#BookReview: The Phantom's Apprentice by Heather Webb

Historical Retelling

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In this re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera, meet a Christine Daaé you’ve never seen before…

Christine Daaé sings with her violinist father in salons all over Paris, but she longs to practice her favorite pastime—illusions. When her beloved Papa dies during a conjurer’s show, she abandons her magic and surrenders to grief and guilt. Life as a female illusionist seems too dangerous, and she must honor her father’s memory.

Concerned for her welfare, family friend Professor Delacroix secures an audition for her at the Opéra de Paris—the most illustrious stage in Europe. Yet Christine soon discovers the darker side of Paris opera. Rumors of murder float through the halls, and she is quickly trapped between a scheming diva and a mysterious phantom. The Angel of Music.

But is the Angel truly a spirit, or a man obsessed, stalking Christine for mysterious reasons tangled in her past?

As Christine’s fears mount, she returns to her magical arts with the encouragement of her childhood friend, Raoul. Newfound hope and romance abounds…until one fateful night at the masquerade ball. Those she cares for—Delacroix, the Angel, and even Raoul—aren’t as they seem. Now she must decide whom she trusts and which is her rightful path: singer or illusionist.

To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all.

Illustration by André Castaigne
I caught wind of Heather Webb’s The Phantom’s Apprentice at the 2017 Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland. A devout cover slut, I was immediately smitten with the jacket design, but I was equally intrigued by the premise of the narrative and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of my own.

Did the novel live up to my expectations? That is an interesting question. The Phantom’s Apprentice exists within Leroux’s canonical universe, but it is independent of his voice which is a fact that initially frustrated me a great deal. When I sat down to collect my thoughts, however, I realized that while Webb’s interpretation of the source material differed dramatically from my own, I quite liked the creativity, ideas, and details of the narrative. For this reason, I encourage fellow readers to approach the novel with an open mind.

Christine is the focal point of the narrative, and I liked how Webb used the book as a platform to flesh out her character. Christine is a passive and easily manipulated individual under Leroux’s pen, but she becomes a far more assertive and astute personality under Webb’s. I didn’t always agree with this version of Christine, but I certainly appreciated the ideas that shaped her make-up and the contemporary relevance those themes afforded.

That said, I am a reader of historical fiction and admit the contextual details of the narrative held great appeal in my eyes. Leroux capitalized on contemporary interest in the spiritualist movement by creating the story around a man who taunts the cast and crew of the Palais Garnier in the guise of a ghost. Webb expands on this idea with further exploration of the emotional landscape of the spiritualist movement and the means by which those emotions were both flamed and exploited.

Webb’s foray into the world of illusion is also worthy of note. The novel takes place during a particularly exciting period where developing technologies allowed for great advances in the field of stage magic. Though the techniques illustrated over the course of the narrative are not refined by today’s standards, I found the descriptions of Erik’s illusionary innovations intensely entertaining and couldn’t help appreciating the effort Webb put into authentically presenting the magician’s craft.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 4, 2018

"Despite my understanding of illusions, doubt mingled with facsination. I wanted to believe, even if it wasn't real."