I've come to Ruiz Zafón late - beyond the tremendous hype that surrounded The Shadow of the Wind. Many reviewers have panned the sequel The Angel's Game as a weak follow-on to its much greater predecessor, but as I haven't read The Shadow of the Wind, I come to The Angel's Game with fresh, unbiased eyes. With no background, and reading the book as a standalone novel, I was charmed. It isn't really the plot, with its echoes of Eco's (couldn't resist) The Name of the Rose, and Borges' Labyrinths and The Library of Babel, though there are nods to both authors, along with many others, from Dickens to Goethe. It isn't the mystery, which draws the reader in and propels the story forward so that, in spite of the book's size, The Angel's Game reads ultra-fast, as the reader strains towards the conclusion and uncovers pieces that obscure as much as they reveal. What really makes The Angel's Game such a powerful book, is Ruiz Zafón's extraordinary command of language. The novel is rich with poetry and meaning that goes beyond the story which draws the reader into an odd world that remains feverishly believable even as the gothic and supernatural horror builds.
For existing fans, The Angel's Game is set in in Shadow's Barcelona, around forty years earlier, in the 1920s. David Martin is a hack writer, working under a pseudonym and cranking out monthly installments under the City of the Damned banner. The books are a massive success, but Martin wants real literary success and writes a novel under his own name that sinks into obscurity. He then helps a friend turn his awful novel into a much better one, which ends up being highly praised by critics. When his friend also marries the woman Martin loves, Martin begins to descend into a tumorous depression that is only turned around when a strange but dapper publisher, Andreas Corelli, offers him a contract to write a very particular sort of book. Suddenly Martin is caught up in a plot that is as sinister as it is outlandish.
The novel does allow itself some of the excesses of genre that move between occult and mystery, and at times, the labyrinth that Martin is caught up in becomes overwrought, with murder and purple intensity breaking the fictive dream. But the edge of madness, and hints that hover between Corelli's demonic nature and Martin's psychological state are handled with literary subtlety that engages and draws the reader: