A review of “El Principe de la Niebla,” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The English translation of the title is, “The Prince of the Fog.” I read this book as part of my Spanish lessons. I’m surveying a range of genres and authors to expand my vocabulary. I’ve learned that each book has a unique vocabulary, with certain words used repeatedly by individual authors. This is a short book which would probably be more correctly called a novella. It’s intended audience is probably junior high but it was challenging for me. The author is a well-known Spanish writer, so this gave me an opportunity to see how different he writes from the Latin American translations of English books I’ve read before. (I’ve recently started reading books written in Spanish to avoid translation issues.) I’m not going to review this as a children’s book, but as a general-purpose novel, which was suggested by the author himself in the foreward.
I enjoyed the story, even though I don’t generally read horror stories, because Zafon develops characters well with minimal words and reveals nuanced relationships between the characters. His descriptions of scenes and thoughts are very good but limited because of the brevity of the story. I don’t know how common it is for non-English authors to locate their stories in England; at first, I assumed the setting was the Spanish coast of the English Channel but it seems to have been set on the southeast coast of England but – to be honest – he never explicitly states the location (there are references to workers coming from London). I couldn’t help imagining Spanish characters, probably because of the language and the general culture described in the text. The Spanish was a little different from the Latino Spanish translations of English books I read before but it wasn’t difficult.
I got the impression that it was originally going to be a short story but the author realized it was getting too long because he was doing a thorough job introducing the setting and characters, so he turned it into a novel; however, since his target audience was children (who don’t generally read long books), he cut it short once the story got to the action. Nevertheless, the action scenes, culminating with a dramatic ending during a huge storm, were very exciting and easy to imagine from the descriptions. What was lacking was a sense of why any of it occurred. Instead of revealing the evil creature through the experiences of several character, the author had one of them relate what he knew about what was happening. Ultimately, I was unsatisfied with the explanation but I guess pre-teens wouldn’t be expecting too much. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the ending, which was definitely not a happy ending for everyone. I think that’s a message the target age group should learn from books before it happens to them in real life. Overall, I liked the book and would recommend it to anyone learning Spanish and looking for moderately difficult books to read.
Next up: I’m now reading a book written by a young Argentine woman using a lot of slang and vernacular…and it is very hard to read. See you next time!