RoseBlood was written by A.G. Howard and first published in 2017. It’s a fantasy romance story inspired by both Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera (originally published in 1910) and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of the same name. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of Howard’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.
Seventeen year old Rune Germain is cursed. She has a photographic memory for operatic songs and can recreate what she hears perfectly, yet when she does so she is left weak and drained for days. Certain that her condition is brought about by stage fright, her mother enrols her at the RoseBlood Conservatory – a French academy of the arts housed in an abandoned opera house in the depths of the woods. She’s certain that here Rune will find her voice.
Rune is less than convinced. She’s heard that the opera house one of the inspirations behind the story of The Phantom of the Opera and this plays on her Romani superstitions. Her fears seem justified as on her first day, she catches sight of a masked gardener that no one else seems to know. Could it be that the legends are true and the Phantom still lurks at RoseBlood, a hundred years after his supposed death?
Her suspicions are half right. The teenager she has seen is Thorn – adoptive son to the immortal Erik – who has found himself an accessory to his father’s plans for Rune. The problem is that the more time Thorn spends watching her, the more he falls in love with her himself. Thorn knows that he must find a way to save his love, before the Phantom can realise his sinister plans…
Oookay…where to begin…
Although RoseBlood states on its cover that it’s a retelling, that’s not strictly true. The novel reads more as a hybrid between a modern take of the classic tale and a very loose sequel. The events of Leroux’s novel did happen, although not exactly as Leroux told it, and Erik – the original Phantom – also appears as the main antagonist of this tale. Because of this, I think that you probably should read the original novel (and maybe Susan Kay’s compelling Phantom) before this, as RoseBlood touches upon the events of both but I did not feel that it explored them thoroughly enough to bring a new reader up to speed.
As you may be able to tell, Leroux’s novel was one of my favourites when I was a teenager. It’s a fabulously Gothic tale of how unrequited love can turn to jealousy and madness. The important thing to know about it is that it’s not really a love story. While there are elements of this in the musical version, Christine’s feelings towards Erik in the Leroux version are more pity and compassion than romance. Christine’s love was the handsome aristocrat, Raoul. Erik was the obsessive stalker that kidnapped her on more than one occasion. This appears to be the point somewhat missed by RoseBlood.
The plot of RoseBlood is mainly told in first person from the perspective of Rune, with the occasional third person passage that follows Thorn. Through Rune’s narrative, the problems of basing a paranormal romance story around The Phantom of the Opera become quite clear. Thorn watches Rune in secret all of the time, long before she becomes aware of his presence. He follows her throughout the day behind one-way glass mirrors (which the opera house seems to have lining every room) and even sits behind the air vent in her room and breaths heavily while she sleeps. This isn’t charming. This is horrifying. I didn’t want Rune to fall in love with this man. I wanted her to punch his lights out and call the police. I never became in invested in their relationship because it was too creepy. One of my pet hates is when authors normalise stalker behaviour and unfortunately RoseBlood didn’t just do that, it had a heroine who didn’t seem to realise that there was anything wrong with this at all.
Howard’s novel was long and slow-burning, made difficult to read by its copious purple prose and exposition. Rune seems to be unable to perform even the most simple of tasks without an accompanying lengthy description of precisely what she’s doing. In the opening chapters, she takes a taxi along the long driveway to the school gate. Even this takes her over thirty pages to complete.
The descriptions themselves, as you may have guessed, are all ridiculously constructed in such a way that they go beyond the Gothic and into the comedic, often mixing metaphors and making very little sense. One of my favourites was:
The accusation resonated on silvery notes, rising like a creature with wings, fluttering gracefully over to Thorn and tugging with its audible beak at the secrets that he held caged behind his ribs.
Gothic literature is stylised by its lavish and poetic use of the sublime. RoseBlood doesn’t really compare. It should also be noted that the novel moves away from its source material – in which all supernatural elements were explained rationally – by weaving in Romani curses, hyper-intelligent animal familiars and energy vampires. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I personally felt it came across a bit weird. It gave the book a kind of Alice in Wonderland surreal feel which seemed out of place in a story of this type.
While the story did eventually start to ramp up to a climax, it felt as though it was too late in the tale. The final few chapters of the novel are more exciting and do trim the descriptions in an attempt to streamline the tale. However the result is that Rune’s confrontation with Erik feels rushed and the last chapter, which tells of the aftermath, was very brisk and to the point, as though it was added as an afterthought. I also didn’t like that it was ultimately Thorn that saved the day. While I won’t spoil the twist here, in the original novel it was Christine’s actions that saved both her lover and the opera house. This time, Rune is the helpless damsel in the distress who must be rescued by her love.
And let’s talk about the protagonists a little more. Rune and Thorn and pretty much your cookie-cutter paranormal romance leads. Rune is your typical special snowflake. Her blessing/curse with song exists to make her all the more perfect – luring Erik with her beautiful voice and alienating her from prima donna classmates. She’s also described as being beautiful and it irritated me that she kept referring to her “gypsy” heritage. I don’t know if this is the same in America but where I’m from, the word gypsy is a slur and I doubt someone of Romani heritage would use it on themselves.
Thorn is similarly beautiful, though wears a half mask as “although he had nothing physical to hide, a demon lurked inside him, afraid to forge into the light of day”. Because of course it did. He also has the tragic backstory to end all tragic backstories, which made him the most interesting and developed character in the novel. I won’t spoil that here as it’s one of the best things in the story and is worth a read if you’re curious.
Anyhow, the two love interests meet in the creepiest of circumstances and fall in love instantly because they are “twin flames”, born of the same soul. And that’s really all there is to it. Everything that Thorn does in the novel, even if Rune is initially shocked by it, is excused away because it’s their destiny to be lovers. This fact alone probably makes this the shallowest love story that I’ve ever reviewed. And I’ve reviewed Hush, Hush which should tell you something!
Beyond the main couple and Erik (who is about as you would expect), very few of the other characters get much page time. This is a shame as Rune’s friends were a lot more likable than Thorn was and so it would have been nice to see them get more involved in the tale. Ultimately, however, they had no bearing on the plot and slowly disappeared following the scene at the rave. Oh yeah, Erik runs a mortuary-themed rave where guests are drugged on departure so they forget their night of revelry. I may have forgotten to mention that. I’ll just leave it to sink in for a moment…
Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble. RoseBlood is definitely not a story I’d recommend. It’s slow, promotes harmful relationships and is plagued with purple prose and shallow characters. I have been told that Howard’s other series is better than this book but I can honestly say that I’m in no real hurry to find out.
RoseBlood can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk