Labyrinth of the Spirits is the fourth and final novel in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It’s a fitting end to an enjoyable series, and does an admirable job of gathering up all the loose threads of the three previous books.
Like The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, Labyrinth of the Spirits tells a magical mystery story of the dark days of Franco’s Fascist Spain. It does not disappoint in the telling of the story, and I was (mostly) engrossed from beginning to end. More about that later.
Though Zafón suggests that readers may start with any of the books in the series, saving Labyrinth for last makes for a more satisfying adventure, especially because what is revealed spoils many of the mysteries which are unexplained or unsolved in the earlier books.
With that said, I hesitate to divulge any particular details about the story of Labyrinth of the Spirits, and would actually prefer to address a niggling aspect about all four books, which frustrated me in the first three, but really annoyed me in the fourth.
Zafón can’t write realistic women characters at all.
This isn’t so much a problem in Books 1, 2, and 3, because all the main characters are men, and women characters—where they exist at all—are mostly passive love interests, damaged teenagers, or bawdy girlfriends. Labyrinth of the Spirits ups the ante though, and introduces a woman as it’s main character and from the very beginning I was irritated by the descriptions of Alicia Gris.
See if you can follow: Alicia Gris, loses both her parents at nine, during a bombing raid on Barcelona. During the raid, she is horribly injured when she falls many stories as a building collapses around her.
Her damaged hips and spine leave her in constant agonising pain—so much so, that she relies on morphine to be functional at her job as an investigator for Spain’s Secret Police, a job she was recruited for when she was 19. At the time of the story, she is 29 and wants to retire. He boss asks her to do one more job.
Despite extensive scarring and the never-ending pain, she often dresses in “sexy” clothes—stockings, slinky dresses and high heels—to follow her targets and meet with her superiors, who supply the drugs so that she can continue working.
She walks everywhere, without assistance, yet sometimes just can’t go any further. When she can’t get to her morphine, she drinks copious amounts of white wine. She never eats, though everyone tells her she should. She has a brace that helps her walk, but rarely wears it.
She convinces a younger man to help stake out someone, so she doesn’t have to stand around all day and do it herself. He’s madly in love with her, of course and will do anything to help. She’s abusive and horrible to him for no reason.
Alicia, without explanation, imagines herself as the wife of Juan Sempere after she meets him. He’s already married to someone else. Alicia hates the wife for getting to him first. There are multiple inner dialogs about this that are not at all aligned with what we know about Alicia’s life and desires.
Her boss tries to sleep with her, but also tries to kill her. She considers him a father figure and looks up to him, and she hates him, maybe…
I have to say, reading Labyrinth of the Spirits was fine as long as I focused on the details of the story. The details about Alicia Gris, not so much. It was literally jarring and took me out of the story every time I read another passage about how exhausted she was after walking around Barcelona all day, getting into fist fights, or climbing into locked warehouses and searching for clues. Genuine record scratch moments. While the idea of Alicia as a character was clearly imagined and aligned well with the needs of the story, the actual character herself was very poorly-realised and implausible in almost every way. From now on, Zafón should stick to men.