The Master of the Prado - Javier Sierra

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review.


                I like looking at art.  Mostly, I like playing guess the painting – which is guessing the story the painting is portraying.  It can be quite fun.  Then again, I also like looking for little details, like the dog doing its business in the corner of a cathedral.  So you would like, I would like the Da Vinci Code book better.  Nope, couldn’t finish it.


                In many ways, Master of the Prado is what I somehow thought the Da Vinci code was, and what it should be.  Luckily for me, it looks like Sierra wrote other books just like it (not so lucky for my bank account).


                The book is gothic, and in some ways, reminds me of the Bronte’s and Radcliffe in its use of mood.  If Wuthering Heights is about the moors as much as it is about Heathcliff and Cathy, then this book is just s much about the Prado itself as an enity as it is about the paintings in it or about Javier.


                The story starts as a young student, Javier, goes to the Prado and studies a painting.  Eventually this leads to a conversation with a man named Fovel.  Fovel seems to know things, but he is mysterious man.  Firstly, he knows things.  Or seems to know things, secrets, and hidden ways to read the painting in question.  Slowly, bit by bit, he reveals an alternate history to young Javier.


                Fovel is a wonderfully drawn character.  The right amount of engaging (and nagging) teacher blended with the right amount of benevolent mystery and more than a few dashes of a threat.  When Javier’s girlfriend begins to question who Fovel is, the reader can’t help but feel that at least Javier has a sensible woman in his life.  Things become more serious with the introduction of another mystery man who may or may not be a part detective of some type.  He appears to be in some type of dance with Fovel, who himself is not what he appears to be.


                In part, the novel is about seeing.  What do we see when we look at a famous painting, do we see what the artist intended, truly intended or do us something else entirely?  And why, since, we’re asking, does some art last in the mind?  Perhaps this is why, Sierra confines the paintings used in the novel to Medieval and Renaissance.  But there is enough knowledge crammed into the book to make it a good guide to the artwork.


                Sierra doesn’t fully answer these questions, at least not in the way that most readers would think.  And it would be fair to say that the book raises more questions than it answers.  But here’s the thing, where books like the Da Vinci take over used plot points and use them the same way everything else does, Sierra takes over used plot points and somehow, someway, he breathes new life into them.  In some ways, this is a book you’ve read before, a painting you are intimate with, but in other ways, it is something totally new.