SNEAK PEEK PREVIEW: The Midnight Palace

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves; published by Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2011; 298 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected release date: May 31, 2011.

It’s the 1930s, Calcutta.  This exotic locale is home to a psychological thriller that simmers beneath the surface then boils over in  scalding, terrifying bursts throughout the book.  Seven orphans (Isobel, Roshan, Siraj, Michael, Seth, Ben and Ian) became founding members of the Chowbar Society and met nightly at the Midnight Palace, a deserted former-mansion near St. Patrick’s orphange.  Seven children have pledged to see each other through their years in an orphanages as a surrogate family.  Although all have unique personalities and sometimes unsettling quirks, they stick together.  They share stories to get through boredom and sadness.  They solve mysteries, as when a fire nearly kills the orphanage director, Tom Carter.  When Sheere becomes the unofficial eighth member of the Chowbar Society, all hell seems to break loose.  A terrifying ghost train with a fiery specter begins to lurk near the children.  One or more lives are at stake as the inseparable team search for answers.  Will the Chowbar Society disband with seven or eight members?  Will any of them survive to see the Midnight Palace again?

The book is bookended with commentary by Ian, one of the characters.  It is through his adult eyes that we learn the story of the fiery apparition and the interconnections between some of the children.  Sometimes the adult Ian interjects with insight or commentary that helps clarify the storyline without clouding the story telling.  It’s an interesting plot device that works well.

As was the case in The Prince of Mist, Zafon has created a heart-pounding psychological thriller.  The two books share a common depth of description that pulls readers into the atmospheric ghost stories.  At several points, I found I had to set The Midnight Palace down to literally catch my breath because my pulse was racing.  The description of the terrifying presence is scary enough, but the moments when he jumps out at the protagonists was Hitchcockian jump-out-of-your-seat thrills.  Comparisons between the two books are inevitable.  Although similar, I think The Midnight Palace has a deeper story line and better developed characters.  Where the evil presence in The Prince of Mist sought a single soul to make restitution, the ghost in The Midnight Palace will stop at nothing in his quest for revenge against all wrongs done to him.

I think reluctant readers will be interested in this title.  No, it is not a rollicking adventure or a smoldering romance, but the storytelling and rich tapestry of words will capture the imagination of readers.  At less than 300 pages and with a fairly large typeface, The Midnight Palace is not an imposing book to crack open.  But once inside Ian’s memoir, I think teens, young adults and some adults will find it hard to put down until the back cover closes.  With summer reading approaching, this is a must-read for camp, vacation, or just at night in the dark with just a flashlight.

5P     4Q     Grade Level: 8-12+

Cover art: the fiery track, the apparition with its head down and the exotic palaces of Calcutta summarize the story in a fairly graphic portrayal of the storyline, without giving a lot away.  I don’t think it works very well as it doesn’t cry “ghost story” to me, and that would be a huge selling point to readers of the genre; especially for Zafon fans.  I definitely do not like it as well as the cover of The Prince of Mist.

From Reading List: On the Edge of Your Seat (Mystery, Suspense, Thriller), ARC (advance reading copy)

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