The Angel's Game

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Paperback, 2010



Anchor (2010), Edition: Reprint, 544 pages


In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martin, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. Close to despair, he receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime--write a book unlike anything that has ever existed--a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.

Media reviews

The Christian Science Monitor
The result is a twisty, sarcastic ode to books, with a satisfying dollop of religious theory thrown in for good measure. On its surface, "The Angel's Game" is a thriller laden with Gothic elements, but readers who need a traditional denouement with answers neatly laid out will come away disappointed. (I definitely had a little moment of "Wait! What? Huh???" at the end.) But while the plot payoff may not be what readers are expecting, the novel itself is such a pleasure to read that the characters could have ended with a rendition of "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow," played on cowbells and a zither, and I would have shrugged it off.
6 more
“Faust” this isn’t. Ruiz Zafón’s flamboyant pulp epic is something altogether sillier, a pact-with-the-devil tale whose only purpose is to give its readers some small intimation of the darker pleasures of the literary arts, the weird thrill of storytelling without conscience.
USA Today
Game is a multi-layered confection that combines undying love, magical realism, meditations on religion, the importance of books and a love affair with the vibrant city of Barcelona. Zafon hits the reset button on what it means to be a great writer. His visionary storytelling prowess is a genre unto itself.
While much of this novel is highly enjoyable, at some latter point the tongue withdraws from the cheek. In wrapping up a host of absurd sub-plots, somewhere in there the writer loses his sense of humour. When the book ceases to be self-conscious about its own manipulations, it stops being fun. This won’t bother some readers; some will happily dive into the mysticism up to the neck. But others will miss the drollery and sophistication with which the novel began, and for these readers Zafón’s straight resolution will disappoint.
Kirkus Reviews
Zafon delivers a warning about the dangers of obsession, mixed with an obvious passion for literature and the printed word; his book is also a song of love for Barcelona with all its creaking floorboards and hidden subbasements. A nice fit with the current craze for learned mysteries and for spooks of both the spying and the spectral kind.
Publisher's Weekly
Zafóns novel is detailed and vivid, and Davids narration is charming and funny, but suspect. Villain or victim, he is the hero of and the guide to this dark labyrinth that, by masterful design, remains thrilling and bewildering.
Once again, Zafon proves himself a magician, vividly invoking bygone Barcelona while unscrolling a byzantine plot at breakneck pace. The crumbling houses, supernatural secrets, and emotionally responsive weather might be a bit much for some readers to digest, though for others it will be a feast. But what would have kept The Angel's Game itself from being someday consigned to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books would have been a stronger connection between storybook evil and the real-life kind. While Zafon portrays Martin as a successful seller of entertainments who longs to be a serious scribe, his own unfinished thoughts about religion and totalitarianism show his priorities. Pity, because he seems the perfect author to help prove that serious stuff can also be entertaining as hell.

User reviews

LibraryThing member mckait
This is an all enveloping love story, maybe not. This is a paranormal mystery that will draw you in from, maybe not that either. This is an extraordinary piece of literary fiction, touched by murder, deception and deep friendship. I'm sorry, that isn't quite right either.

None of these things describe this book. All of these things describe this book.

This book is like a fire opal. Hold it up and from each direction, and in different light the color that you see blazing through is different. Also like a fire opal, this story is a gem worth having. It is worth passing on to others , to share the wealth. Perfection!

No, surely not. Nearly all gems have flaws. I read, and even went back to reread some passages, I never lost interest for one moment.

This is the story of a remarkable life. David Martin's life. All of the experiences that fed or sucked away at his soul. The events that broke his heart, or filled it. It is the explanation of how spirit kept him going, and where he landed. Some parts may sound familiar, because who among us has never had a broken heart, or spirit?

I highly recommend this book. I am at a loss to explain it, but I do recommend it
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LibraryThing member TrishNYC
This has to be one of the most frustrating books that I have ever read. The first 100 pages made me want to pull out all my hair because though interesting in general, it was long winded and could have been 50 pages shorter.

In 1920s Barcelona, David Martin is a young man who has been orphaned at a very young age. But he is lucky in his patronage as his mentor is Pedro Vidal, one of the richest men in town. Through Vidal, he gets a job at the local paper where he soon excels writing a pulp fiction serial. His stories are an instant hit and widely embraced by the populace. Unfortunately, his success turns friends at the paper into foes and he is eventually forced to leave. He finds another job and is contracted to a long term deal with two unscrupulous publishers, writing under a pseudonym. One constant through this period is the presence of a mysterious man, Andreas Corelli, who wants David to come work for him. Through a confluence of different events that break David's heart and spirit, David would eventually agree to a contract with Mr. Corelli. Shortly after he makes this agreement, his former publishers suffer brutal and mysterious deaths. David has nagging doubts about Corelli but the money that he is offered and the freedom that comes along with it prove to be temptations that cannot be passed up.

But as David writes this book, his doubts continue to grow. Who exactly is Andreas Corelli?What kind of publisher pays an exorbitant amount of money for a book that he never intends to publish? Also what is the relationship between Corelli and the former occupant of David's house?

This book is beautifully written and melds elements of mysticism, the supernatural and features very intelligent debates/discussions of the nature of religious belief, faith and the human search for meaning. The author is obviously a very talented writer whose love for the written word is apparent. In his writing he pays tribute to the masters like Dickens, Bronte, Wilde, etc. His writing is lyrical, magical and in his hands, Barcelona becomes a dreamlike locale that I am now dying to visit. But before I could get to the place where I could say all this about the book, I had to survive the first section of it which just seemed to go on and on and on. Honestly, I believe that many people will get so frustrated with this first section that they may give up and therefore miss out on a truly great book. I wish that this portion of the book was trimmed down because it detracts from the overall work. Another problem with the book was that I felt that too many characters where introduced that sometimes I lost count of who each person was. This could have easily been a 5 star book but these two factors made me rate it lower.

