“…looking at Etalon and seeing into his soul is like looking into my own….I don’t have experience with romantic love, but this stretches beyond that…an astounding, wondrous, and terrifying consumption of my entire being that is also somehow the summation of who I am.”
“I finally know the truth…and I don’t want to relinquish my gift. It is mine.” -A. G. Howard (Rune Germain)
In RoseBlood, teenager Rune Germain is a gifted singer; unfortunately, she considers her gift a curse. Instead of ruling over her songs, they possess her. She has little control over her urge to sing, and her impromptu performances leave her drained. In an effort to help Rune refine her talent, her mother sends her to an operatic boarding school near Paris. The boarding school, named RoseBlood, is housed in a former opera house: the same opera house where The Phantom of the Opera supposedly took place.
Upon arrival, Rune quickly starts noticing connections between her life at the boarding house and The Phantom of the Opera, including sightings of a mysterious boy who hides his face behind a mask. As Rune’s relationship with the boy grows, she gains control over her music and learns the truth behind her miraculous and sinister gift.
This was a very interesting book. I only recently read The Phantom of the Opera, but I thought that A.G. Howard did a great job of capturing the spooky feel of the original novel. She also portrayed the Opera Ghost, Erik, in a way that stayed true to Leroux’s character. Just like in The Phantom of the Opera, Erik is a misunderstood and pathetic villain. Throughout the story, I felt torn between pitying and despising him, which makes for an interesting antagonist.
However, A.G. Howard definitely does not stop at the themes found in The Phantom of the Opera. She touches on quite a few classic fantasy and sci-fi themes, including vampires, soul mates, immortals, reincarnation, auras, incubi, succubi, and cryogenics. She took a very fresh and original take to several of these, especially the portrayal of incubi as spiritual vampires. I had not seen the combination of several of these themes before, and she wove them together in a very original way. For example, she introduced the concept that soul mates are really two halves of a soul that literally split when it was reincarnated. Very interesting idea, and definitely not what I normally think of when I use the term soul mate.
Unfortunately, I thought that A.G. Howard really tried to tackle too much with RoseBlood. Some of the concepts worked really well with the Phantom of the Opera theme, and others did not. Plus, trying to wrap my head around everything that was going on with the various fantasy elements was difficult at times. I think if she had stuck to a couple of concepts and really explored them, RoseBlood would have been an easier and more enjoyable read. With the huge amount of fantasy background, the story was a little scattered. For such a long book, it really covered very little ground, plot wise, in part because so much time was devoted to the fantasy lore of the novel. For the length of the book, relatively little time elapsed.
Which brings me to my next point. The timing of RoseBlood was a little strange at certain points. At several moments during the novel a climactic scene would take place, and I felt the POV should naturally turn to Thorn, or Etalon, Rune’s love interest. Instead, there would be strange gaps in time that were summed up in a couple of paragraphs. This was especially frustrating after the ending climax, when the ramifications of the last conflict were almost completely skipped over. What was the aftermath? We didn’t really get to see it for ourselves.
One of the most important scenes, a moment when Erik had to choose between his agenda and his adopted son, Thorn, was completely skipped over. We only got to hear about it in a sum-up from Thorn after the fact. I thought, what the heck? For someone invested in this story, I think that was a really important scene that definitely should have been included. That was a plot point I wanted to see resolved myself.
This strange timing and lack of true plot development was also a problem in the development of Thorn and Rune’s relationship. The problem with the soul mate theme in general is that it can lead to shallow relationships where the characters instinctively know that they are meant for each other, but the readers are left in some doubt. Thorn and Rune didn’t even meet until half way through the novel, and I did not feel that the progression of their feelings was very believable. Just look at the first quote I included. That is a little extreme, in my opinion, and it is what makes “soul mates” a difficult theme to pull of successfully. Similarly, Rune’s friendships didn’t seem to progress naturally. They basically went from acquaintances to close friends; the whole period of time when they were growing closer was skipped over. During the whole course of RoseBlood, there was a lot of telling rather than showing, and it was frustrating as a reader that wants to “see” things for herself.
Following Good: RoseBlood was pretty clean for a YA novel. There was some minor cursing, and a couple of intense, sexual tension-filled kissing scenes. Sexual relationships for 17 year olds are clearly accepted, but not explored. LGBT content was limited to two minor characters.
Rating: I would put RoseBlood at 2 stars. I liked its originality and spooky ambience. But honestly, Rune was a pretty stereotypical teenage heroine, and the school environment was definitely stereotypical in several ways. The cluttered, overly-themed fantasy was a little overwhelming and left too little time for plot and relationship development. If you are a fan of The Phantom of the Opera, A.G. Howard, or gothic fantasy/romance, RoseBlood might be for you. If not, you may want to pass on it. For me, it was just ok. If you are looking to read something by A.G. Howard, I would recommend Stain. It was a little more cohesive for me.