The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruis Zafon is the author's first attempt at a young adult novel. A group of orphans created a club for themselves in 1930s Calcutta to help cope with the rigors of a difficult life. On the brink of their release into the world on their sixteenth birthday, the group's leader, Ben, is given some shocking information about his true identity and discovers his long-lost twin sister, Sheere. The story the twins are told is a horrifying one that left both of their parents dead, and the murderer on a quest to destroy them, so their grandmother separated them in hopes of keeping them both safe. But the dark and frightening enemy is back and determined to wreak his revenge upon Ben and Sheere's family. Zafon has made a major stumble with this suspenseful tale. The Shadow of the Wind is one of my favorite books, so I was looking forward to reading Midnight Palace, but I was disappointed. Zafon's Calcutta doesn't feel even remotely like the mystical and mysterious city of Calcutta; instead it comes across as any generic European city, most likely London. Even the main characters have English names: Ben, Ian, Seth, and Michael! The story could easily be rewritten substituting London for Calcutta and very few changes would need to be made. Midnight Palace may have been better as a trilogy. Zafon creates some fantastitical settings, but fails to use them well, like Chandra's house and the train station. I would have loved for the characters to spend several chapters exploring both, but instead readers are rushed through them as Zafon pushes his characters into confrontation and rusty plot devices. The club seeks to investigate the story Sheere's grandmother tells them, not to propel the story, but only to prove her a liar. I get the impression that Zafon had a vision of this unusual group of children investigating this strange story, but instead of allowing the story to unfold, it's rushed through any kind of emotional or suspenseful breakthroughs. A major revelation is broadcast early on, and the climax is never in doubt, and I wish Zafon had handled both with more subtlety. Zafon is a fantastic author, and this book had so much potential. I almost wish he would write it again using his immeasurable talents to their limit.
Today's pictures were taken at the Field Museum in Chicago