Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, The Prince of Mist evokes an eerie tone from the very beginning. Max has become a teenager and to celebrate his father, Maximillian Carver – a watchmaker, has given Max his very own intricate watch together with the news that the family must leave the busy city for a beach house in a small coastal town.
As soon as the family of five steps off the train the magic ignites; why is the station clock turning backwards? And why on earth does Max’s mother give-in (much to older sister Alicia’s disgust) and let his younger sister, Irina, adopt an unnerving stray cat into their new home?
Intrigue begins to unfold as the family arrive and settle at the beach house which has lain uninhabited for the past nine years. They discover it was built by the wealthy Dr. Fleischmann for his wife when, after many years without children, she finally gave birth to their precious son Jacob. For seven happy years they doted on their firstborn until tragedy struck and Jacob was found dead having drowned in the ocean. Within months Dr. Fleischmann died of ill health and his widow left the town for good.
But no-one can explain to Max about the walled garden behind the house, close to the forest, or the impenetrable mist which frequently encircles it. And why does Max get the feeling that someone or something doesn’t want the Carver family to inhabit the beach house?
A chance meeting with a young man called Roland, only a year from enlisting into the war, provides Max with both answers and further mystery. Like Victor Kray, Roland’s grandfather, who was the only survivor of the Orpheus (a ship which sank off the coast twenty-five years ago). He settled in the town where he was washed-up, built a lighthouse and hardly ever leaves his post. What is he looking for? And why is Roland so obsessed with diving down to the remains of the Orpheus? When Alicia and Roland both admit to having strange dreams featuring a clown – the same as one of the statues Max has seen in the walled garden – the three adolescents decide they must try and unearth these strange goings on and suffer the unsettling consequences.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon is an incredibly talented writer with an enviable imagination. He has the ability to gently hint at foreboding atmosphere and then carry you on with beautiful – almost poetic – description. Zafon has an uncanny knack of sustaining suspense. More than once I found myself engrossed with vivid, serene imagery before my stomach lurched and the story took an unexpected turn.
The Prince of Mist is a satisfyingly spellbinding read which enraptures the mind with this surreal spectre. The undertones of this story, however, deal with far more concrete issues. There are notions of family, friendship, young love, greed, honour and perhaps most importantly of keeping a promise.
Already my mind is wandering – the legacy of any excellent story. Already I’m searching for answers. But I can’t tell you what I’m thinking. You need to read this book yourself and see if it evokes thoughts for you too.