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I’d Rather Not Stand Next To Your Fire

Meghan reviews The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which fails to maintain its promising premise.

I’d Rather Not Stand Next To Your Fire

BOOK REPORT for The Midnight Palace (Niebla Book 2) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

Cover Story: Encase It In Lead and Body Bag It
BFF Charm: Nope
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Salman Rushdie and Stephen King's Love Child
Bonus Factors: Calcutta, Library
Anti-Bonus/Bonus Factor: Horror
Relationship Status: It's Not You, It's Me.

Cover Story: Encase It In Lead and Body Bag It

Put this baby in a lead-lined box so it can't be seen even with X-ray vision because it is FUG. It's definitely not a case of mistaken identity, though -- if it looks like a horror book, it's because it is.

The Deal:

On the day they turn sixteen, the children at St. Patrick's Orphanage in Calcutta are turned out into the streets to make their own way. Newborn Ben was delivered to the orphanage by his grandmother under mysterious and deadly circumstances -- he and his twin sister Sheere were being hunted by the maniac who killed their parents, and their grandmother separated them for their own safety -- and now that he's turning sixteen, the killer is back. On the eve of his farewell, Ben's grandmother arrives at the orphanage to issue a final warning, and he meets his sister for the first time. Ben and his six friends, who as children formed a secret society called the Chowbar Society, set out to help Sheere find their father's whimiscal inventor/engineer legacy and escape the crazed murderer before they have to set out on their own*.

*I don't get this part -- I THINK all seven (eight, counting Sheere) kids have the same birthday? Or something? Anyway, they're all leaving the orphanage at the same time.

BFF Charm: Nope

There are so many characters, it was hard to get to know them. Rather than focus on Ben and his motivations, the book hops around among all eight kids and I didn't feel I got to know any of them well enough to extend a BFF charm. Ben DID win points from me when he said chess was the second most useless way of wasting intelligence, and philosophy is the first.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

There's no swoon here. The only relationship that hints at swoon is between the twins, so EW, GROSS, if you want incest, go read V.C. Andrews. (Don't worry, there's no romantical stuff between Ben and Sheere.) The only female character besides Sheere is Isobel, with whom half the boys are in love, mainly because she's the only girl, but there's nothing to it and I don't think there's meant to be.

Talky Talk: Salman Rushdie and Stephen King's Love Child

The book is set in Calcutta, and there are elements of the magical realism for which Salman Rushdie is noted -- the connection between the orphans particularly reminded me of Midnight's Children, but Zafón's style isn't as lyrical as Rushdie (it's also not as complex or as long, for which I was immensely grateful by the end -- Rushdie is one of those writers I ADORE for the first 350 pages, then have a hard time dealing with for the last 200. He's kind of like a REALLY GIANT piece of chocolate cake with rich ganache filling -- amazing, until you start to feel a little sick). Anywho, so there's Calcutta and some fantastical elements, like riddles and myths and clues hidden in wacky poetry, and then there is a crazy killer on the loose and a fiery ghost train and a clown cameo and all that Stephen King stuff.

Bonus Factor: Calcutta

Calcutta is such a rich setting, and Calcutta in 1932, fifteen years before independence, could have been so cool if it'd been explored more. There was some talk of the evils of British Rule, and the divisions among the Indians and the British, and some allusions to Kali, but it certainly isn't a Passage to India or even a Jewel in the Crown. But, yay for not being set in the West.

Bonus Factor: Library

There's a pretty cool library in which two of the boys do some sleuthing (no, that's not a euphemism) among all of Ben and Sheere's father's papers. I love fictional archives -- they're always so much more exciting than real archives!

Anti-Bonus/Bonus Factor: Horror

This is totally a horror book. Not a zombies-and-monsters kind of book, but a "Fun house ride, oooooh! Is that a possessed clown? Ghost train on FIRE!" kind of horror book (think John Saul, I guess), which I don't think is scary - I think it's dumb. But! A lot of people love the shizz outta evil clowns and demonic possession and maniac killers, so there ya go. Bonus/anti-bonus.

Casting Call:

V as Jawahal

I don't know if it was the abandoned train station lair or what, but I kept picturing dear old V as Jawahal, the psycho killer (qu'est-ce que c'est).

Relationship Status: It's Not You, It's Me.

This book started out promising -- the twins separated at birth to protect them from a nameless threat (ok, it's named Jawahal, but we don't really know his nature), a Rushdie-esque dead genius inventor who could be the key to the whole thing, a ragtag bunch of orphans who've sworn to protect each other, but once I figured out who Jawahal was, and then once it was revealed 150 pages later, all the bogeyman whatsit just turned me off. It's not the book's fault - it's a pretty well-executed horror story, with tons of elements sure to satisfy the deal-with-the-devil-style horror fan. I'm just not that into horror.

But wait, there's more! For one lucky horror fan, this book could be yours! Leave a comment and I'll pick a winner Friday afternoon!

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Little, Brown. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!).

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.