The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you don't already think clowns are creepy, you will after you read this book. (Oh and before you read any further, a spoiler alert, as I do talk a bit about the book's ending!)

It's 1943 and 13 year old Max and his family have decided to move away from the danger of war in the city to a house on the coast near a small town. The moment they arrive at the train station at the town, Max feels uneasy about the move. It's not just the anxious looks on his mother and sisters' faces that unsettle him -- it's the strange clock at the station that seems to move backwards and the unblinking cat that appears to be waiting for them.

Through his new bedroom window, Max sees an overgrown garden with white statues just a little ways from his house. Intrigued, he breaks through the rusted gate and discovers that the they are statues of different members of a circus troupe -- a lion tamer, a strongman, a female contortionist... and in the middle of the garden is a stone clown, arm extended in a fist. At his feet is the symbol of a six pointed star. When Max looks at the clown a second time, he realizes that the clown's hand is now an open palm instead of a fist.

It's the beginning of a frightening chain of events: strange voices in the house, keys turning and closets opening by themselves, stone angels coming to life. When Max's new friend shows him a shipwreck with the same six pointed star and a dangerous accident puts his younger sister in the hospital, Max realizes he needs to find out what really is going on -- quick.

Zafon does an excellent job at creating a dark, ominous mood -- you get a real sense of foreboding as the tension grows with each mysterious incident. I found the plot to be pretty succinct and it felt more like a short story than a full length novel (214 pages, with large text and wide spacing). I like how it didn't have a typical happy ending where the protagonist saves the day by defeating the enemy and the author wasn't afraid of ending with some loose ends. That said, I felt that some of the more intriguing elements of the story (e.g. why clocks were going backwards, the meaning of the six pointed star, how the Prince of Mist became immortal) could have used a bit more explanation.

I must say I was happy to read a story where the paranormal was actually sinister and dangerous.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the author of the Midnight Palace (YA) and the internationally known adult novels, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game.

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