Zafón (The Prince of Mist) delivers an often creepy adventure, first published in Spain in 1994, populated with some wonderful characters. In British-occupied Calcutta in 1916, a soldier saves two babies (at the cost of his own life), and the children's grandmother leaves one at an orphanage to throw off the evil person chasing them. Sixteen years later, the boy, Ben, is reunited with his sister, Sheere, after a brutal attack on the orphanage. Along with Ben's fellow orphans (including narrator Ian), the siblings take on the mysterious sorcerer Jawahal, who has fire-based powers and a connection to the twins' late father. Zafón adeptly establishes his characters (including some fun and believable teenage repartee) and makes good use of his setting. His Calcutta has many of the mystical elements that many writers associate with the city, but it also shows the political strain of a city subject to years of hostile colonization and ready to break free. Just as importantly, Zafón delivers moments of genuine horror, as well as expert plot twists that move the story along. Ages 12–up. (May)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Prince of Mist:
* "Zafón is a master storyteller...This book can be read and enjoyed by every level of reader, and teachers who are looking for a good read-aloud will keep the audience on the edge of their seats with this tale."VOYA, starred review
Praise for The Prince of Mist:
* "A melancholy horror tale."Publishers Weekly, starred review
Praise for The Prince of Mist:
* "Awesome."School Library Journal, starred review
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Seven friends at St. Patrick's orphanage in Calcutta formed the secret Chowbar Society, vowing to always help one another and share their knowledge so that they could build a better future. They held their meetings in an abandoned house they named the Midnight Palace. It is now May 1932. Since they have reached the age of sixteen, all seven of them will be leaving St. Patrick's. An old woman and a girl Ben's age arrive at the orphanage to warn Thomas Carter, head of the orphanage, that Ben is in grave danger. While waiting for the old woman, Sheere tells the members of the Chowbar Society the story of her father and is invited to become a member even though the club will be breaking up. When Ben learns that a mysterious man is searching for him and will not give up until he finds him, his friends begin to research and discover who this might be. The journey takes Ben, his twin sister Sheere, and the other members of the Chowbar Society into the burnt and abandoned railway station of Jheeter's Gate where they learn the truth of what happened to Ben's father and confront evil. Amazing characters, an intricate plot, and a quaint setting make this impossible to put down. Darkness, rain and mist, fire and explosions, labyrinthian neighborhoods, apparitions and pure evil all set the mood for this darkly compelling story set in pre-independent India. Zafon is a masterful storyteller and Graves does an excellent job of translating the story and its suspense in its first American translation. This powerful, complex tale packs a wallop for the reader. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
VOYA - Lynn Evarts
The Midnight Palace is the secret place where the Chowbar Society holds their meetings. The secret society is made up of seven orphans from St. Patrick's Orphanage in Calcutta in 1932. They vow to protect one another to the death, and just as they are about to graduate the orphanage, their vow is tested by an unknown force. Suddenly, the events in Calcutta sixteen years previous loom large, and Ben and his friends must solve the puzzle and save themselves from the evil. Zafon is known for his beautiful, almost lyrical, writing style. In this book, the reader is given the opportunity to experience the oppressive heat and intense rain of Calcutta. As the events of 1916 become more important to the teenagers, the mystery of Ben's birth and his father's legacy becomes more and more complex. Zafon's ability to fascinate is not as powerful in this book as in Prince of the Mists (Little, Brown, 2009/VOYA April 2010), mainly because the characterization is less intense with more characters and the pace of the story seems to slow at unusual times, creating a rather uneven intensity. This book will need hand-selling due to its style and setting. Students who like atmosphere or puzzles and improbabilities will appreciate Zafon's skill in these areas. Reviewer: Lynn Evarts
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—In 1932 Calcutta, 16-year-old Ben celebrates a last night together with the circle of friends he's dubbed the Chowbar Society, before they leave their childhood home at the orphanage and go their separate ways. The festive yet solemn occasion is brought to a halt by the arrival of Ariyami Bose and Sheere, the grandmother and twin sister Ben never knew he had. The twins were separated to protect them from Jawahal, a mysterious supernatural figure who seeks them for some diabolical purpose. As the Chowbar Society tries to find a way to protect the pair, the tragic history that ties together the twins' parents, Jawahal, and a horrific train fire comes to light. Although the characters never fully emerge as individuals, the sense of dread and mystery that pervades the story, and the themes of lost innocence and sacrifice keep readers turning the pages.—Christi Esterle, Parker Library, CO
Fraternal twins face a frightening destiny in this Indian melodrama set in 1932 Calcutta. Brought together by their grandmother Aryami Bose for the first time after a life spent apart, 16-year-old twins Sheere and Ben learn that a vengeful childhood friend of their father's named Jawahal murdered their parents. The evil agent tried to finish off the entire family, but Aryami saved the infants by separating and hiding them. Jawahal swore to return when the twins were 16 and complete the job. But exactly who or what is the fiery man who seems to be able to materialize at will? And what did the twins' parents do to make Jawahal so angry? The only clues the brother and sister have are their dead father's detailed journal and recurring visions of a flaming train that plunges through solid walls, destroying everything it touches. The newfound siblings will have to travel to the heart of the fabled city to discover Jawahal's real identity and the truth about their family's troubled history. Though the villain's motives and origins are muddy and the secondary characterizations thin in this sensationalistic gothic tale, the steamy atmosphere of Calcutta is palpable and the confrontations between the twins and their malevolent nemesis truly terrifying. Perfect for readers who value mood over all else. (Fantasy. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
The Midnight Palace
By Zafon, Carlos Ruiz
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Copyright © 2011 Zafon, Carlos Ruiz
All right reserved.
I’LL NEVER FORGET the night it snowed over Calcutta. The calendar at St. Patrick’s Orphanage was inching toward the final days of May 1932, leaving behind one of the hottest months ever recorded in the city of palaces.
With each passing day we felt sadder and more fearful of the approaching summer, when we would all turn sixteen, for this would mean our separation and the end of the Chowbar Society, the secret club of seven members that had been our refuge during our years at the orphanage. We had grown up there with no other family than ourselves, with no other memories than the stories we told in the small hours around an open fire in the courtyard of an abandoned mansion—a large, rambling ruin that stood on the corner of Cotton Street and Brabourne Road and which we’d christened the Midnight Palace. At the time, I didn’t know I would never again see the streets of my childhood, the city whose spell has haunted me to this day.
I have never returned to Calcutta, but I have always been true to the promise we all made to ourselves on the banks of the Hooghly River: the promise never to forget what we had witnessed. Time has taught me to treasure the memory of those days and to preserve the letters I received from the accursed city, for they keep the flame of my memories alive. It was through those letters that I found out our palace had been demolished and an office building erected over its ashes; and that Mr. Thomas Carter, the head of St. Patrick’s, had passed away after spending the last years of his life in darkness, following the fire that closed his eyes forever.
As the years went by, I heard about the gradual disappearance of all the sites that had formed the backdrop to our lives. The fury of a city that seemed to be devouring itself and the deceptive passage of time eventually erased all traces of the Chowbar Society and its members, at which point I began to fear that this story might be lost forever for want of a narrator.
The vagaries of fate have chosen me, the person least suited to the task, to tell the tale and unveil the secret that both bonded and separated us so many years ago in the old railway station of Jheeter’s Gate. I would have preferred someone else to have been in charge of rescuing this story, but once again life has taught me that my role is to be a witness, not the leading actor.
All these years I’ve kept the few letters sent to me by Roshan, guarding them closely because they shed light on the fate of each member of our unique society; I’ve read them over and over again, aloud, in the solitude of my study. Perhaps because I somehow felt that I had unwittingly become the repository of everything that had happened to us. Perhaps because I understood that, among that group of seven young people, I was always the most reluctant to take risks, the least daring, and therefore the most likely to survive.
In that spirit, and trusting that my memory won’t betray me, I will try to relive the mysterious and terrible events that took place during those four blazing days in May 1932.
It will not be easy, and I beg my readers to forgive my inadequate words as I attempt to salvage that dark Calcutta summer from the past. I have done my best to reconstruct the truth, to return to those troubled days that would inevitably shape our future. All that is left for me now is to take my leave and allow the facts to speak for themselves.
I’ll never forget the fear on the faces of my friends the night it snowed in Calcutta. But, as Ben used to tell me, the best place to start a story is at the beginning….
Excerpted from The Midnight Palace by Zafon, Carlos Ruiz Copyright © 2011 by Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. Excerpted by permission.
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