But all in all, it is a very well written book that does not leave you with easy answers. By the end of the book you are unsure of who is victim or villain. You do not walk away with a clear sense of who the hero is or if there is even one.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most; his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price,

So begins Carlos Ruiz Zafon's second installation in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books tetrology, a collection of inter-related books, each which can be read on its own, all of which are set in a magical version of 1920s Barcelona. If you've read "The Shadow of the Wind", then you really only need to know that this book is every bit as good as its predecessor. Another rip-roaring adventure novel, full of passion, obsession and greed that will suck you in and cause chores and appointments to be neglected in favor of another hour with this literary page turner.… (more)
LibraryThing member FlossieT
Confessors of the Creed of the Anti-Dickensians, take heed and learn from my sorrowful tale. The alarm bells really started ringing on page 32:

It was a rainy winter, with days as grey as lead, and I read Great Expectations about nine times, partly because I had no other book at hand, partly because I did not think there could be a better one in the whole world and I was beginning to suspect that Mr Dickens had written it just for me. Soon I was convinced that I didn't want to do anything else in life but learn to do what Mr Dickens had done.

You'd think that would have been enough for me. But no - I'm really beginning to hone my talent for sleeping through alarms. Stupidly, I ploughed on through another 400 pages of this overwrought, undercharacterised gothic farrago (although once I got to about p.100 and realised it wasn't getting any better I started flipping the pages a WHOLE lot quicker).

Brief plot summary: David Martín is a struggling dogsbody at a Barcelona newspaper, who gets a lucky break: the editor has an unexpected eleventh-hour gap to fill, a powerful sponsor intervenes in deus-ex-machina style and suggests that David, whose work he has seen, could help out. From here, David begins a career writing penny dreadfuls, serialised in the newspaper - which brings him to the attention of a mysterious publisher with an unusual publishing project he would like David take on, and also earns him the enmity of his colleagues, who resent his unexpected advancement. Weird and wonderful things begin to happen.

According to the sales figures for this book alone, 1.6 million Spaniards alone endorse Señor Zafón. The reviews - those I've seen - have been either rave or strangely coy, neither wholeheartedly endorsing nor slating the book. If they had, I might not have read this. Let me be clear. I did not like this book. It is an example for me of what my husband calls "throwing good money after bad" reading - a book I finished because I had invested too many pages in it and wanted to find out "what happened", but that I should have bailed out on much earlier and hence never had to reach that sorry state of affairs. It doesn't know what genre it really wants to be (horror fantasy? murder mystery? period thriller? metafiction?); the characters are completely 2D; what passes for the plot deflates badly at the conclusion.

Yeuch. Cunningly, the publicist had hidden at the back of the book all of the review comments mentioning the resonance with Dickens. Otherwise this might just have been another entry on the 'abandoned' ledger.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
If your thing is books and authors, you’ll be quietly seduced into reading this engrossing gothic mystery based in Barcelona, Spain. I’d never read the earlier and highly praised book, The Shadow of the Wind, by its internationally acclaimed author so I had no expectations of what his newer book would be like. By the time I realized it was a mystery, a genre which I usually avoid, I had already been pulled into the mesmerizing story and could not lay it aside in favor of other books.

As the story opens, David Martin recalls the tragedy of his youth, the loss of his father, and how he is lured into the world of books. His story is one of a man desperate to be successful at the craft of writing but whose fate seems to be that of failure. Again and again, he tries unsuccessfully to overcome those situations which devastate him until a mysterious stranger leaves him a calling card and a way out of his financial and writing misfortunes, or so David believes. This person proves eventually to be both a blessing and a curse to David.

The story was told in short chapters, which for me was a delight because it left open the opportunity to pause my reading at natural breaks, then quickly reach back for this book to get another quick read in before another pressing activity called me. I really liked that!

The narrative wandered throughout Barcelona, mentioning many details of the city, including streets and vistas. I only wish that I could remember such minute details of the magnificent Barcelona which I visited, and remember with affection, when I was close to the age of David Martin, the book's protagonist. The myriad settings throughout the story, including even Barcelona’s weather, became just as important as the characters themselves as this story unfolded.

Creepy is probably a good way to describe the tone of the book. David Martin lives in a tower house much disfavored by the community at large. As he tries to learn more about his rented home, he discovers the bleak history of its former occupants. Outside of his home, David's travels take him to such forbidding places as cemeteries, an old home in complete disrepair, and a secret labyrinth of old books.

There were a few minor hindrances for me in this book that might be worth noting. The first was that, after a while, I found the number of characters and their relationships to each other a bit confusing so that I had to make notes in order to continue reading with understanding. This may be my own age-related problem, and I certainly did not mind doing so. The second, however, was that I did not understand completely what the mysterious stranger wanted David Martin to write. This may or may not be important, but I found it somewhat frustrating neverthetheless.

In summary, I must note how throughly I enjoyed the experience of reading this story. It is a credit to this author that he engaged me so throughly. Will I now look for more of his books despite my admitting to not liking mysteries? Absolutely!
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LibraryThing member tammydotts
In The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafón envelops the reader in a world full of mysterious characters and complicated plot twists. Zafón’s gift of creating fully realized characters and settings overcome the at-times confusing plot. The reader is content to let 1920s Barcelona wash over him as he accompanies David Martin, the main character, on a Dickensian journey.

