Published: January 10, 2017
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 haven’t read anything else by A. G. Howard, but I’ve heard a lot about her “lyrical prose.” Because of this, I had high expectations, but I’m not sure they were met. I admit that I think a lot of prose in YA literature is unsophisticated (Sorry! I do still love YA!), so Howard’s stands out as pretty solid. Yet she has a tendency to pile on adjectives in a way I don’t personally find either interesting or convincing. I love descriptions of nature from authors like L. M. Montgomery because I can believe that Montgomery knew a lot about plants and spent a lot of time outside observing and loving nature. Howard, on the other hand, is the type of author who seems to think that calling a rose lush, vibrant, breathtaking, etc. (all in the same sentence) is a substitute for making me think she really knows or particularly cares about roses. I don’t really have issues with her prose, but I wouldn’t say it’s a primary draw of the novel.
I found the plot semi-interesting as I was reading, but ultimately cliche. Or a bit ridiculous. I admit I may have laughed at some points. I guess I was expecting something different after seeing many readers rave about Howard’s Splintered series, but I feel I got a very typical YA book in RoseBlood, starting with the protagonist with unique magical power going to an elite boarding school abroad (which, of course, she does not want to attend) and going downhill from there. The climatic reveals were often the most cliche and funniest (but I won’t get into spoiler territory). Finally, I thought the fantasy elements were not very cohesive. It was like reading a book where you think the world is mostly normal. But then there are unicorns. But also elemental magic. Oh, but reincarnation. And also some gods. But maybe vampires, as well. (These are just examples and not actually what happens in the book.) I just wanted a better overarching view of how the world works and how all these things go together.
The characters may be the best part of the novel. (And the cat.) While Rune does have a lot of YA protagonist tropes going on, I think she’s interesting and ultimately likable. She’s overly dramatic at times, but one can see where she’s coming from, and she tends to have a good heart. The other characters at the school have a range of personalities: mean girls, swoonworthy guys, girls with thieving tendencies. Watching Rune’s friendships blossom was very nice. The only oddity is that this elite French school apparently accepts only American students. I guess I was hoping for some more international diversity, since that seems like a large point of anyone bothering to study abroad.
I do not, however, think the Phantom aspects of the novel were particularly well-done. Now, I admit that adaptations of classic literature mean that authors can take liberties with their inspiration. I think that Howard did her research and knows a lot about The Phantom of the Opera–book,movie, musical, etc. I just didn’t buy her interpretations of the Opera Ghost character or her insistence that he and Christine actually had a really amazing relationship of true love that only ended because of youth and Christine’s naivete. I mean…the Opera Ghost, in the novel and even the romanticized movie, was clearly manipulative, abusive, etc. so the true-love narrative is a bit cringe-worthy to me.
I also think it’s hard for RoseBlood to really have any mystery or Gothic feel when Howard is giving readers two points of view, Rune’s and Thorn’s. The thing that makes Gothic novels actually suspenseful is the not-knowing. What’s happening? Who’s causing it? Is any of it even real, or is the protagonist imagining things? The space between thinking something truly supernatural is going on or thinking that there must be a “reasonable” explanation is where you hook readers. RoseBlood has none of that because Howard basically tells us what’s going on the whole time by giving us the phantom’s side of the story intertwined.
My ultimate thoughts about the book are a little complicated. Parts were great and other parts were not. I think my overarching feeling is satisfied indifference. I think this is a solid YA book. It’s fun, entertaining, and has a romantic love interest. It also has a cute cat. I just don’t think it’s particularly original.