Goodreads: The Prince of Mist
Series: Niebla #1
Translator: Lucia Graves
Published: 1986 (original), 2010 (translation)
In 1943 the Carter family, including thirteen-year-old Max and his older sister Alicia, move to a small coastal town to start a new life away from the war. But the spirit of the previous homeowners’ son seems to haunt the premises and a mysterious, evil presence lurks just outside–the Prince of Mist back from the dead to collect on an old debt.
I had heard good things about The Prince of Mist and picked it up in hopes of discovering a good creepy Halloween read. However, though initially I thought I would not be able to sleep with the lights off, the plot eventually turns into a hodgepodge of scary events, thereby lessening the fright factor and increasing the confusion. By the end, I no longer felt invested in the story or even the characters, with whom I had at first sympathized. Indeed, after I finally finish La sombra del viento, I am questioning how likely I am ever to read something by the author again.
The premise of the book seems sound. As is typical, a family moves to a small town in hopes of beginning a new life, but finds themselves embroiled in an old and dangerous mystery, courtesy of their haunted home. A sinister garden with moving statues, an evil presence lurking upstairs, and creepy vintage footage left by the old inhabitants all contribute to the mood. And, of course, the parents see and believe nothing, meaning that the children are on their own in a race against time. For the first half of the book I was constantly prepared to duck under the covers for protection, but then more and more “scary” moments occurred and suddenly I was a strict skeptic.
The Prince of Mist, unfortunately, has nebulous and myriad powers, and when he mixes them, they border on the ludicrous. At first it seems pretty obvious that he is the creepy clown statue in the garden (we are not to question this–clowns are creepy and thus a creepy garden would have a clown statue in it, not one of those garden gnomes or anything like that). But then he’s in the house. And then he’s in the film. And then he’s on the shore. And then he’s a monster. Or a spider. He’s in the ocean! He can create a storm? What exactly is he and what is his plan because it seems kind of convoluted and pointless, unless he just enjoys toying with people by sending/possessing animals and that sort of thing. None of it makes sense and my disbelief was not so suspended that I was ready to accept any of it.
Max, the young protagonist, was what really kept me reading. He’s likable and relatable. He has a sort of uneasy relationship with his sister because he does not understand teenage girls, but he works at it, anyway. And he’s not necessarily the strongest or the smartest one around, but he’s perceptive and determined and those qualities see him through. Also, he is far from a reluctant hero. Though he has no fey wish to meet the Prince of Mist, he’s ready to protect his friends and family if he has to, without counting the cost. He’s the sort of protagonist you can really get behind.
His sister Alicia and his new friend Roland were nicely fleshed out, too. It was nice to see a teenage girl with perhaps stereotypical teenage problems (moodiness, a suggested crush that she lost) who was not turned into a one-dimensional teen. She’s not stupidly rebellious just because “teenagers do that” and she’s not portrayed as silly or stupid for liking boys. Rather, she’s a rounded person who has things she cares about that she’s lost and things about her life that she’d like to change, but she learns to move forward–and her family supports her. Of course, Roland helps out, too, but after his easy introduction (friendly, athletic kid who immediately charms everyone he meets), he turns out to be far less interesting than Max and Alicia. Maybe it’s that he’s simply too wonderful. His sacrifices match or exceed Max’s but it’s hard to get a real sense of where they come from.
Still, the characters were not enough to hold up the confused plot and my strongest memories of the book are a sense of disappointment that the author seemed to feel that “mysterious” means a lack of any explanation or sense whatsoever. But, without a solid background or logic, the Prince of Mist is easy to dismiss as an authorial creation and that makes him lose his power. How disappointing for a figure of legend.