The Prince of Mist, By Carlos Ruiz Zafón, trans. Lucia Graves

Author of The Shadow of the Wind, the most-read Spanish novel since Don Quixote, Carlos Ruiz Zafó*began his writing career eight years before with the first of four stories aimed at teenage readers. The opening volume, The Prince of Mist, now appears in an English edition, fluently translated by Lucia Graves, with the others following in the next three years. It won the prestigious Edebé Prize for Young Adult Fiction on publication in 1993, and with its companion novels has sold over three million copies. So does this first effort promise to be yet another sensation outside Spain along with Zafón's The Angel's Game, which is currently selling in shed-loads all over Europe?

Rambling Gothic novels whose sub-plots contain yet more sub-plots take up a lot of paper, but in these early days Zafó*too often rushes his literary fences in his effort to convey as much terror as possible in a cramped space. Writing for a younger audience has also led him into providing various over-anxious explanations as the plot develops, which negate any gradual build-up of tension against a background made even more fearful precisely because nothing within it ever seems totally clear. Even so, the main story remains gripping enough, revolving around such hardy perennials as a haunted house on the coast and the discovery of old home movies that indicate the evil that had happened before and is now in the process of happening again.

Caught up in this scenario is 13-year-old Max, his sultry older sister Alicia, and post-adolescent Roland, a local boy who quickly becomes best mate to the family and boyfriend to the sister. But a ghostly sunken ship, an over-grown garden surrounded by a metal fence topped with a six-pointed star, and some beckoning statues prove too much for this teenage trio. There is also the Prince of Mist himself, a diabolical character given to providing lengthy commentaries on the evil he has done in the past and hopes to perform in the future.

Add alocked wradrobe from which a black cat with a glittering stare emerges after the key turns by itself, a station clock that goes backwards and a dark spectre intent on drowning all three characters, and there's still enough to scare most readers. Although Roland doesn't make it to the end, Max and Alicia survive to remember "a summer in which they had discovered magic together".