What’s on my Shelf — August

More for my sake than yours, I’ve decided to keep tabs on my current reading list because I like the accountability. Thus, that means I’m going to try out doing a monthly reading list of what’s currently peaked my interested (or otherwise failed to). I may include brief ––  albeit my liberal version of the word –– reviews of each books’ contents. That said, below is the first batch off my shelf.

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A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

If you’ve ever wanted to read a scientist’s observations about dragons, especially set in a period not unlike Victorian England, then you should read this book and its sequential followers. Brennan has done a riveting, impeccable job of crossing the traditional boundaries of fiction to incorporate her own background of archeology and anthropology into a fantasy world of her own creation where dragons are the mysterious beasts which intrigue the minds of naturalists like her main character, Lady Isabella Trent.

Of course, she also succeeds in not so subtlety commenting on society’s inefficiencies and skewed misogynistic ideologies through her own protagonist’s struggles of being a woman with the mind and aspirations of man, especially in the realm of science. She defies tradition and finds her place among the beasts which have held her fascination since childhood, bringing about revolutionary discoveries with her findings.

While her plot’s action is not as driving and gripping as an action-packed novel, it does not bore the reader. It works very much like Downton Abbey in that, as my darling brother once said, “It’s a show where absolutely nothing happens, but it’s the most interesting thing on TV.” The same could be said of Brennan’s Natural History of Dragons, and readers will find there is more to the plot than meets the eye as it could easily be a serialized period drama on the BBC (and it should).

It’s a breathtaking, beautiful work of fiction. Brennan’s ability to talk with such articulate distinction of a dragon’s supposed anatomy is stunning. Reading A Natural History is like reading a work of Darwin or his contemporaries, but about dragons. Personally, I wanted more fantasy and mystical dragon lore, but there was some. Overall, I was still very satisfied with the novel. A must read for anyone who wants to be simultaneously educated and entertained.

(I have also started the second in the series, The Tropic of Serpents, and I’m looking forward to reading the other three.)

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RoseBlood by A. G. Howard

I had such high hopes for this novel. Probably too high. However, I was equally prepared for disappointment, just not in the form in which it came.

RoseBlood is a retelling of a personal favourite and obsession, The Phantom of the Opera. Except I wouldn’t classify it as a “pure” retelling. More a sequel that embellishes the original while still honouring the source material. Though, there is one embellishment which I abhor and I think ruins the main character in question, the Phantom himself, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

About four chapters in, I guessed the entire plot. It was fairly obvious. (I’m obsessed with Phantom, remember?)

The main protagonist, Rune, is attending this acclaimed school, RoseBlood, in hopes that she will be able to overcome her stage fright and anxiety which plagues her ability to perform, even though she has an unequalled voice. Whilst there, she stumbles upon a great secret in the form of a lurking shadow named Thorn, who happens to be the adopted son of the Phantom himself.

But how can the Phantom be alive? It’s set in present day France. Shouldn’t he be dead? Yes, but as it turns out in Howard’s version, the Phantom is now a psychic vampire. *rolls eyes*

If you read her Author’s Note, you understand she drew her inspiration from an online Phan forum where she first read this particular Phan theory. However, for a Phan such as myself, turning the Phantom into a vampire completely destroys the essence of who he is, the nature of his being; the mystery, intrigue, allure, and power behind the mask.

What made the Phantom so remarkable and formidable a foe –– who has haunted countless tales since his creation as well as the urban lore of the Palais Garnier –– was his humanity. Take that away from him, and he becomes something else entirely. He’s no longer an empathetic villain who is mercifully redeemed by his muse, a portrait of ourselves grasping in this dark, cold world at whatever fragments of light exist as we hope they shed their beauty on us in the form of acceptance and ultimately love. Instead, he becomes shallow, hollow, and cliché. For me, turning the Phantom into a vampire is lazy.

I realise my strong opinion is a minority, and albeit a bit harsh, but if there’s anything I’m entitled to in this life, err the only thing, it’s my opinion.

The corresponding plot matches the original Leroux novel brilliantly, also drawing details from other adaptations such as the internationally acclaimed West End musical. The deuteragonist, Thorn, teaches Rune how to sing and overcome her stage fright, they meet and declare their love for one another on the school’s roof top under the threat of the Phantom’s wrath, there’s a masquerade ball, the opera house academy burns to the ground, there’s a chandelier crash, and the Phantom’s lair floods. It’s all there.

What is added is the subplot of the decaying Phantom trying to “resurrect” his infant daughter, whom he has preserved in a cryogenic chamber like Mr. Freeze from the Batman comics. All he needs is to dissect Rune’s voice out of her living body to give her, and then he’ll have the happy family he’s always wanted.

Also, Thorn and Rune are Aristotelian twin flames, the split soul of Christine reincarnated into two lovers, and they’re both psychic vampires like Erik. Oh, and Rune is the descendant of a gypsy vampire who help Erik escape his tortured childhood for a brief time on his way to becoming the Phantom, but after he died his children, her other ancestors, sought their revenge on him. It’s complicated.

In spite of my discrepancies against the plot’s contents, Howard is an astounding writer. One example is she effortlessly shifts between third and first person to differentiate who’s perspective you’re reading, whether it be Rune or Thorn. Furthermore, you can tell she researched the heck out of this novel’s contents.

My one factual problem is no one under the age of 20 (and that’s generous) is going to be training for an operatic career. Physically speaking, it’s wrong. You can damage a student’s voice if you start such intense training too soon. There are very, very rare exceptions, but usually they’re no younger than 17. Thus, having a high school devoted to the study of opera is extremely difficult for me to accept. Fine Arts and Performance, sure. Opera, no.

While I had a lot of issues with the plot –– many caused by my compromised moral compass constantly freaking out as if it were in a magnetic field –– I stuck with the book out of honour for one of my all-time favourite stories. (And also the story of the two lovers, Rune and Thorn. I wanted more of it.)

And I hate that. I hate that I’m a purist who wants very specific things for her beloved characters. I hate that I have such harsh opinions about this book. However, even as a die-hard Andrew Lloyd Webber-Phantom Phan, I can’t stand the idea that even he would make a sequel to his classic with Love Never Dies. That sequel does not exist to me.

Regardless, if you’re into Gothic romance and vampires, it’s a great novel. Really. Don’t let my personal views keep you from reading it. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it was poorly written, nor that you should not read it. Overall, I’m ambivalent.

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Air Awakens, the Complete Series by Elise Kova

(Read separate post which reviews the series here.)

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Other books on my “for later” shelf:

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

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