For Christian Daaé, the limitless, awe-inspiring power of music to create worlds and touch souls was an accepted truth in his childhood home. Having a talented composer for a father who nurtured this love of music, as well as Christian’s own singing abilities, made performance and the stage his home and an integral part of who Christian was. However, after Christian’s father died when he was a young boy, no matter how hard he trained in conservatory or his many performances on stage, by eighteen, Christian lost his connection to music, that spark in himself. He became content to show the world the more appealing and acceptable mask of the ingénue chorus girl, Christine Daaé, rather than the more somber Christian, whose attraction towards other men could only find acceptance within the opera house.
That is until Christian hears a sensuous voice in the walls of the opera house attic, beckoning Christian to come and let him guide Christian to his full potential. Deeming this unknown presence to be the Angel of Music his father promised to send him from heaven, Christian submits to the Angel’s mentorship for months, unware his “angel” is a flesh and blood man named Erik. Erik has been obsessed with Christian since the first time he heard Christine perform and knows that Christian belongs to him; that the purity and magic of his voice is the perfect creative conduit for his compositions; and once he has fully rekindled the fire within Christian and helped him embrace his true potential, Christian will have no choice but to accept their musical destiny together. However, his plans are derailed when Christian’s childhood friend, Raoul d’Chagny enters the scene and becomes a contender for Christian’s true passions.
As Christian spends more time with Erik the man and sees Raoul outside the lens of childhood friendship, he struggles to figure out who he really is, what he truly wants for his life, and who he loves.
I chose Masquerade for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week for our Reading Challenge Month for several reasons. I noticed the cover initially because the bold lettering of the title and the red and gold coloring caught my eye at the bottom of my screen for suggested books. When I actually looked at the cover and saw the red and gold flashes were in the iconic shape of the phantom’s mask, I had to click the link. The mask on the cover was intriguing, at first because the scarlet and gold colors reminded me of the masquerade ball in The Phantom of the Opera and the Opera Ghost’s (OG) boldest appearance in his scarlet costume with its gold embroidery, proclaiming himself to be “Red Death.” However, when I looked closer, between the script in the scarlet, the cracks, the fire, and, of course, the music notes, the mask seemed to be telling its own story, and I wanted to know what that story was.
Masquerade, Joel Abernathy’s retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, is definitely his own so if you are looking for the major Gothic elements, such as the mysterious, supernatural feel; the horror; the high drama OG brought to the story; and the more unforgiving/murderous or harrowing aspects of Erik’s OG persona, then you might be a bit disappointed. However, if you go in willing to see what Abernathy does with the major Gothic atmosphere off the table because the story is told in first person from Erik and Christian’s POVs, then you still might enjoy this version. Personally, while I did miss some of it, I liked Abernathy’s take, especially his development of other characters, such as Madame Giry.
As for the MCs themselves, Christian is young, still grieving his father, and adrift. He’s uncertain how to process his conflicting emotions when dealing with someone like Erik—a confessed murderer and monster who, nevertheless, appreciates, creates, and understands music like no one but Christian’s father. I think Abernathy does a good job keeping Christian the virginal, wholesome ingénue without making him too dull and boring (as these types of characters tend to be), especially when compared to the anti-hero, who by definition always has a more complex backstory, and Erik is no exception. While Erik does admit to doing horrific things, they occur mostly off page. Since the supernatural “thrill” is toned down in Masquerade, OG’s antics aren’t as important to this book; moreover, even when Erik does something as OG, it is often tamer as a result of Christian’s influence.
Abernathy does a decent job overall of evoking a 19thcentury air in his characters’ dialogue, particularly when Erik is being darkly poetic and/or rhapsodizing about the transformative powers of music. So much so that I tripped very hard over the word “transgender” and had a “What is that ‘70s word” doing in my 19th century romance” moment. Maybe since the scene and the reason for the word’s inclusion is so short, Abernathy thought it would help get Christian’s dilemma across more easily by having a transgender character he could talk to, and stating it with modern words. However, I’ve read enough historical romances with transgender and genderfluid characters written by writers dedicated to period accurate wording to known that these characters can be portrayed fully and effectively without modern words. So instead of it feeling like a natural, sharing moment between two characters, it felt like a repurposing of the “magical negro” trope into the “magical queer” trope. I know that’s not what the author intended, but that’s just how distracting that moment was for me.
For the most part, I enjoyed how Abernathy shaped Erik and Christian’s journey, not only using the love triangle between Erik, Christian, and Raoul to explore how people and society mask truly monstrous natures behind acceptable façades, but also how people’s shared interests and creativity can connect them to pieces of themselves they’ve lost, which is where the most beautiful parts of the story can be found. How Abernathy describes Christian and Erik’s growing bond through their kinship to the music; how Erik’s obsession develops into genuine love; how Christian inspires Erik’s better nature, as well as his creativity; how Christian not only rediscovers his love of music, but a connection to his father and a confidence in himself—it’s beautiful and touches my music nerd heart in a way that makes me appreciate this retelling for bringing the music to the forefront, which was OG’s first love after all.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of two sets of 3 audiobooks (or ebooks if preferred) from Riptide Publishing! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here.