The Watcher in the Shadows
Carlos Ruiz Zafón (YA Horror)
Fourteen-year-old Irene Sauvelle and her family are left desperate and destitute when Irene’s father dies and leaves them buried in debt. They happen upon some good luck when a family friend offers Irene’s mother, Simone, a job working for Lazarus Jann, a reclusive toymaker and inventor who lives in a mansion called Cravenmoore. Their new life in the seaside village seems idyllic until a young girl is brutally murdered. As events surrounding Cravenmoore become more disturbing, Irene begins to reconsider the veracity behind the local ghost stories and becomes curious about the secrets being closely guarded by the brilliant yet mysterious Lazarus Jann.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who was taken from us MUCH too soon, gives us a spine-tingling, hair-raising, and heart-pumping story that is begging to be brought to the screen (hint, hint Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video). The Watcher in the Shadows—which is book three in the Niebla series, but can be read as a standalone—is a suspenseful, young adult horror that wastes no time in bringing the story’s action to full steam. Each chapter brings an escalation in the danger, as well as several eye-opening revelations that keep the reader guessing until the end.
Given the current horror offerings inundating cable and movie screens lately, I was hesitant to pick up anything in this genre, but I knew Zafón would hand me a winner…and he did. Rather than going for the instant and predictable shock value by filling pages with copious amounts of guts and gore, he instead delves into your deepest fears by setting his scenes in darkness and using various light sources to allow walls, ceilings, and floors to become the playground for shadows that slither, slink, and stalk. Zafón exploits our primal fears by writing about situations involving drowning, delirium, confinement, abandonment, and isolation and he does so with calculated effectiveness.
This book is written for grades seven and up, but its underlying theme of technology vs humanity is one that any age could benefit from. Zafón wrote The Watcher in the Shadows in 1995, which coincided with the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web as a global medium for information access. Fast forward almost thirty years later and we’re now a society where gadgets and gizmos control almost every aspect of our life. And while The Watcher in the Shadows is not an overtly cautionary tale of automation overtaking humanity, it does serve as a subtle warning of the dangers that can occur when we depend on technology to fill the void left by loneliness and grief…an emptiness that once was filled by humans.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com