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The Watcher in the Shadows

Review

The Watcher in the Shadows

Originally published in 1995 in Spain, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s THE WATCHER IN THE SHADOWS is a chilling, gothic thriller with elements of magical realism.

It is 1937, just two years before the start of World War II, and 14-year-old Irene Sauvelle, along with her younger brother, Dorian, and their widowed mother, Simone, relocate from Paris to a small, sleepy village on the coast of Normandy, called Blue Bay. Simone has been hired as a housekeeper at Cravenmoore, a secluded and mysterious mansion, home to the famous, reclusive, toymaker, genius, Lazarus Jann, and his bedridden wife. In exchange for Simone’s work, the family is allowed to live in the picturesque cottage, Seaview, overlooking the bay and the abandoned lighthouse.

"Zafón is a wonderful storyteller and does an astonishing job of capturing the younger reader’s imagination and creating a world full of mystery and magic."

Irene is introduced to Ismael, a shy and introspective orphan who spends most of his time sailing alone on his boat. A budding romance ensues as Ismael shows Irene around Blue Bay, the lagoon, the lighthouse and the Cave of Bats. Irene is fascinated by the local legends and ghost stories that Ismael tells her, and she quickly becomes enchanted with the town and its history. Blue Bay is a long way from the poverty-stricken life the Sauvelle’s lived in Paris, where they were hounded by their dead father’s creditors. All in all, the Sauvelle’s are content with their new lives in Blue Bay, and the stage is set for a comfortable summer, until a brutal murder takes place in the forest between Cravenmoore and Seaview.

As Irene and Ismael investigate, they quickly discover that a monstrous shadow haunts Cravenmoore, and Lazarus Jann is hiding a wicked past that will endanger all that Irene and Ismael hold dear. Complete with fantastical mechanical toys, dark and twisty passages within Cravenmoore, a sinister forest and an eerie diary, THE WATCHER IN THE SHADOWS has all the necessary components of a mystery/horror story that will keep readers frantically turning pages.  

While the complicated and diverging storylines are difficult to follow at times, Zafón excels at bringing a setting to life and creating a tone that is both creepy and lyrical. The romance between Irene and Ismael will certainly appeal to female readers, but Irene’s younger brother has a role to play, as well, and there’s certainly enough action and chilling near-death escapes, to keep male readers entertained.

Slightly over-simplistic and lacking in character growth and depth, THE WATCHER IN THE SHADOWS is a far cry from Zafón’s masterpiece, THE SHADOW OF THE WIND. Still, Zafón is a wonderful storyteller and does an astonishing job of capturing the younger reader’s imagination and creating a world full of mystery and magic.

Reviewed by Alice Dalrymple on May 30, 2013

The Watcher in the Shadows
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

  • Publication Date: June 18, 2013
  • Genres: Young Adult 12+
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316044768
  • ISBN-13: 9780316044769