Carlos Ruiz Zafon is an award-winning Spanish novelist, not particularly known for young adult fiction, and until recently, not widely read in English. That's about to change, thanks to a wonderfully faithful translation by his frequent translating partner, Lucia Graves. The Prince of Mist, Zafon’s timeless first book, originally published in 1993, has finally been given the attention it deserves. Complimenting this elegant work of mystery is the voice work of Jonathan Davis, who has over 150 audiobooks to his credit, and the production work of Michele McGonigle, who contributed a wonderful array of sound effects in addition to a seven-minute interview with the author at the end of the audiobook.
Everything about this story is on the checklist for young adult genre cliché, but between the author's graceful Spanish flair, the narrator's lively telling, and the producer's spot-on background sounds, the entire thing manages to delight where similar books have been doomed. You've got a brother and sister who are coming of age, forced to move to a sleepy seaside town by the war encroaching upon their city, and the charming local boy next door who befriends them. You've got the tragic death of a young boy who once lived in the house, the father who fixes clocks, the reclusive grandfather harboring a secret, the eerily vigilant stray cat, the creepy clown, the mythic traveling magician, and rumors of a deal made with the devil. Don't forget to throw in an overgrown garden where the statues seem to move, some terrifying old home movie projector interruptions, and an abandoned shipwreck inhabited by a fearsome sea monster.
Taken together, these conventional bits are a recipe for surprising success as Davis gives real spirit and charm to the teens menaced by this mystery. When The Prince of Mist finally makes his grand entrance, his grizzled taunts are some of Davis' best work. Through the book, there is a gentle undercurrent of sounds that give the story a wonderfully cinematic feel. From moving trains to stormy seas, and meowing cats to screaming girls, the effects really kick the adrenaline up a notch. In addition, the opening and closing music is written and performed by the author himself, a very fitting dirge of piano and violin that perfectly conveys the mood of his story. What should be a light and cheesy mystery for kids is, in the end, somehow actually quite a magical piece of audio that will satisfy grown-ups as well. Megan Volpert