The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Text Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978 1 921656 94 1.
Set in Calcutta in 1916, this dark tale of horror and mystery commences with an English army officer striving to deliver newborn twins Ben and Sheere to safety whilst pursued by a demonic individual having seemingly limitless power.
The story's complex chronology is conveyed by character recollections and narrative regression. The essence of the story is that the brother is raised in an orphanage and forms the secret Chowbar Society with six fellow orphans whilst the sister lives an itinerant existence with her grandmother and has no home or friends. The Chowbar Society members meet in an abandoned warehouse which they name 'The Midnight Palace' and have pledged lifelong dedication to one another, promising support and loyalty in all circumstances. At the age of sixteen, the orphans must leave to find their own way in life and it is at this time that the twins become aware of each other and learn from their grandmother the convoluted tale of their dead father - a brilliant engineer and his evil, murdering nemesis Jawahl.
Jawahl seeks to wreak his vengeance and supernatural apparitions portend impending danger. The Chowbar Society responds by pooling their areas of expertise in a bid to resolve the mystery of an enormous, technologically advanced railway station which was built by the twins' father but was destroyed by fire, killing hundreds of orphans. Investigation, research and an awkward retraction of earlier testimony by Granny provide an understanding of their desperate situation with a significant twist to the mystery.
The twins, with the assistance of their friends must not only survive Jawahl's amazing dark powers but soon realise that they are destined to confront him.
Supernatural intervention and mechanized terror feature strongly and the reader is expected to accept a lot on an almost magical basis, meaning that no attempt is made to explain events scientifically. The concept of a group of young people courageously accepting the duty to challenge evil is not new and there are many disjointed elements within this story. Readers who appreciate horror themes however will enjoy this book for its wildly imaginative scenes and events causing blood curdling terror.