Can Zafon’s Cemetery Series Be Read in Any Order?

Kenny Brechner - August 16, 2018

With the Labyrinth of the Spirits, Carlos Ruiz Zafon has completed his four-book Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. The author, along with providing the fourth book, has also supplied a narrative edict. “Each individual installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series can be read in any order, enabling the reader to explore the labyrinth of stories along different paths which, when woven together,  lead into the heart of the narrative.”
From a bookseller’s point of view this is a sensational idea of course. Consider the following scenario taking place in the near future. A customer motions to a stack of The Labyrinth of Spirits.
Customer: So what can you tell me about this one?
Bookseller: It’s the sublime culmination to a truly outstanding series. Set in Barcelona from 1938 through the 1970s, these books deftly combine the world of bookselling, the long shadow of the Spanish Civil War, gothic literary interplay, wonderfully salty characters, sublime dialogue and verbal sparring, along with elaborate and satisfying exposition. Taken together or individually they represent a reading experience not to be missed.

Customer: Oh, so do I need to read the books in order? What is book one?
Bookseller: The first book published was Shadow of the Wind, of which we are out of stock until Thursday, however the books can and should be read in any order.
Customer: Really?
Bookseller: Absolutely. Look right here on this page. “Each individual installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series can be read in any order, enabling the reader to explore the labyrinth of stories along different paths which, when woven together,  lead into the heart of the narrative.”
Customer: Great, I’ll take this one.
Setting aside its benefits to handselling Zafon’s assertion, which was actually first revealed with the third book, The Prisoner of Heaven, invites those of us who read his books in the order they were produced to ponder whether his assertion is actually a literary best practice. It is an elegant idea to be sure, in which each book is essentially a separate portal in and out of a single labyrinth, the experience of whose traverse is colored by the particular entries and exists each individual reader happens to make. Or Is there really a best point of entry and exit?
When I finished book four I was absolutely convinced that The Labyrinth of the Spirits was the only possible terminus for the series. It tied together so many hanging threads, was so satisfying a conclusion, that whatever order you read books one through three, this was the only way out. Furthermore, since I consider book three, The Prisoner of Heaven, though it fills in a great many vitally important narrative details, to be weaker than books one and two, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, I would never recommend starting with it. My initial conviction was thus that books one and two were interchangeable but that books three and four needed to be read as published.
A strange thing happened over time, though. I began to see that reading Labyrinth first would have given a sublime insight into any of the other books. As the culmination of my own reading experience settled down, and I poked my head back into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, I could see clearly that Zafon had truly pulled his conceptual narrative tour de force off. True,  I would never suggest reading Prisoner of Heaven first, but beyond that, as long as you actually open a door to the labyrinth and enter it, all is well. As to not reading the Cemetery of Forgotten books at all, that is obviously a grave error.

21 thoughts on “Can Zafon’s Cemetery Series Be Read in Any Order?

  1. Monica

    OMG The biggest problem with working in youth services…. I never knew it became a series!!!! Ahhhhh!!! Excuse me, I have some reading to do…

  2. Jeff Green

    This is interesting. I’ve read Shadow and loved it, but it has been a long time, When the other books came out I passed them up because they didn’t seem to be received as well as Shadow. Now Labyrinth is out and sounds amazing. So, here is my question: Do you think I could read ONLY Shadow and Labyrinth and have it feel complete? Would you reread Shadow and then Labyrinth, or Labyrinth first and then reread Shadow if it had been a long time?
    (PS-can you plz email me directly with your opinion to my question? I’d like to be sure not to miss it!)

    1. Leanne C Mills

      I think Prisoner is important as it certainly fills in the (important) gap from 1939 onwards and the stories of the prisoners of Montjuic castle. It sets the tone for Labyrinth as there are some significant character backstories.
      Plus, its more Fermin and Daniel, what’s not to love!

  3. Brian Fenwick

    I have just bought Labyrinth of the Sprits. Am I desperate to read it? Well yes and no. Do I need to go back and reread Shadow even though I have read this three tines over the last few years, once as the first novel then again after the publication of Angel and Prisoner.
    And another highlight, as an avid Kindle reader how nice it is to buy a book from a bookshop and then read the hard cover copy.
    Back to the past.

  4. Edie Wright

    I was really thrown off at first reading of the Labyrinth. I am re reading Angles Game at the Prisoner.. then holding the Shadow is tiresome for these elderly hands as I don’t have the tablet form or the audio form of the Shadow. With dimming eyesight I enjoy listening to the great recorder’s voices and thrill with excitement. I await the Public library’s audio version of the Labyrinth.
    The character of Alicia in the Labyrinth threw me off. Never knew her in the other three novels as I tried to read the Spanish ed before the English tr. was available.
    I don’t recommend reading the books in any order . The Shadow and following with the subsequent stories is preferred by me. . However, I admit that I read the Shadow when it was published many years ago and now I am going back to it to get my mind and do research to the other stories.
    Does that occur with any of you? And did you began with the Shadow. or other titles???

  5. Dax

    Hi Dear, I’ve just read the Shadow of the wind, now planning to read the Laberynt…. (Book 4).
    Is it recomendable, or I MUST READ the book 2 and 3 FIRST..?? Does it make any sense or are they just avoidable or…
    If I read the 4 Book I wouyld just simply kill the previous delights reading Book 2 and 3, and would be a great miss..??? Please any help..!!!

  6. Rosette Markarian

    Hi, I ordered all these books, I also ordered “Marina“ is this book different then those or same kind of story ? By the way I just finished reading “The Angels Game” I loved it.

  7. June

    I am about two-thirds through reading “Prisoner” and must confess I’m not enjoying it as much as “Shadow of the Wind”. Although Fermin is a weirdly engaging character from the first book, I didn’t realize such a large chunk of Prisoner was about his bleak incarceration experiences. While more implied than graphic, I’m not a fan of the prolonged descriptions of cruelty/torture (both physical and psychological).
    I am determined to finish the book, and I have the last one of the series (“Labyrinth”) waiting for me at the library. I have not read “Angel’s Game” yet! Needless to say I am not reading them in order of publication (more by availability). I am optimistic that they (books 4 and 2) will be better than Prisoner, and possibly more like Shadow (?) from reading the various reviews and comments.
    In any case, the bleak suffering experienced by these characters have made me all the more appreciative of everything I have (shelter, food, and luxuries!) despite the current pandemic. Stay safe everyone! Happy reading. 🙂

      1. June

        You were right Kenny! I am half way through Labyrinth now and really enjoying it. I did manage to finish Prisoner and, as you said, it established some back history details on many of the integral characters. So I’m glad I stuck with it.
        Labyrinth is a much more entertaining book for me, which reads like a compelling detective story with a bold, clever and gifted female protagonist (not unlike “Kinsey” in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries).
        Was very sorry to hear that Zafon passed away recently! I will savor the rest of Labyrinth and also Angel, which I have left to last.

  8. Daniele Molinari

    I am new to this series and after reading this post I decided to read the Labyrinth first and then in order the Shadow, the Angel’s and concluding with the Prisoner. Is this a good idea?

  9. Carole

    I’m just finishing “Shadow….” audiobook! Thrilling and I’m fascinated to discover the depth and breath of CRZ’s writings. Like so many others on your blog, choosing the next read is perplexing! I think that “Angel….” could be next. Perhaps “Prisoner….” or “Labyrinth….”. Please pick next 2!!!!

  10. Sally

    I’ve just started reading The Labyrinth and I’d definitely save it for last because shadow of the wind is what captivates the reader, then reading the angel’s game blows your mind with how the ending ties into shadow. Then read prisoner because in that one you understand sort of what took place between yet you have a close connection and a great shock with a reappearing character. Lastly, Labyrinth because it’s like the last piece of this amazing puzzle.

  11. Ken J Trani

    I came across The Cemetery of Forgotten Book “by accident” — i.e., if anything important in one’s life ever happens by accident. I found a hardcover copy of The Prisoner of Heaven on a remainder table at a chain bookstore. After reading the dust jacket blurb and seeing that one could read the book without having read the two previous books, I thought, “Why not?” and bought it. Before I’d finished the first chapter, I was hooked, and after finishing the book, I purchased and read the first two in the cycle. Several years passed before The Labyrinth of Heaven came out, and before reading it, I reread the first three in order of publication. Although I can understand why one can start with any of the books (I myself began with the third in order of publication), I would nevertheless suggest that a reader save the fourth for last. It does tie up the loose ends of the first three and bring them to a conclusion. BTW, I only yesterday learned of Ruiz Zafón’s death some 18 months ago and was quite sorry to learn of it. I’ve had ordered his posthumous book and am looking eagerly lookingforward to reading it.


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