The Angel’s Game is a follow up to Zafón’s first novel, The Shadow of the Wind, and takes a step further into the world of magic realism at which Shadow hinted. Where the events in Shadow could be explained through a series of almost implausible coincidences, The Angel’s Game’s plot depends on what can only be explained by a touch of supernatural. A brothel that turns out in the morning’s light to be a long abandoned building with no sign of life. Questions of reincarnation and time loops. Echoes of The Cask of Amontillado.

The through line of the novel appears simple on its surface: after success writing penny dreadfuls, David is commissioned to write a book by a strange Parisian publisher and discovers the cost of literary fame. Not far below this surface is a complex, dizzying maze. Characters are not always what or who they seem to be at first or third glance. Plot threads which appear innocuous when first introduced become central to the novel.

Even the long lectures about the nature of faith, dogma and the origin of belief by David’s new publisher seem to hold clues to the obsession that overtakes David as he struggles with completing the commission. David is never sure who his employer really is or who employs his employer. Neither is the reader, although sinister hints continue to grow as both David’s and Zafón’s books progress.

The trick with making magic realism work for the reader lies introducing the unexplainable without crossing into the fantastic. Zafón pulls off this balancing act seamlessly. The Angel’s Game never comes close to becoming a fantasy novel; the supernatural elements may have an explanation, but David can’t find one and Zafón doesn’t offer one.

Readers looking for ties to Shadow won’t be disappointed. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is more important to The Angel’s Game than in Zafón’s first book. David Martin is good friends with characters readers already know from the earlier book. And the atmosphere of David’s tower house will remind readers of the Aldaya mansion.

Some other similarities threaten to make The Angel’s Game nothing more than a pale retelling of Shadow — both main characters have lost their mothers and are in love with women whose first names begin with “C” and who don’t return their affections, for example — but as Zafón picks up the pace, the similarities are covered by each additional layer of the story.

Not all of the novel’s questions are answered, but most readers will not mind as The Angel’s Game provides such a richly textured world it is easy to believe it is reality, where answers aren’t guaranteed.
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LibraryThing member carolcarter
To say that this book was eagerly anticipated by millions would be an understatement of vast dimension. I have been waiting five years for it so it is with great sadness I have to say the wait, at least for me, was in vain.

I knew I was in trouble with this book when I found myself looking for excuses not to pick it up again. A page turner it is not. There are pieces of plot scattered throughout its pages unresolved and even, to my mind, unfinished. At first glance it appears to be another story of a Faustian bargain. There definitely is someone in the story who has made that bargain. The protagonist, David Martin, is a writer of penny dreadfuls and the book reads like one of his creations. This wouldn't be a problem if Zafon had stuck to that style. Instead he has given far too many pages over to discussions of religion, agonizing chapters on Martin's state of mind, and far too much unnecessary backstory. So much of the book was just boring to read.

David Martin is another motherless son, like Daniel Sempere in Shadow of the Wind. Unfortunately his father is unlettered and exits his life precipitately. David becomes a gofer at a newspaper and is taken under the wing of an aristocrat, Don Pedro Vidal. Vidal is instrumental in boosting David on his way as a writer very early in his life. His penny dreadful style is very popular and he is soon offered a contract with unsavory publishers which requires him to virtually write, eat and sleep and precious little of the latter two. David suffers increasingly from severe headaches and blackouts and is diagnosed with a terminal cancer. This is in the first 100 - 150 pages of the book so you know something magical has to happen.

The devilish character, Andreas Corelli oddly nicknamed 'the boss', makes him an offer which he doesn't refuse. He is to write a book for Corelli which will make people want to 'live and die'; a pseudo religious novel. The Cemetery of Lost Books comes into this book again (or before SOTW). Several characters from SOTW pre-appear in The Angel's Game, most notably Daniel Sempere's father and grandfather. And we are introduced to his mother. As David spends quite a bit of time on research, and here again too much of our time as well, he begins to realize that the book he has removed from the Cemetery and the book he has been commissioned to write have all too much in common. He slowly learns the story of the original book's author, a true gothic horror tale. But the tale slowly becomes reality for David. The horror was not particularly horrifying however. If I compare this to something like The Turn of the Screw, which is truly horrifying, it puts on a poor show. There is no real sense of menace from the villains here either as there was with Fumero in SOTW. Fumero was evil; the villains in Angel's Game are comic opera buffons. There were so many chase scenes, hiding and brushes with death I felt like I was having 'deja vu all over again'.

The plot of the book is a good one and could have been pulled off with considerably more tension without the long passages on David's mental health, etc. When I finished the book I found I could only remember the stark outline and most of the filler has completely left my mind already. To say I was disappointed in this book would be an understatement of vast dimension. I almost cried. I really wanted to love this book. It's not terrible but set beside SOTW there is no comparison.
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
Like Shadow of the Wind this was a lot of fun, and won me over early with that wonderful atmosphere Ruiz Zafón creates of a Gothem-like 1930's-era Barcelona; that sense of dying wealth and elegance hovering over poverty; all those mysterious dreamlike women who drift through his stories; and, of course, all that talk of books.

Here we start with an interesting variation of Dickens' Great Expectations, move along to a story that hints a the supernatural, but doesn't seem to quite cross that line, then suddenly we're in a thriller and then an ending whose meaning I haven't quite figured out.

One thing I missed from Shadow was how deeply history was woven in that book. Here there was a time-period atmosphere, but little other historical links. I'm mixed on the thriller aspects. But, it's an interesting story and a lot of fun to read.
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LibraryThing member tapestry100
I've really had a hard time coming to terms with how disappointed I am in this book. The Shadow of the Wind remains one of my favorite books, and I was thrilled when I discovered that Zafón had written another book, and even more thrilled when I discovered that it is a prequel of sorts to Wind. Well, that's about as far as my enjoyment of this book has gone.

I've been reading The Angel's Game for the better part of three weeks now, and have not even reached 150 pages. I keep telling myself that it will get better, but as I look at my TBR pile that is growing exponentially, I realize that I just don't have the time or the patience to be able to spare on a poorly written book, regardless of how good the author has been in the past. The story has not moved forward at all, it seems very disjointed and unorganized, and I find that I really don't care how the story is going to end nor what is going to happen to the characters. Hopefully, I'll be able to pick it up again soon, but for the time being, I have far more books that are grabbing my attention right now.
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LibraryThing member posthumose
"...if Shadow of the Wind is the nice, good girl in the family, The Angel’s Game would be the wicked gothic stepsister."

That's how Zafon describes this novel of high suspense about books and writing, desire and ambition. It seems he's planned a series.

"to give each book a different personality, to show some of the same characters at different times in their lives. Since these books were, in part, about the world of literature, books, reading and language, I thought it would be interesting to use the different novels to explore those themes through different angles and to add new layers to the meaning of the stories.

"...four different novels. They would be stand-alone stories that could be read in any order. I saw them as a Chinese box of stories with four doors of entry, a labyrinth of fictions that could be explored in many directions, entirely or in parts, and that could provide the reader with an additional layer of enjoyment and play. These novels would have a central axis, the idea of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, set against the backdrop of a highly stylized, gothic and mysterious Barcelona.

"The Angel’s Game is a new book, a stand-alone story that you can fully enjoy and understand on its own. But if you have already read The Shadow of the Wind, or you decide to read it afterwards, you’ll find new meanings and connections that I hope will enhance your experience with these characters and their adventures.

"The Angel’s Game has many games inside, one of them with the reader. It is a book designed to make you step into the storytelling process and become a part of it. In other words, the wicked, gothic chick wants your blood."

I have not read The Shadow of the Wind, this is not my usual genre. So I quote extensively because his explanation, though overblown, explains it all much better than I can.

I enjoyed the story. Its minor characters are so well developed that I often found them much more interesting than David Martin, our young writer. Their feelings and motivations seemed more fleshed out. After getting into writing David puts out a series of potboilers that the public eats up but are known only under a pen name. David can write well, he even writes a great book for a friend and no one knows him as the writer of that book either. The Sempere and Sons Bookshop figures large in the story, so does the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and a woman he will do anything for. An offer from a French editor to write the book of a lifetime, a book that can change the world, lures our protagonist into the dark, gothic side of ambition. There is an element of fantasy to the novel which threw me, only because nothing outside the real world ever happens in my usual reading, so I didn't clue in to what was really happening on one level. I suspect that Zafon's readers like that he will go in any direction to sustain a story. And it's certainly an interesting story. It's set in Barcelona, about two decades earlier than The Shadow of the Wind. The story moved quickly enough that it did not feel like a long novel, it made you want to know what's going to happen next. The novel is a mystery but a highly evolved one, with intrigue, romance, tragedy, with much more at stake for our protagonist than is usual. I think people are going to enjoy this book for the most part. It's not perfect, but it's a fun read. Four stars out of five. I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member awriterspen
In The Angel's Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon creates a fascinating character in David Martin, a young boy who is beaten by his father for reading books, abandoned by his mother, and finally witnesses the murder of his father. From that point on, few people intersect his life, but those that do become integral to his life. I don't want to give too much away as far as what happens in this book, because each event is best told by the author and I could not do it justice.

The Angel's Game was more than anything else a book that moved me. At times it moved me slowly into a deep sleep. At other times it moved my spirit because of the lovely prose that recreated the ambience of 1920's Barcelona so well. In the end, I walked away with little more than lovely, dark images of Barcelona.

The first half of the book was much more enjoyable as the mysteries built up suspense. The last hundred pages in a circular fashion attempted to connect the dots but failed in my mind to bring closure. If you like neatly wrapped happy endings, this book might frustrate you.

Regardless, along the way readers will savor his words, imagine the world he has created, and perhaps develop a sense of appreciation for their otherwise mundane lives. If you enjoy dark mysteries that teeter on exploring dark magic and mysticism, this might be an enjoyable read for you.
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LibraryThing member Larxol
Ruis Zafón follows up the captivating Shadow of the Wind with a sequel set in a noir Barcelona of the 1920s. While the fine writing style and mood-setting continues, I thought the plot was bit choppier and the characterizations inconsistent. Perhaps the story line suffered from having inherited background from the first volume; it might have done just fine as a stand-alone. The murky little intrusions of the supernatural didn’t all seem to fit, giving it a little bit of a Twin Peaks flavor. Despite a disappointing denouement, the good writing carries the book. For the plot, though, stick with Faust.… (more)
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
This is a hard book to rate, because it doesn't quite measure up to the brilliance of Zafon's first book, The Shadow of the Wind, and yet the reward for persevering (which is how the process felt at times) comes in the form of a beautifully crafted 'Aha!' moment for reader's of that first book. The two novels share many of the same elements - characters, setting, devices - but that's because they are one and the same story: this is a prequel to Daniel's narrative, who is born in the epilogue, neatly fitting together the history of his parents and the heritage of his talent.

The plot almost lost both my comprehension and my interest midway through, but the basic premise is sort of Faust meets Dorian Gray in the figure of David Martin, a writer who sells his soul after his literary talent is abused and betrayed by friends and publishers alike. He soon learns that, after agreeing to write a 'new religion' for a mysterious Parisian publisher, he is actually reliving the sordid life of his predecessor and cannot escape his fate. The body count is incredibly high, for nigh on every character good and bad, major and minor, comes to a sticky ending, and their is some philosophic rambling about what people choose to believe and why, but the gothic mystery is addictive enough to hold the reader's attention. Perhaps the solution to the murders is slightly conventional, but the supernatural padding is thrilling.

The humour of Zafon's first novel quickly evaporates when the Fugitive-esque plot kicks in, but there are some good lines - 'liberal use of adverbs and adjectives was the mark of a pervert or someone with a vitamin deficiency', from the very first page - and dialogue from the usual cast of colourful, smart-mouthed characters. Don Basilio, Martin's old newspaper editor, Don Pedro, his sponsor, and of course Isabella are my favourites, but even David himself maintains a caustic talent for one-liners.

A complex, thoughtful, dark and original second novel, though not quite as good as the first.
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LibraryThing member TerryWeyna
I had intended to simply glance at the first page of The Angel's Game and then set it aside to finish other books I was reading, but the first paragraph ensnared me:

"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price."

That’s how I feel about writing, whether it’s a legal brief, a book review or anything else. There is something magical about words flowing down from one’s brain into one’s fingers and onto a computer screen. And I freely confess I probably would sell my soul just to see my name on the spine of a published book. (Cue smoke, flames and the appearance of Lucifer in my study, with a contract already made out; I’m waiting.)

The Angel's Game follows up on the promise of its first paragraph with great skill. The book is a fantasy, a mystery and mainstream fiction about a writer’s life all at once. It is an iteration of the legend of Faust, but it seems wholly new in the hands of Carlos Ruiz Zafon and his talented translator, Lucia Graves.

The narrator of the book is David Martin, who first gets paid for his writing in December 1917 by a newspaper. He had been hanging around the paper since he was a child, newly orphaned. First he merely brought coffee and cigarettes to the writers, but in recent years he has acted as assistant to Pedro Vidal, the star crime writer and a member of Barcelona’s rich aristocracy. Vidal informs the editor of the paper that David can write crime stories, and the editor decides to give him a chance. David is soon established as a crime reporter by day and a crime fiction writer by night, “burning up my brain.”

Before long, a mysterious admirer sends David a note inviting him to a “surprise” at a particular address. When David arrives, he finds he is in a particularly high class bordello, and the prostitute whose services have been engaged for him bears a striking resemblance to the “ineffable femme fatale Chloe,” his heroine in his ongoing fiction series. He spends an incredible night with her, losing his virginity in the process (he is 19 years old). But when he tries again a few days later to find the same bordello, he learns that the building in which he spent his night of ecstasy burned down 15 years earlier. How was this possible? And who is the mysterious “A.C.” who bought him the evening of pleasure?

All of this is essentially by way of preface. David goes on to describe how he comes to write for a pair of publishers named Barrido and Escobillas, who run a shady operation but publish David’s City of the Damned, written “the baroque, bloody and delirious Gran Guignol tradition.” Martin buys a house that has long fascinated him and begins writing at a furious pace.

But “A.C.” hasn’t disappeared forever. To the contrary, he soon reveals himself at Andreas Corelli, a character that haunts the remainder of the book – and David, for the rest of his life. Ultimately he offers David a writing contract, stating that he is a French publisher – but the project he has in mind is definitely a very strange one, one that could change the shape of the world if it is completed appropriately. Corelli offers David something he can’t refuse in exchange in a dream sequence – or is it a dream? – that seems to effect on David a physical change that lengthens his life past his allotted span of years, the most explicit echo of Faust in the book.

Things do not go well for David once he accepts the contract, however, even though some things inexplicably seem to start going very well indeed. Obstacles to his writing seem to fall away, though not naturally; in fact, violence suddenly seems to start haunting David’s footsteps. What is Corelli’s role in all this? And who, exactly, is he? David can’t explain completely, not even when he becomes the focus of a police investigation. In fact, whether Corelli actually exists comes into some doubt.

There is much more to the story. For instance, David meets Isabella, who loves his writing and wants to write herself; she becomes his secretary, but the relationship is much more complicated than that. David is in love with Cristina, a beautiful young woman who is the daughter of Don Pedro’s chauffeur, and Cristina seems to return his affections, but she clearly believes she has obligations elsewhere. And David’s house seems to haunt him with its history of another writer, apparently also encouraged and employed by Andreas Corelli. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which Zafon first wrote about in his earlier work, The Shadow of the Wind, makes an important appearance. And Barcelona, in all its magnificence and tawdriness, is as much a character as is any human in these pages.

I was fascinated by this book from cover to cover. It held me in thrall for the entire week over which I read it; I lived there far more than I did in the world where I was going about my usual business. I am still puzzling over the ending, fascinated by the way Zafon manages to wrap up all the threads – but doing so the way a magician makes a scarf appear and then disappear again, leaving one to wonder just exactly what one has just read.

The Angel's Game lies on the borderline of many different genres: mystery, fantasy and mainstream literature. It is beautifully written (and kudos to the translator, who managed to preserve Zafon’s lovely language) and utterly engrossing. I now plan to read The Shadow of the Wind, which has been languishing on my bookcase for years, as soon as I can. I also hope that Zafon’s other works will be translated into English shortly, so that I can enjoy more of his work. Few writers can trip among the genres so sure-footedly in a single work, but Zafon does it with such grace that his work is irresistible. This book gets my very highest recommendation.
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LibraryThing member karieh
When I first opened my copy of “The Angel’s Game”, I could barely wait to read it. I’d enjoyed “The Shadow of the Wind” so much that the idea of another book about books, and forbidden loves and obsession (with just the gentlest seasoning of snarky social commentary) – seemed a gift beyond measure.

And when the first page offered up the following sentence, “Don Basilo was a forbidden-looking man with a bushy moustache who did not suffer fools and who subscribed to the theory that the liberal use of adverbs and adjectives was the mark of a pervert or someone with a vitamin deficiency,” my enthusiasm grew.

Which is, of course, my way of easing into my disappointment in this book. True, my expectations were too great, but while I enjoyed “The Angels’ Game”, I felt it took on a bit too much and lost some of the main threads that “Shadow of the Wind” wove so masterfully.

The first 2/3 of the book contained everything I was looking for. The lush descriptions of Barcelona, of the characters that inhabit her, the rising crescendo of the plot. All kept me turning the pages. Here, too, I found the most insightful comments…the ones that are spoken in a fictional 1920’s Spain but seem just as fitting in today’s world.

“…like all wars, was fought in the name of God and country to make a few men who were already far too powerful when they started it, even more powerful.”

And even truer, “What a mess the world is in,” cried the man, reading the news in his paper. “It seems that in the advanced stages of stupidity, a lack of ideas is compensated for by an excess of ideologies.”

I am realizing as I go through my notes that I enjoyed these side notes almost more than the main story of the book. The main character, David Martin, is commissioned to write a book for which “people will live and die”. He is set with the task of creating a basis for a new religion, and as such, looks at those that have been created before, trying to find their commonalities and the hook, if you will, that drew in the followers.

His employer in that endeavor, comes with the requisite scent of sulfur, and was very reminiscent (to me) of Robert DeNiro in “Angel Heart”, fingernails and all. He also comes with a full serving of cynicism that was immensely enjoyable.

“An intellectual is usually someone who isn’t exactly distinguished by his own intellect,” Corelli asserted. “He claims that label to compensate for his own inadequacies. It’s as old as that saying: tell me what you boast of and I’ll tell you what you lack. Our daily bread. The incompetent always present themselves as experts, the cruel as pious, sinners as excessively devout, usurers as benefactors, the small-minded as patriots, the arrogant as humble, the vulgar as elegant and the feeble-minded as intellectual.”

And later, “You should publish tourist guides instead of religious texts,” I suggested. “It comes to the same thing, more or less.”

The last 1/3 of the book, though, is where I felt it faltered. The plot becomes very wound up, the characters become less distinguishable from one another, and there is more blood spilled than seems exists in the body of the book. And the underlying draw, the idea that books, that words can have souls, that the printed page contains magic and power, seems forgotten. “…the perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling” dissipates until it is but a memory, save for one scene near the end that feels a bit tacked on.

I love books. I love books about books. I enjoyed “The Angel’s Game” but felt a different kind of sadness when I turned the last page. Instead of feeling a loss for what was finished, I felt a loss for what could have been.

I will still eagerly await the next book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon…but hope there are more “Shadows” in it than “Angel’s”.
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LibraryThing member zibilee
Book CoverIn 1920's Barcelona, a young orphan named David Martin is working as a lowly assistant in a newspaper office, with the hopes of one day becoming an author. Living in near squalor and pining for a woman who does not share his passion, he finally gets his chance to write. But far from being a masterpiece, it comes in the form of Penny Dreadfuls that he must write under a pseudonym. Stuck in this unfulfilling career and noticing the early symptoms of a serious illness, David is dispirited and dejected when he is approached by a mysterious man who wishes to commission him to write a most strange and unusual book. David, swayed by the money and promises of untold rewards, takes the commission and agrees to write the tome. Soon though, he begins to see that something is not quite right. He begins having prophetic and haunting dreams, strange and unsavory coincidences begin to crop up in his life, and his publisher seems to have the preternatural ability to know just what his next move is. As David tries to uncover the secrets behind the strange commission and its benefactor, he becomes enmeshed in a world of lies, stolen identities, and a deeply hidden and diabolical plot that may not even be human at all. Richly dark and macabre, The Angel's Game twists the borders of reality, keeping its readers spellbound.

Most of what I have to say about this book can be summed up in two words: utterly fantastic! I had been a bit worried that this book would suffer in comparison to The Shadow of the Wind, which is one of my all-time favorite books, but I was genuinely surprised to find that I liked this one even more. The writing in this book was extremely precise and smooth, and rather than it feeling like a linear set of events separated into sections, it felt more like the type of story a storyteller would tell: a whole and well-polished narrative, like something that could be finished in one sitting.

Zafón also is a master of ambiance and atmosphere, and his talent in this book was no different than in Shadow. The city of Barcelona that he portrays was almost a character in itself, dark, foreboding and completely three-dimensional. The backdrop set an aura of delicious suspense and it was the perfect setting for this Gothic and cryptic tale. There was no abruptness in the story, nothing faltering or out of place; instead everything was created with perfect symmetry and gravity. In fact the whole book moved like well-oiled machinery, and that was one of the elements that made it so easy to lose track of everything else but the story that I was reading.

The dialogue was very natural and most of the character exchanges were witty and barbed, which lent a touch of humor to what would have otherwise been a very morose story. The banter between David and his assistant was particularly amusing, and in general, the ease in which the characters conversed was a high point in the book. Couched into the narrative, there was a good deal of exposition regarding human nature, theology, and philosophy, but Zafón had a knack of not reverting into a preachiness or sanctimony that would have spoiled Daniel's revelations. At times though, his examination and estimation of spirituality and theology seemed to be rather cynical, but it tended to land more into the region of philosophy rather than verge into the areas of morality.

There was a time in the story that I felt as though I may be dealing with an unreliable narrator, but further reading lead me to discover that Zafón had another, more exciting ace up his sleeve, and just when I thought I had this story all pieced together, I realized that that I was completely wrong. I suppose that there is more than one way to digest the conclusion of this story, and I think that because Zafón gives the reader a choice in this matter, it makes this story all the more distinguished. This book had all the qualities that make it unforgettable: narrative force and drive, mystery, and elements of dramatic horror that were masterfully depicted. Above all though, the thing I enjoyed most was that this was a book about books and how they shape, change and enrich your life and the lives of others. This work showed an increased maturity and darkness in the author, and was much more measured and introspective than his debut novel. I have to say that taken together, the two books together are an extremely promising piece of the four book endeavor the author has planned.

This is the kind of book that I want to enthusiastically push on every reader I know. It was a stunning reading experience, the kind I am searching for in every book that I open, but rarely find. Haunting, tense and thrilling, The Angel's Game is a modern masterpiece that I give the heartiest of recommendations. A simply fabulous read.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
Like so many others, I was highly anticipating the English translation of Zafon's follow-up to "Shadow of the Wind", as that book remains one of my favorites of all time. So did this one live up to its predecessor? Well...possibly, but ultimately I think probably not. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps Shadow was just so good that nothing will ever top it. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy this book. I did. It kept me captivated throughout & I continue to immensely enjoy Zafon's writing style. As other readers have said, this tale has a somewhat darker backdrop & if you're looking for a happy & uplifting book, don't look here. But that darker side is what makes it interesting. I think what I liked best about this one was the way Zafon subtly incorporated aspects of his former book into this one. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books plays a role, although not as distinctly as last time. And to my delight, the reader is able to gain an earlier look at the Sempere family, the booksellers from Shadow, but it's all weaved in smoothly & somewhat subtly, making it a stand-alone book in its own right.
This novel had all of the same elements as Shadow had, although I think I was waiting for a bigger climax -- something to really surprise me, and I was a bit disappointed in that respect. I'm not sure I was completely satisfied with the ending. Regardless, I'm still a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon & eagerly await whatever comes next!
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LibraryThing member Scaryguy
The only thing that saved this book from the garbage pile was Zafon's masterful language usage. There are wonderful moments in The Angel's Game, unfortunately they are followed by reading drudgery and unbelievable tragedy -- one after the other.


1) It was too easy to recognize the antagonist Corelli as the Devil (if you can really call him the antagonist since the protagonist was his own best antagonist). The interaction made me think of the Devil and Daniel Webster. Cliché in English Lit.

2) It took almost 200 pages to get to the plot (at least the Corelli plot) and then another 300 pages to wander to the ending.

3) It would be a great book if it hadn't continually built up in suspense only to shoot down in flames. A reader can only take so much tragedy before it becomes a farce.

4) Ultimately, The Angel's Game ending left me unfulfilled, as if I'd been led to a spring to drink my fill, only to die of thirst.

This is a good book to get from the library or second hand -- not a good book to spend your hard-earned money on.
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LibraryThing member kmaziarz
Born into poverty in Barcelona at the start of the 20th century, David Martin nevertheless manages to rise from his roots with the help of wealthy patron Pedro Vidal. Becoming first a crime reporter and, later, a popular pseudonymous author of pulp novels, David nevertheless longs for more. He wishes to write a great novel that will make his beloved Cristina proud of him at last. His patron, Pedro, has literary aspirations as well, and soon David finds himself authoring two novels—his own, and, secretly, Pedro’s. When his own novel is universally panned by the critics but Pedro’s is celebrated—and, to add insult to injury, Cristina marries Pedro—David is thrown into a deep depression that is only heightened by the onset of serious illness.

In the depths of his depression and certain of his own impending demise, David is approached by the mysterious Andreas Corelli…a French publisher with an Italian name who always wears a lapel pin in the shape of an angel…who offers David a small fortune in exchange for writing a book of another sort. In some strange fashion, he heals David’s illness and David sets out in good faith to write the book he’s been commissioned to complete. But the deeper he digs into his project, the more the mysteries…and corpses…pile up around him, and soon David realizes that he is caught in a trap that will claim not only his life, but his very soul.

Gothic, complex, literary, and intelligent, “The Angel’s Game” is sure to please Ruiz Zafon’s legions of fans. A loosely-connected prequel of sorts to “The Shadow of the Wind,” “The Angel’s Game” will delight with its scenes in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and with appearances by the Sempere men and their bookstore, but nevertheless stands completely on its own merits. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member scarpettajunkie
Carlos Ruiz Zafon is an expert craftsman and this book is even more of a masterpiece than The Shadow of The Wind. David is a writer who is asked to write a book about a new religon in return for $100,000 in the late '20s. A veritable fortune. He discovers the price he has to pay is too high as bit by bit his soul is torn apart.

The pacing of this book is fast. The ending is everlasting. The description of Barcelona is accurate and the weather expertly depicted. The epilogue also gives much food for thought. Nothing was left out of this book or to the reader's imagination, which lets it take flight.

I think this book would make an excellent buy as it is a theological thriller of sorts. It would also make a great movie. It did not let me down but it made me think. It gets my big thumbs up.
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LibraryThing member librarymeg
Fans of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's first book, The Shadow of the Wind, will have some idea of what to expect from The Angel's Game. There are exquisitely crafted sentences, vivid and haunting settings, a complex and engaging plot, and above all a reverence for books and the written word. Like The Shadow of the Wind, the heart of the story lies in both the Sempere and Sons bookshop and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Other than these unforgettable locations, though, the rest of the book is unique.

The Angel's Game is dark and unsettling, and every page left me with the sensation that something truly malevolent and evil was hovering just beyond my perception. Nothing and no one was as it seemed, as I expected, or sometimes even as it was described. The plot and the characters seem to shift and mutate almost before your very eyes, and you can never trust that your understanding reflects the truth. The book is topped off by one of the most intriguing, hopeful, potentially horrifying conclusions I can think of.

If you love beautifully crafted writing and evocative settings, and are comfortable with a vague sense of doom and an ambiguous, shifting plot, then The Angel's Game could be for you. The reward for your time and attention are words like these:

"Every book, every volume you see, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands, a new spirit . . ." (p. 461)… (more)
LibraryThing member bragan
Novelist David Martin, chronically cheated of the recognition he's earned and facing an untimely death, makes a deal with a mysterious, possibly non-existent publisher and finds himself drawn into a dark web of... something. It's not quite as engrossing as The Shadow of the Wind (to which it's related and might be considered a kind of prequel). The more melodramatic elements aren't handled as deftly, and in the end it's all a little too ambiguous and not quite coherent enough to be a hundred percent satisfying. But I still found it an entertaining read, and it does feature many of the things that made The Shadow of the Wind such a pleasure: an engaging and readable style, three-dimensional characters, interesting Gothic elements, a well-rendered early 20th century Barcelona setting, and a palpable love for books and the written word. My predominant thought while reading it was that I wanted nothing so much as to make myself a large mug of cocoa, hole up somewhere, and just let it wash over me, possibly without stopping to think about it all too much. Unfortunately, life kept intervening in annoying ways that prevented me from ever doing that, but I'm pleased to report that I managed to enjoy it, anyway.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
Wow, I am really surprised at all the accolades this book is receiving. I am a HUGE Shadows of the Wind fan, easily it was in my top 20 books of all time. So it would stand to reason, I had high hopes for this one. I felt the story was utterly goofy and the metaphysical mixed in this time was so incredibly unrealistic that much of the reading enjoyment was taken away. Zafon shines with real life mystery, internal conflict, gothic mood and pathos, but in this world of ghosts, undying people, gratuitious violence/death and interweaved lives/characters, it was such a mess. The ending seemed so "tacked on" and bore little resemblance to the story that preceded it. I keep hearing reference to "unanswered questions" but geez, I just feel it was a terrible plot that never pulled together, or really made that much sense. I did like the tie-ins to the Shadows chacters (and places), but that really is about it. I believe Zafon is a masterful writer, an engaging writer, and he clearly has enormous talent, but THIS story is simply not his best element to bring his talents to readers. I see a lot of people did love it, but I found it hard to keep picking up and even harder to finish (although I did). This is no Shadows of the Wind ...… (more)
LibraryThing member bell7
David Martin has worked at a newspaper office since he was a teenager. He shows great promise in his writing ability, dreams of becoming a novelist, and is taken under the wing of Don Pedro Vidal, a well-known and respected author in his own right. After being dismissed from the newspaper, however, David finds himself churning out meaningless bestsellers under an assumed name instead of creating a work into which he can pour his soul. Then a mysterious publisher, Andreas Corelli, makes him an offer that seems too good to be true.

**SPOILER WARNING** _The Shadow of the Wind_ was one of my absolute favorite books last year, which was why I went into _The Angel's Game_ with high expectations. Though definitely a smart and compelling read, it suffered from the mental comparisons I was inevitably making. I enjoyed seeing characters and places that I recognized, such as the Semperes, their bookstore, and the Cemetery of Lost Books. Once again, there was a sort of Gothic atmosphere and mysteriousness to the story that perhaps felt a bit flat to me because of the comparison rather than any actual shortcoming in the writing. Finally, the ending was extremely confusing for me, and the author gives no easy answers about David's story. I felt adrift because I was left to make up my own mind about David's sanity and guilt, and still have more questions than answers. In the end, though I would read more of Zafon's books, this one left me feeling unsettled.
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LibraryThing member suetu
Let me start by saying that I haven't read The Shadow of the Wind. Ruiz Zafon has stated that The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game are the first two of a quartet of linked novels that can be read in any order. Reading this prequel, I genuinely feel like it's a fine starting point.

The Angel's Game is the story of writer David Martin, and it's atmospherically set in Barcelona, Spain roughly between 1900 and 1930. The story opens when David is a very young boy. His childhood is a chronicle of deprivation. Despite his modest background, David forms strong relationships with writers, editors, and booksellers. They see an innate intelligence and a natural talent that they mentor. David Martin is a born story-teller.

It is this ability that attracts the attention of French publisher Andreas Corelli, who offers the young writer the proverbial offer he can't refuse, because The Angel's Game is essentially a Faustian tale. Oddly enough, it was this central theme that I found least interesting. It was the many supporting characters and their stories that captivated me. The love triangle, the happenings at the bookstore, the murder mystery, and, of course the Cemetery of Forgotten Books--it sounds like there's a lot going on, and there is, but it all manages to blend into a cohesive story.

Zafon does a brilliant job of developing Martin's character from innocence to bitter experience. I often found myself wondering how that sweet little boy became a not very admirable adult. It was unfortunate, but the evolution was entirely believable. And Martin is a fully formed character, with many different facets. I especially loved the relationship that developed with his young assistant. And despite the darkness of the tale, a match-making subplot had me laughing out loud.

I'd heard talk that some readers are disappointed with the endings of Zafon's novels. I don't count myself among them. The ending of the novel is strange, and may hurt your head if you think too long about it, but how are you going to end this story anyway? I'm looking forward to reading The Shadow of the Wind, and seeing where Zafon goes next with his epic.
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