A lot of young adult books focus on a canny thirteen year old – someone wise, sensitive, and naive coming to terms with the illogical and intense world of adults. As parent to a 13 year old, I understand exactly what the appeal is. It’s a powerful age, with one foot in the world of childhood and one in the world of adults. Sophistication and innocence sit side by side in tenuous balance. Zafon’s hero Max Carver fits the bill perfectly. He’s thoughtful, intelligent, careful, and unsettled. It is June 1943 and Max’s watchmaker father moves the family away from their city home to a beach house on the coast to escape the war. Though Max has been expecting it, the news is shattering, unearthing his sense of security.
Things only get worse when Max’s sister Irina picks up a stray black cat, the station clock in their new town starts ticking backwards, they move into a house riddled with past tragedies, and a garden full of strange statues around a terrifying clown appears to move. Although The Prince of Mist predates Zafon’s two bestselling novels The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, it is full of the same intensity – the co-mingling of realism, magic, and terror. The story is compelling from the start, propelled by the mystery of a boy that Max meets in his new town, and a series of hints that build to produce a frightening and satisfying thriller that goes well beyond the plotline.
There are few things scarier than an evil clown, but coupled with a broken promise, a lost child, black and white film reels, a shipwreck, bad dreams, and a series of slightly Satanic symbols, the story takes on a serious resonance. As with the later books, the writing is rich, full of atmospheric descriptions that evoke the setting and create a mood: