have been coming out recently. This chilling tale will draw you in and keep you guessing until the very last page!” – I hope you’ll have fun getting to know Natalie and Jonathon and will join them on their next harrowing adventures this November when the sequel releases! Cheers!
Leanna Renee Hieber

Award winning, bestselling Gothic Victorian Fantasy

The Devil Walks by Anne Fine

When I first read about Anne Fine’s new book, The Devil Walks, I knew it would be an amazing book.  Anne Fine described it “as a venture into 19th-century gothic” and it sounded like the kind of dark, creepy story that I’d love.

The Devil Walks is the story of Daniel, who has been hidden away from the world for most of his life by his reclusive, disturbed mother.  However, this changes one day when a stranger takes Daniel from his home.  This stranger, Doctor Marlow, takes Daniel into his home, where he is embraced by his family.   Meanwhile, shocked by her son’s kidnap, Daniel’s mother is taken to an asylum where she hangs herself.   The house where Daniel spent his life is sold, along with everything his mother owned to pay her debts.   Daniel’s only inheritance is the one possession that Daniel takes with him from the house; his mother’s dolls house that is modeled on the house she grew up in, called High Gates.  In the dolls house are a family of dolls, including a stick-thin woman who looks remarkably like his mother.  During one of his games with Dr Marlow’s daughter, Sophie, they discover another doll, hidden in the house.  This doll is two-in-one, at one end a mischievous looking boy, and the other end a man with ‘green eyes that gazed out with a more piercing look and the thin smile had curdled into something sourer.’  The more time they spend with this doll, the more it’s wickedness creeps into their lives.  Just when Daniel is settled into his new life, Dr Marlow tells him he is being sent to live with his only surviving relative, his Uncle Severn at High Gates, the house that was the model for his dolls house.  Daniel is not sure what to make of his uncle – one moment he’s cheerful and the next he is pounding his fists on the table in anger.  As Daniel explores the house and the grounds, he discovers the terrible truth about his family and the sinister dolls house that his uncle will do anything to get his hands on.

The Devil Walks is one of the most spine-tingling books I’ve read in a long time.  Days after finishing the story it’s still stuck in my head and I keep going back over the story in my head.  The story is so dark and mysterious that I was hooked right from the very first page.  Anne Fine’s beautiful writing made me feel like I was right there with Daniel through the whole ordeal, from being hidden away in that dark house, to the labyrinth of rooms at High Gates.  I think the reason I liked the story so much was that it had everything that I love about Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s gothic stories, like Shadow of the Wind and Prince of Mist.   The Devil Walks is definitely one of my highlights of 2011 and I highly recommend it.