Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind is the strangest kind of book in the most satisfying of ways, because it's many types of books, all rolled into one. It's a love story; it's historical fiction; it's a crime thriller; it's a mystery. And overall, I found it completely magical.
In Barcelona, 1945, wounds from the Spanish Civil War are still fresh. The city has a gothic fog hanging over it which creates the perfect aura of mystery and turmoil for Zafón's tale. Daniel is the son of an antique bookseller. His mother has passed away, and he finds solace in a mysterious book found on a trip with his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The book in question is called The Shadow of the Wind by a little-known author named Julian Carax. As Daniel begins a quest to find other books by Carax, he stumbles upon a bit of a mystery—someone has been destroying every copy of every book by Carax.
I really can't conclude this summary in a more gripping manner than the back cover blurb:
"Soon Daniel's seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love."
The pacing of this story is slow...twisting and turning in a delightful, delectable manner. We're learning as Daniel learns, growing as Daniel grows, discovering as Daniel discovers. We're experiencing the story through Daniel's eyes, but we're also getting to know Daniel. That's what this book is so good at—creating an intimacy with all the characters that you're aching to know what happens next, how they end up. We have this main character, Daniel, whose life has become so entwined with Julian Carax, a character we (and Daniel) only know through stories. And as Daniel fords through adolescence and learns more about Julian, their lives begin to parallel until their stories reach the same moment of truth, asking a bigger question of all—will our next decision determine the outcome or is it only a matter of fate?
But on top of this character study, we also have this thriller, this gothic mystery, dragging us along and slowly unraveling. The mystery is never too convoluted to understand and the outcome never too outrageous to predict. You're not just following one story; as I said earlier, this isn't a straightforward novel, and the subplots engage while revealing clues to the main story.
I hesitate to go into too much depth about this story here, because I don't want to give any spoilers to those of you who haven't read it. Even I avoided my usual concurrent Google searches while reading, because I didn't want to spoil a thing. Therefore, you're just going to have to listen to my recommendation and take note of my enthusiasm. [However, if you've read and are itching to discuss, comment away!]
I don't want to recommend this as a "beach read" because it has much more substance that what that label generally denotes. But in reality, it is the perfect beach read, because it's easy and gratifying and you'll be hooked to the blanket long enough to get a sweet tan.