Pages: 432 •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.
Full Disclaimer: I was hooked on this book from the moment I heard it was being released because I spent a pivotal portion of my pre-teen years obsessed with The Phantom of the Opera. The movie version with Emmy Rossum came out when I was in middle school and I was introduced to it by my choir teacher and my obsession was born (it wasn’t hard considering the protagonist’s name is CHRISTINE and then there was me, aspiring little alto, CRISTINA). A few years later my mom took me to see the live stage production in Las Vegas that was done in the special theater in the Venetian that was literally made for the show (falling chandelier on the audience and all!) and I was even more enamored. Now I will admit that I haven’t yet read the entirety of the original story by LeRoux (it’s on my never-ending TBR) but I was THRILLED to get Roseblood as a Christmas gift from Max to reignite my Phantom obsession.
Now, to be fair while Roseblood draws a lot of inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera, it’s not as much of a retelling as it is a sequel. The Phantom is definitely present, but the focus is more on Rune (our “Christine” character) and Thorn, the Phantom’s adopted son. Rune has a very twisted and tragic family background that eventually leads her mother to send her to an opera boarding school in France, as she’s at a loss of what to do with a daughter is literally made ill by singing, yet has no choice but to purge songs from her body. At the conservatory Rune’s musical affliction and tainted background lead her to a series of creepy encounters with Thorn and into the Phantom’s plans.
Perhaps the best thing about this novel is Howard’s writing. Whatever your thoughts are on the plot or characters, it’s undeniable that the atmosphere and aesthetic are on point. It’s dark and gritty and glamorous and the writing evokes just as colorful and vivid imagery as the cover does. It’s also appropriately eerie, and while definitely not a “horror” book, I found there to be some deeply unsettling imagery at times, such as bleeding roses found in an unmarked baby’s grave and empty IV tubes found in an abandoned chapel…see? Unsettling. (but no complaints here as it definitely worked with the story).
Without giving too much away regarding the plot, Roseblood is a novel that exists in the realm of several genres, including contemporary, romance, and paranormal. There’s the contemporary elements of Rune settling in at her new boarding school, attempting to navigate the social circles and competitive atmosphere and exploring the grounds and halls of the mysterious opera house. For anyone who loves a good YA boarding school tale, this will definitely satisfy that craving. Yet as the book progresses, it delves more and more into the realm of the paranormal, with legends coming to life, ancient artifacts coming into play, magical raves drawing innocents into the underbelly of Paris, and, of course, labyrinths and underground lairs (because what would a Phantom story be without an underground lair and moat?) I enjoyed the paranormal twists as it’s one of my favorite genres, however I do think that perhaps it could have done with one or two less paranormal elements and still been a strong story. At times there were so many paranormal things going on it was a bit hard to keep straight (I think the auras could have been left out, personally).
The novel is told in dual POVs, alternating between Rune and Thorn. While at times this POV shift was a little jarring, I appreciated that it allowed Howard to give not only her protagonist Rune a unique and eerie history, but it allowed her to flesh out a full backstory for the Phantom as told through Thorn’s memories, going far more in depth than what you’d expect about his childhood and relationship with Christine. I appreciate how she wove in her retelling of the Phantom’s background with other historical figures and occurrences, such as Saint Germain. It’s a fantastically unique take on the Phantom View Spoiler »and TBH the idea of the Phantom being an incubus wasn’t too far fetched at all to me. I can see how it would make sense. I wish, perhaps, that it hadn’t been used interchangeably with “vampires” just because that tends to now have a negative connotation in the YA world due to how overdone they’ve been in the paranormal genre. But overall I didn’t have too many qualms about the Phantom’s paranormal existence. « Hide Spoiler
One thing I will say is that this book took me a while to finish. It’s not a fast paced plot but rather much more of a slow burn that favors rich, detailed setting over action or even dialogue. While at times this did end up succumbing to some info dumps, I found the story so compelling that I was willing to overlook these instances in favor of the unique information. This isn’t a book to read if you’re looking for a speedy bump to your Goodreads goal, but rather a story to be savored.
Overall: For a Phantom fan like me, Roseblood will delight with its Gothic atmosphere and unsettling details conveyed through rich and decadent descriptions. While it’s admittedly an unconventional take that veers largely into paranormal elements, I still enjoyed the creativity and unique take on the tortured genius of the character of the Phantom. I adored this book and found only minor flaws that didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of the book. And you’re 100% right if you assumed that I’ve been listening to the Phantom soundtrack nonstop since I started reading Roseblood and through writing this review.