RoseBlood by A.G. Howard
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from 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.
What I Liked:
I'll admit - I don't know too much about The Phantom of the Opera. I think I've seen a movie version at some point in elementary school, but I don't remember that well. I know the basics of the story, but it has never really intrigued me. Still, knowing the basics of the story made me curious about this book, because The Phantom of the Opera has an interesting romance. I didn't like Howard's debut trilogy (well, the final book, anyway), but I loved this standalone.
Rune has an immense operatic talent, but she feels like she's cursed - she's always left drained and exhausted after singing. What's more, she did something awful, and she's pretty sure it's related to her singing ability and the exhaustion she experiences afterwards. Her mother and aunt pulls strings and get her into RoseBlood, a French arts conservatory, located in an opera house. Rune notices strange things at the academy; her uniforms go missing, she hears strange noises in the vents, and she keeps seeing a masked man dressed in Victorian-era clothes, but no one else seems to notice him. Everyone insists that the Phantom isn't real... but what if he is? He wants something from Rune, and Rune will have to understand her past in order to control her future.
This is a Gothic contemporary novel, set in modern-day France, but obviously with fantastical elements. There is a paranormal side to this book that I won't reveal, but it has everything to do with Rune's extraordinary singing ability, and her crippling exhaustion after singing. I loved the world-building of this story; I don't think I've read a story with a setting like this. I happen to adore boarding-school-esque settings, and this one did not disappoint. Plus, it's set in France! Close to Paris (though I'm not really sure where exactly). That was cool!
I liked Rune almost from the start. She didn't want to move all the way to France and go to RoseBlood, and she doesn't even want to sing. Her singing bursts forth and then leaves her exhausted, and there is nothing she can do about it. My heart ached for her, because it was almost as if her singing was controlling her. Rune is kind and almost innocent, though she is riddled with guilt over the terrible thing that she did. Throughout the book, we also see that she is compassionate and even selfless; she lets others think badly of her when really, she is trying to help them.
This book is told from Rune's first-person POV, but also Thorn's third-person POV. While I would have loved to read Thorn's POV in first-person, I certainly appreciated having both POVs to read from. Both voices were strong and distinct, and both were extremely necessary in telling the story. This isn't just Rune's story - it's Thorn's too.
Thorn is a mysterious occupant of RoseBlood. I don't want to say too much about him, because he is not who you think. Just as my heart ached for Rune, my heart broke for Thorn. His past is heartbreaking and cruel, and even his present life isn't joyful. He is stuck, and when Rune arrives, it's like something shifts. Thorn's story is so important, both past and present.
There are many secondary characters in this book, many of whom I absolutely adored. Sunny, Rune's mentor and peer, was hilarious. Jax, Quan, and Audrey were good friends to Rune. Kat and Roxie were cliche "mean girls", but they had their roles. I liked that Rune developed a better relationship with her Aunt Charlotte, towards the end of the book.
But mostly, I loved the relationship between Thorn and Rune. Their romance is seductive and thrilling and dreamy. I don't even know how to describe it. Rune has been seeing a boy with copper-colored eyes in her dreams, serenading her with a violin. It turns out that that is Thorn (and there is a reason, don't worry). They have been linked in dreams for quite some time, and meeting in person is... quietly explosive. I love their initial connection, and then the connection they form as they see more of each other, at RoseBlood. The romance is gently formed, but entrancingly so.
AND, there is no love triangle in this book! I was afraid that there would be, because there is potential for a love triangle, given the original story. Also, let's not forget the atrocity that was Howard's debut trilogy, in terms of a love triangle (atrocity to me, that is). But there was NO love triangle in this book. None!
I love how everything comes together, all the pieces and parts that Howard drops as the story progresses. Everything from Rune's father to her crazy grandmother, from Thorn's sad history to his and Rune's connection, makes sense as the end of the book gets close. It was interesting to put everything together and finally understand. I wouldn't say there was a huge mystery to solve or anything like that, but the author sets up the story so that you'll be wondering about this or that, until things are gradually revealed towards the climax of the book. Very well done.
I adored the ending of the book (though I wouldn't mind an epilogue). This ends perfectly, and exactly as a standalone should. I was so satisfied with the ending, I wanted to reread the book immediately upon finishing. I feel like many books these days (especially series enders) have ended so disappointingly. I'm glad this book did not.
What I Did Not Like:
This book easily could have done with more swoony scenes from Thorn and Rune. Swoony... or steamy. Don't get me wrong, the romance is plenty swoony (in a subtle way), and seductive, but there many physical, ah, interactions between them (please read between the lines and read "physical" as "kissing"). For a romance that was so seductive, there needed to be more kissing. And in any case, more is always good.
Other than that, meh. I don't have any complaints.
Would I Recommend It:
I definitely recommend this book! It's worth the buzz, that's for sure. I was indecisive about this one, because I didn't have a great experience with Howard's last book (Ensnared), but this book really worked for me. If you like the Phantom of the Opera (this is a retelling), or Gothic fantasy/paranormal/contemporary, then give this one a chance. Plus, there is lots of singing, and even some dancing. And again, no love triangle!
4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars. I will definitely be rereading this one, and recommending it to friends. It lives up to the hype (well, it's been hyped at least for me, in terms of the people I interact with and follow). I am curious to see what the author will come up with next!
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