Content warnings: human trafficking; use of the term slur/slang “gypsy” to describe the Romani people; attempted murder
I’ve been on a Phantom of the Opera kick so after reading the actual novel, I picked up this PotO-inspired retelling. This is the first book I’ve ever read by A.G. Howard. I really like how she weaved both real life (from Leroux’s novel) and fiction into this story. I have to be honest though, after reading the synopsis, I thought this was a historical fiction novel. Of course that wasn’t the case, so I was eager to see how the author would turn this into a modern retelling. And let me tell you, it took some twists I didn’t expect at all.
Author: A.G. Howard
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Release date: January 10, 2017
Genre: Young adult, paranormal
Length: 432 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.
At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.”
I really wondered where the story was going to go as we followed our main character, Rune, to a French school, once an opera house with ties to The Phantom of the Opera. The whole concept of Rune’s gift of singing and her fear of actually singing were really interesting, and it was one of the main reasons why I continued the story–I kept asking myself, “How?” and “Why?” Of course, the real answer wasn’t what I expected, but this is where the author took the story of The Phantom/Erik and truly made it her own. It sounded reasonable in terms of the paranormal. I absolutely loved that, too. We get an equally tortured yet somewhat soft and understanding Erik. I also think we see the dual persons of Erik/The Phantom, depending on who we’re actually seeing on the page, which is something the novel shows, but adaptations (I’m thinking of the 2004 movie with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum and the 25th anniversary edition with Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess) show even better.
While I did enjoy the story around Rune and Thorn, their slow-budding romance, I thought more time could have been spent with Rune’s friends as well. The author seems to skim over interactions. Yes, there are some major events involving Rune and her friends, but I didn’t care enough them to really care what happened to them outside of Rune wanting to make sure they were safe. On the opposite side, the way Thorn lured Rune to him didn’t feel wholly unbelievable and I think that’s simply due to the fact that Rune has always had strange things happen in her life ever since she was a child. So following along with this “game” as she rediscovers her ability to sing and the connection she feels with her father (again, playing with the connection between Christine Daaé and her father) felt completely normal to her. (“Normal” in the very loose sense of the word in the context of everything that’s happening involving her.)
In terms of the discovery and the readers finding out what Rune is and the story surrounding her family, I thought it was unique and such a different take of what we think of as vampires (although the characters use the term “incubus” and “succubus” as well as the former term). I was a bit taken aback but again, it explains a lot about how the author kept Erik/The Phantom who he is for the sake of the story.
Overall, I was very much pulled into this story, and most of that stems from my love for the Phantom of the Opera in general. I didn’t find the romance too cheesy and there’s a layer of mystery and creepiness around this that mirrors Leroux’s original novel.
You can purchase this book from Amazon (at the time I wrote this review, this book was less than $8 as a hardcover!), Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, or through your local independent bookstore with IndieBound.