The Labyrinth of the Spirits

This historical fantasy (816 pages) was published in September of 2018 by Harper. The book takes you to 1950s Spain. Melissa read The Labyrinth of the Spirits and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Labyrinth of the Spirits

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Lucia Graves (translator)

In the final, epic installment of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, author Carlos Ruiz Zafón takes us back to Barcelona and Madrid, just before and just after WWII. Combining elements of fantasy, historical fiction, romance, and detective procedural, this story hinges on one of his most compelling characters yet. Meet Alicia Gris.

At just 29 years old, Alicia is already cynical and gifted with street smarts she earned the hard way. By all objective measures, she is also stunningly beautiful and a force to be reckoned with in Madrid’s secret police. The world-weary girl, suffering from an injury that won’t heal and the heavy baggage she carries in her heart, wants to get out of the business. Her boss coerces her into taking just one more case, and then he’ll let her go: She must find Spain’s Minister of Culture who just poof! disappeared from his palatial estate.

The scaffolding of this sweeping story is the investigation into what happened to the Minister. Gripping as the mystery is, it’s merely an excuse for Zafón to snare us in his spellbinding world where every conversation has subtext and truth hides in the shadows, even on the sunniest of days.

Against her wishes, Alicia is partnered with a cop from Madrid, and the two strike up an uneasy alliance of necessity. Their quest for the truth has them tangling with mysterious and reclusive authors, dangerous businessmen, a family of booksellers, and the director of the notorious Montjuic Prison atop the hill overlooking Barcelona.

Alicia is impetuous, prickly, independent to the point of recklessness, and all-together irresistible. On the trail of a clue, she’s unable to stop herself from following it all the way down the rabbit hole into danger. But her sense of justice and rare moments of vulnerability give her a humanity that engenders hope, even in the face of the terrible truths she uncovers.

The descriptions of Barcelona and Madrid could only be written by someone who knows Spain as well as Zafón — who’s been there to experience the light at a particular time of day or the way sound echoes in a narrow alley. Mansion floors creak, gardens are sinister, the cemetery is enchanting. As you read, the air around you almost crackles with atmosphere.

Multi-layered with a strong forward momentum that keeps the pages turning, this is a big, sprawling adventure story. But it’s also an earnest tale about the weight of emotional truth over the facts and the power of story to shape who we are.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is part of the thoroughly engrossing Cemetery of the Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The author has said that he wrote this cycle of novels to create a literary labyrinth that we’re invited to enter at any point. Read our reviews of The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven.

When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. 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… in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend. Now they only have us. — Carlos Ruiz Zafón

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