The Prince of Mist could be called The Shadow of the Wind lite, except that would be doing a disservice to both books. The Prince of Mist could perhaps be said to be a precursor, an introduction to Zafon's masterwork, except that also seems to belittle the shorter but no less enthralling earlier book. The Prince of Mist is one of those children's books that is not a children's book, because it can be enjoyed by anyone, and associating it only with children would be doing it a disservice, though heaven knows that child readers are no idiots. I suppose I could best compare The Prince of Mist to The Westing Game in this regard. Child characters and a writing style a child could comprehend, but a very intricate plot and unexpectedly dark plot material. Haunted statues, a devilish man with dark magic, a sunken ship that went down with dozens of forsaken souls on board, a house built by a rich man whose family was soon after struck by tragedy, all of this is trademark Zafon, and everything comes together in a tight plot that will tug at your heart and make you glad to have a light on while you read. This is an excellent tragedy, and it's all the better for having characters you as the reader will identify and sympathize with. Max is a well-executed normal boy protagonist, Alicia is neither too haughty nor too sensual to be unlikable, and Roland is just shy of being too cocky, and so you don't end up hating him. I mean, when I started reading, I was sure I could peg the character types, but it was pleasant to find that instead of just being types, the three main characters were actually individual personalities. But still, first novel or not, I should not have expected less from Zafon.
Well, this was more reflection than review. Ah, get used to it, I guess? Okay, okay, here's a bit about the actual plot. With World War II looming, Max and his family move from the city to a seaside town. The town is sleepy, but the house Max's family moves into is wreathed in a tragic past. Max's new friend Roland tells him and his sister Alicia about the Fleischmann family who lived there until their son Jacob died. Meanwhile, Max discovers a garden full of freakin' creepy statues including one of a scary clown. I mean, jeez, Zafon, dead children aren't enough for you, you have to freaking have clowns in this book? Master of horror, indeed. Tragedy circles ever closer around Max, Alicia, and Roland, and connected to it all is a mysterious character called the Prince of Mist.
Anyway! If you haven't read anything by Zafon, either this book or The Shadow of the Wind is good to start with. And you should start with one of them. Right now. Because Zafon is amazing.