Like Paris in Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, Ruiz Zafón’s Barcelona is a character in its own right, linchpin for this richly atmospheric, genuinely scary tale.
Oscar Drai, 15, leads a solitary existence at his boarding school, marking time until he can escape to wander Barcelona’s cold misty streets and decaying neighborhoods. While exploring the garden of a decaying mansion, he hears a beautiful voice singing and impulsively follows it indoors to its source, an old gramophone, next to which is a pocket watch. When the room’s furious occupant suddenly confronts him, Oscar flees back to school before realizing he still has the watch. Returning it, he meets Germán, its owner, and his beautiful daughter, Marina, who befriends him. Soon, Marina invites Oscar to accompany her to a lonely graveyard, where, hidden, they watch a veiled woman in black place a flower on a gravestone that’s carved with the image of a black butterfly then disappear into one of the abandoned buildings nearby. Curious, they follow her and discover a greenhouse in an overgrown garden and make a horrific discovery. What lies behind the ancient facades—and in the fetid darkness beneath the city streets—is a mystery as layered as the city’s history. It’s well-known which road is paved with good intentions—none are more lethal, Oscar learns, than love and pity.
High-quality gothic genre fiction with a classic Mary Shelley sensibility. (Horror. 12 & up)