On the eve of World War II, Max and his family moved from their city house out to the shore, where it should be safer. Unbeknownst to them, it’s anything but, as strange things start to happen as soon as they move in. Max’s sister Irina’s cat appears possessed, various members of the family start having strange dreams, and Max encounters a sculpture garden where he swears the sculptures move. What’s going on, and what does it have to do with the previous family, whose son drowned in the ocean?
I had high hopes for this book. I was pretty sure I’d seen it reviewed enthusiastically around the internet, and my online book club chose it as a spooky read for the end of October. Plus, I liked Zafon’s other books, especially The Shadow of the Wind. I knew he could do atmosphere, so I was excited to find out what he could do with a spooky one.
Unfortunately, I was really disappointed in it. I knew it was a YA book going in, so that wasn’t really the problem, but it just seemed so simplistic, so irritatingly dumbed down in many different ways. I’ve read plenty of YA and I know it doesn’t have to be like this, which is part of the reason it struck such a wrong note with me. I felt almost like this was a children’s book, not a YA book, which would probably explain my feelings.
To start, for a horror book the story began almost painfully slowly. I really just was not interested in what happened to Max or his family. As the suspense crept up on him, I did get slightly more interested in the story, but I felt ready to put it down at any point. The suspense was also often ruined by the fact that the story contained vast amounts of info dumping. Every time Max talked to someone, it seemed they had a pages-long story to tell him about the past, which of course impacted the present day hugely. I kind of wished we’d actually flipped back and forth in time, rather than having large story-telling sessions which simply lost the flow of the narrative.
Then there were the characters. I found it hard to relate to any of them, but Max was difficult in particular. His reactions didn’t seem typical of a nine-year-old boy, at least no little boy I’ve ever known. He seems much too wise for his age, and the book is very reflective in terms of his emotions and reactions to things. For example, he immediately invites his sister to hang out with his new friend, and at one point smiles to himself because he catches said friend and his sister kissing – wondering if it’s been the first time it had ever happened for them, in a peculiar adult-like way that creeped me out. I actually thought he was a teenager, and was surprised to look back at the end and see that he’s only nine. I couldn’t believe in his character and that ruined it for me.
Sure, there are hints of atmosphere in places, and I was creeped out at points. I can see where his future talent was emerging. But overall, I was disappointed with this book. I may have felt differently if I’d approached it as a kid’s book, not a YA book, but honestly, I doubt it. It didn’t feel the way the reviews led me to believe it would, and in the end I found The Prince Of Mist disappointing. I doubt I will read another of Zafon’s books aimed at children; I’ll still happily read his adult books though!
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