71 pages 2 hours read

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Angel's Game

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2008

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Summary and Study Guide


The Angel's Game is a 2008 supernatural mystery novel by the Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Set in Barcelona in the 1920s and 1930s, the book chronicles a young crime novelist's efforts to unravel an occult conspiracy amid the political turmoil of pre-Francoist Spain. It is the second entry in Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books series and a prequel to 2001's Shadow of the Wind, but The Angel's Game is designed to be read as a standalone work. This study guide refers to the 2009 edition published by Doubleday and translated by Lucia Graves.

Plot Summary

From an early age, David Martín seeks refuge through literature. When David is 14, his father is murdered in front of the Barcelona newspaper office where he works. Pedro Vidal, one of the newspaper's wealthy owners, gives David a job as an assistant. By the time David is 18, he is the writer of a successful crime fiction series printed in the paper.

A few years later, in 1920, Pedro arranges for David to sign a lucrative contract with the publishers Barrido and Escobillas. Under the pseudonym Ignatius B. Samson, David writes a series of cheap and titillating "penny dreadful" crime novels titled City of the Damned. He moves into a long-abandoned Gothic tower house and works on his books from dusk until dawn. Meanwhile, Pedro marries his assistant, Cristina, whom David is in love with.

At the age of 28, David learns that he has an inoperable brain tumor and will likely be dead in a year. Amid other personal and professional failures, David seeks guidance from Sempere, an old bookseller and surrogate father figure who takes him to a secret labyrinthine library known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There, he obtains a strange and disturbing book called Lux Aeterna written by "D.M.," David's own initials.

Around this time, David meets with a mysterious French publisher named Andreas Corelli who offers him 100,000 francs to write scripture for a new religion. When David declines, Corelli says he can cure David’s brain tumor. David accepts Corelli's eerily Faustian offer. The next morning, the pressure in David's head is gone. At a newsstand, he learns that Barrido and Escobillas have been killed in a fire.

David learns that Andreas Corelli died a few years ago and his publishing house burned down decades before that. He learns that the previous owner of the house was a lawyer named Diego Marlasca who drowned under suspicious circumstances 25 years earlier. David believes Diego Marlasca is the D.M. who wrote Lux Aeterna. From Marlasca's widow, David learns that Marlasca became heavily involved in occult rituals following the death of their young son and that he mentioned a writing contract that would bring their son back to life. She directs David to Ricardo Salvador, the only police officer who believed foul play was involved in Marlasca's death. Salvador says that Marlasca was burned alive.

Pedro separates from Cristina because he knows she doesn't love him. David and Cristina agree to leave behind Barcelona, but when David returns from buying train tickets, he finds that Cristina found his manuscript and read it, prompting her to flee. In a fit of despair and fury, David finishes the manuscript. He tracks Cristina to a sanatorium, where she makes David promise to destroy the book. Out of cowardice and vanity, David refuses. Cristina then escapes to a frozen lake and falls through the ice to her death with an eerie smile on her face.

Enraged, David returns to Barcelona to exact revenge on Corelli. He comes across a photo of Marlasca and learns that the man he knows as Ricardo Salvador is Marlasca, and he hasn't aged in 25 years. David also learns that Marlasca, afraid of what Corelli would do if he didn't finish the book, contacted a witch who helped him steal Salvador's soul to hide from death. Marlasca now wishes to kill David and steal his manuscript so that Corelli will give him his son. In a fight at the house, David sets fire to Marlasca and the house. David hides the manuscript in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he finds shelves of books telling a similar fable to his.

In an Epilogue set in 1945, David looks back on the Spanish Civil War, the Holocaust, and World War II and wonders if his book is responsible for these horrors. Corelli arrives and returns Cristina to him in what he calls both a blessing and a curse, as David will have to watch Cristina grow old and die while he never ages.