The Shadow of the Wind: A Book Review

By Abi King | Spain

Jan 25

Set in the streets of Barcelona around the time of the Civil War, The Shadow Of The Wind delivers poetic melancholy, gothic description and a bookworm’s thriller.

Daniel Sempere is just 10 years old when his father takes him to Barcelona’s “Cemetery of Forgotten Books.” Inside this library, near-mythical bookkeepers have rescued and preserved obscure titles and discontinued lines. Daniel is allowed to choose just one – and feels himself drawn to The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax.

Young, impressionable and infatuated with the novel, Daniel searches for other titles by the same author. So far, so normal.

However, despite being the son of a bookseller, this proves much harder than expected. Carax’s novels have all but disappeared in blazing fires and crazy auctions from Paris to Barcelona. What’s more, Daniel is being stalked by a faceless man, Lain Coubert, namely the devil in Carax’s original book. Thus begins a mystery that consumes Daniel’s life (and the rest of the book, naturally.)

The Shadow of the Wind has been immensely popular – and I’m not just basing this on my own anecdotal evidence (recommendations from a Czech, an Englishwoman and a stranger on an aeroplane.)

The language drips with poetry, which I enjoyed, however,  the story dragged for me and I couldn’t really understand why the women took the sexual risks they did, given the formulaic and violent reactions from almost every man around.

I want books to grab my attention on page one and never let up, not even for a second before tumbling, breathless to the end. But I already know I’m an adrenaline junkie.

To emphasize that point, the main character even says:

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”

The Shadow of the Wind as a Guide to Barcelona

With the exception of brief forays into Paris, Barcelona stars as the setting for The Shadow of the Wind. However, it’s a rainy, chilling, forlorn Barcelona, in the age of police brutality, war and oppressive ideas. So although the characters bring the streets and landmarks alive and the book itself includes a guided walk around Barcelona, I found it bore little resemblance to the vibrant 21st century city I visited.

Read it if you love gothic stories, not if you’re looking to recreate the feel of Barcelona today.

“The city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it…”


About the Author

Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on

Adam January 26, 2010

It’s a very literary book. I really enjoyed reading it though it can seem very dense & gothic by the very nature of the story & setting.

Mary R January 26, 2010

great book recommendation. I love how you related it to travel. I try to do that every time I read something that takes place abroad. I’ll have to check it out

Andy Jarosz June 21, 2010

Yup. Read this book and HAD to visit Barcelona again :)

Abi King June 29, 2010

It certainly gives a different perspective on the city!

Rachel September 14, 2011

It certainly isn´t a book to sell Barcelona as it is today but as a taste of times that shouldn´t be forgotten I thought it was done well.

The language or should I say translation was brilliant, thoroughly enjoyable if a little slow at times.

    Abi King September 16, 2011

    I agree – the language was beautiful in places. And you’re right to make the point about parts of history that shouldn’t be forgotten…

sofie November 14, 2012

I asbolutely loooooved The Shadow of the Wind (or la Sombra del Viento). Couldn’t stop reading in it. Just had to know what would happen next and when I got to the end, I was actually sad it was over.

    Rachel November 14, 2012

    It really was good – don´t you just hate it when you rush through it wanting to know what happens then regret it when it´s over. I found that with Pillars of the Earth too.

      Abi King December 6, 2012

      I don’t Pillars of the Earth – I’ll have to give that a try.

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