In this final volume of Ruiz Zafón’s cycle of novels set in the universe of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, beautiful and enigmatic Alicia Gris, with the help of the Sempere family, uncovers one of the most shocking conspiracies in all Spanish history— a tangled web of kidnappings and murders tied to the Franco regime, whose corruption is more widespread and horrifying than anyone imagined.
Across four long English novels, such emphasis on the power and pleasure of books would risk being thought a gesture to conservative views on education or a diversion from more pressing societal issues. But in Spanish history, the fate of literature has consistently been a test of the severity of legislative and ecclesiastical politics. So the concealed libraries and hunted-for publications in the quartet represent Spain’s shameful piles of books that were burned, redacted, banned or hidden in secret stores because of the moral policing of kings, cardinals and dictators. This subtext is made explicit in The Labyrinth of the Spirits when a librarian directs Alicia to a text that was doubly suppressed ... Amid the game-playing with known and unknown stories, Zafón has a serious and angry political intent. The sections of The Labyrinth of the Spirits are named after the parts of the Roman Catholic church’s Latin requiem—Dies Irae, Libera Me, etc—which underlines the suggestion that the novels are a lamentation for Spanish (and especially Catalan) history ... Publishers dream of novels that appeal to habitual readers and to those seeking one big book to last a holiday, and that is what Zafón’s quartet has delivered. His trick is to have linked multiple genres—fantasy, historical, romance, meta-fictional, police-procedural and political—through prose of atmospheric specificity ... Zafón is also a fine describer of city sights—vividly depicting both the touristic and obscure parts of Barcelona and Madrid – and his storytelling is impressively architectural. The intricately structured timeline of the quartet loops forwards and backwards between 1919 and 1992.This jumpy structure sometimes loses momentum, which becomes an even greater jeopardy in a book of this size, but the author always draws us back in with the revelation of another layer of character or a viscerally realized set piece ... As a whole, though, the 2,250-plus pages of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet represent, in every way, a colossal achievement.
Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War provides the perfect setting for Zafón’s novel, with its shadowed, misty labyrinth of streets, foreboding buildings and sinister sense of corruption. The plot is exquisitely intricate, like an elaborate steampunk timepiece. Alicia, a fragile but ferociously formidable, vampire-like seductress, is unforgettable. The pacing is exceptional, with its incessant, rolling waves of tension. Even the dialogue is remarkably sharp and fresh ... The Labyrinth of the Spirits is a masterpiece more than worthy of sharing a shelf with its bestselling predecessors ... For those who have read Zafón’s earlier novels, some loose ends are finally resolved. Readers’ one regret will be that Labyrinth is the last in this ingenious cycle.
Familiar characters from the first three books are living under the repressive, deadly regime of Francisco Franco ... Alicia is the focus here ... All is not as it appears and the ingrained character of violence, lies, and silence that defined the actions of the police and the government for almost four decades lead to a surprising ending ... At approximately 800 pages, this book is a commitment, but it is one well worth making. Complex characters, rich language, and intrigue make it a story to be savored.