I waffled back and forth whether this was not quite as strong as my other four star ratings, or much stronger than my other three star ratings. It falls somewhere in between, but I'm giving Zafon the benefit of the doubt here. This is clearly early work, before he became the master of prose Americans first met in Shadow of the Wind
- he's still developing his talents and storytelling abilities, but there's something about this book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
At its heart, The Midnight Palace
shares same basic structure as Zafon's first teen book, The Prince of the Mist
: A mystical being seeking revenge by threatening the descendants of those who have crossed him. This story, though, is much more complex. Set in early 20th century Calcutta, it tells the story of twins Sheere and Ben who were separated practically-at-birth in an attempt to save them from the sinister force responsible for the death of their parents. Ben grows up in an orphanage and Sheere lives a life on the run with her grandmother. They are thrown back together again on their 16th birthday when the threat against their lives is renewed. With the help of Ben's friends from the orphanage, they must uncover family secrets in order to save their own lives.
It's a horror story for tweens. It's not the most radically clever thing out there, and there's a little too much transparency for grown-up me, but its twists would have kept me hooked when I was ten or twelve. The quality of the writing is light years ahead of most other books that would fall into the "horror stories for tweens" genre - you can see the writer Zafon will become, and that is simultaneously exciting and frustrating. Still, I'd recommend it to any young reader looking for a compelling story.