*DNF at 40%
RoseBlood by A.G. Howard (Amulet Books, 2017) is a YA urban fantasy novel inspired by Gaston Lereux’s classic novel and the opera of the same name, The Phantom of the Opera.
I enjoyed the author’s debut, the Alice in Wonderland retelling entitled Splintered, even though at times the second through third acts became overwritten. I was drawn to the cover of this book, the name of a familiar author, and the premise. The opening six or so chapters did not disappoint. Rune is an American gypsy girl possessing both a blessing and a curse – she can sing beautiful operas, even ones she’s never heard before. But it’s only because she is mysteriously compelled to, like a reflex, and if she doesn’t, it’ll virtually explode out of her. Whenever she finally sings, it depletes her of all her energy, to the point of illness.
Rune’s father believed in her supernatural gift, and used to help cultivate it. But since he’s dead now, she’s left with her mother who rejects the supernatural and believes the best way to straighten her daughter out while feeding her need for music is to send her away to a French music school in Paris. But Rune is leery of the old boarding school, believing it to be haunted by the same phantom who inspired Gaston Lereux’s writing of The Phantom of the Opera.
The story started out very strong. The mystery of Rune’s past and her talent kept me turning the pages, and I really enjoyed all the YA-ish parts about the friends and enemies she was making at her new school. But it began to lose focus once chapters were being told from the new phantom’s POV. Because we learn early on who the phantom is and what his motives are, there is no longer any sense of suspense or fear on Rune’s behalf when she encounters him. The storytelling would’ve been improved if we were learning about him at the same time as Rune, through her eyes, and not given such an omniscient perspective to know the answers to the mystery while our heroine does not.
While the author’s writing skill is beautifully displayed throughout most of these pages, as the plot thickens, the narration becomes convoluted, the sentences themselves purple, overlong, tedious. The characters became too lost in their own inner-monologue and backstory that, by midway through, it was no longer clear what was going on. If I were the editor of this book, I’d have suggested using short action sentences and focusing only on what was happening at present. I kept pushing because I really wanted to believe in this story, but by 40%, I knew it was time to move on to the next items on my reading list.
That said, this book may still appeal to the right audience. YA urban fantasy readers who don’t mind a denser and more detailed read, and anyone particularly interested in all things Phantom of the Opera, may find it better suited to them.