While I make an effort to complete most books I read, every once in a while I come upon one that I just can’t get through. When I find myself repeatedly putting down a book to the point that attempting to finish it is taking up weeks of my time, I sometimes come to the conclusion that a book is a book, not a life and death contract to read until completion. There are too many books in the world that I will never get to to spends days on end trying to finish a book that I already know will not be my cup of tea. Sadly, one such of these books came across my desk recently.
Books: “RoseBlood” by A.G. Howard
Publishing Info: Amulet Books, January 2017
Where Did I Get these Books: the library!
Book Description: 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.
There will be spoilers in this post!
Review: I included this book as one of my highlights in January’s post and even there I expressed nervousness going in. The expectation game plays a large part in books like this. I love everything “Phantom of the Opera,” so this being the case I have a critical eye for stories related to it. And while this was definitely part of my struggle with “RoseBlood,” it was combined with some other flaws to the point that I put it down about two thirds of the way through.
This book tries to do two things with “Phantom of the Opera:” present a sequel while also re-telling the classic tale in the modern day featuring our two teen protagonists. As a sequel, nothing about this book worked for me. Perhaps if had simply been a retelling I could have gotten on board, but as a sequel, the author wrote herself into a corner where she had to re-create and “modernize” the Phantom himself while also providing backstory into the original story that would make it fit with her new version. So the Phantom, Erik, becomes a…wait for it…psychic vampire whose method of feeding is siphoning off the emotions of others. And the way he does that is…wait for it…owning a rave where he shows the audience his face nightly and feeds off their fear. Yes. This is a real thing the book does. I can barely take it seriously enough to type it out.
Next, the author creates a paranormal “soulmates” device (but she calls them “twin flames” because apparently she can’t take the term “soulmate” seriously, but somehow “twin flames” is a more acceptable term?) where not only are our main characters “twin flames,” but so were Erik and Christine in the original story. Only she wasn’t “mature” enough to understand the deep love and soul connection she shared with the Phantom. So, now beyond the ridiculousness factor of psychic vampires who own raves, we’ve got a backstory that completely misses the message of deep tragedy in the original and throws Christine under the bus. The relationship between Christine and the Phantom was never a healthy one, and that was the whole point. Erik’s life was one of such deep tragedy that he was broken as a person, not knowing how to express real love for another or how to exist in society. At no point should Christine have ever stayed with him, and to paint her as an immature character who threw away true love does a huge disservice to the character and to the message of the original story.
So those were my concerns with this book as far as it goes as an adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera.” While I can’t say whether or not I would have continued reading had these been my only stumbling blocks, the fact that the novel as a whole reads as a “paint by numbers” YA fantasy was the final nail in the coffin of my ability to complete it.
In other reviews I’ve discussed some of the over-used tropes that can be found in YA fantasy that now feel so tired that they need to be shelved immediately. But this book manages to hit every single one of them, reading almost like a “Twilight” rip-off with only the aforementioned “Phantom” tie-ins differentiating it.
We have a main character with a ridiculous name who is gorgeous and has a special talent that she was born with but can’t control. She goes to a school that she hates (though it’s in Paris and full of rich, beautiful people), and immediately, through no effort of her own, becomes friends with everyone. The popular girls of school also immediately dislike her because they envy her beauty and talent. She meets a mysterious boy who wears a mask even though he, too, is incredibly good looking (this also felt like a very poor use of a “Phantom” tie-in, again missing the point of original that beauty is found beyond one’s face). She discovers they are soulmates, and they immediately fall in love (no stakes in the relationship, no growing to know, appreciate, and love each other, they’re just “destined”). Powers, magic, an attempt on her life. The end. There was just nothing there.
The unique aspects of this story were the connections to the original, and after they were used so poorly, there was nothing left to grab on to. The fact that the book was also over-written and overwrought with pages upon pages of flowery, descriptive language just really killed any interest I had in the story.
Now look, we here at The Library Ladies try to always include positives. And the positive for this is if you are a reader who truly enjoys the formula I described above, then this book will be great for you. And that’s fine! But, for me, nothing about this story worked. And while there are clearly readers who still enjoy this type of story, I also sincerely hope that we begin to move beyond these overly tired YA fantasy staples. They have been so over-used that they almost feel like a parody of themselves at this point. YA fantasy can do (and be) better.
“RoseBlood” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Retellings of Classic Novels for Children and YA”and “Phantom of the Opera.”
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