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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Midnight Palace (The)
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Age Range: 12+
The secret Chowbar Society meets at their headquarters – a ramshackle house they call the Midnight Palace. Isobel, Roshan, Siray, Ben, Michael, Seth and Ian (the narrator) are seven orphans who have sworn upon their name to keep the society secret. Its objectives are to help, protect and give unconditional support to any of the other members in circumstances of danger or adversity.
This is the background to what turns out to be a page-turning supernatural thriller from best-selling novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The story begins in 1916 with a British army Lieutenant Michael Peake being chased through the dark streets of Calcutta. His life is in imminent danger because he harbours a secret; beneath his coat are two new-born babies who must be saved at all costs.
The story then jumps to 1932, sixteen years later. Ben and his friends are preparing to leave the orphanage where they have been brought up. A mysterious woman arrives with a young girl to see Thomas Carter the director of the orphanage. This is Aryami Bose, Ben’s grandmother and Sheere his twin sister from whom he was separated at birth. Their grandmother tells them about their past; about their mother Kylian and father Lahaway Chatterghee, an engineer and writer who died in a horrific fire that destroyed the old Jheeter’s Gate Station and the sinister Jawahal who is desperate to trace the twins at all costs.
As with ‘The Prince of Mist’, Zafón’s first novel for young adults, this is even scarier and has its fair share of horror. Written in 1994, this creepy mysterious story is completely compelling and has all the suspense and atmosphere of Zafón’s later adult novels, in particular the best-selling Shadow of the Wind for which it bears more than a passing resemblance.
Zafón creates wonderfully rich characters – the evil and mysterious Jawahal is spine-tingling, the mysterious Aryami Bose and the seven orphans whose loyalty and individual acts of heroism on behalf of Ben and his sister are heart-warming. The translation by Lucia Graves, who has translated many of Zafón’s novels, carries you effortlessly along. For all those fans of Zafón, both children and adults, this is a definite must read.