Rated Reads

The Midnight Palace

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Rated: Mild

A malevolent force is stalking the streets of 1930s Calcutta. But its sights are set on just two people: twins Ben and Sheere, orphaned shortly after birth. After a brave British officer saves the infants, their grandmother decides to hide Ben in an orphanage and flee the city with her granddaughter. The powerful Jawahal doesn’t abandon his evil plan to find the twins; he just waits 16 years — then he doesn’t let anything, or anyone, get in his way.

Ben has the help of his close friends at the orphanage, who have formed a secret club at an abandoned mansion, which they call the Midnight Palace. They have vowed always to provide each other “help, protection, and unconditional support in any circumstance, danger, or adversity,” and that vow is severely tested when Jawahal comes for Ben and his sister. They have also promised to share knowledge they acquire, so when they learn of the threat Ben is facing, they meet for the last time at the Midnight Palace (since they are 16, they are mandated to leave the orphanage and set out on their own) to plan how they can protect Ben and find out more about the dark plan of their enemy.

They learn about Jawahal, as well as their beautiful mother and renowned architect father, from Ben and Sheere’s grandmother and then set out to discover more from the city’s archives. What they learn is both confusing and disturbing, and they are not sure how to defeat the determined destroyer, as he wreaks havoc trying to get at the twins.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a master of setting the scene, and he does so again in transporting us to the hot streets of Calcutta in the early part of the 1900s. He makes Jawahal a terrifying character, seemingly unstoppable, and the whole book crackles with heat and foreboding. The story is engaging. After reading his two superb novels for adults, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, I had hoped for more in this young adult book, so I was a bit disappointed at times, feeling that a few points didn’t quite fall into place. But overall, it’s a fine tale, especially if one doesn’t compare to his later works (this was first published in Spanish in 1994, apparently).

Rated: Mild, for some uses of mild and moderate language, and some intense scenes. There are some fairly detailed scenes involving blood, so for younger readers, this could be a bit too scary.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Midnight Palace
  • by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Young adult
  • Reviewer: