I had thought I was over the story of The Phantom of the Opera. I had seen the musical no less than three times on Broadway, watched the movie at least twice on TV, and went through several (as in ten, but more like fifteen) years of regular benders listening to the CD on repeat. So when I picked up Heather Webb’s The Phantom’s Apprentice, a retelling of the famous story first written by Gaston Leroux in 1910, I found myself wondering – can it deliver any new thrills for me?
It turns out it can.
The novel traces Christine Daae’s rise from an itinerant musician’s daughter to a celebrated singer at the Paris Opera, with the help of a mysterious recluse known as the Opera Ghost. We learn the story of her father’s death in a theater fire, and of her finding a measure of comfort and protection in the kindly Madame Valerius’s household. That is where she meets Monsieur Delacroix, an amateur scientist whose life goal it is to disprove the existence of ghosts and spirits. When Delcroix realizes Christine’s association with the phantom, he tries to use her to lure him out of the shadows.
Some of the storylines parallel the previous versions of the story, but the appeal of The Phantom’s Apprentice stems from its shift of perspective. It is not only told in Christine’s voice, it also highlights how, by force of will and strength of principle, she navigates the hostile world to carve out a place for herself. Facing violence and threat of exploitation from Delacroix, from the phantom, and even from the opera’s backstage workers, she remains steadfast in her quest for a future that would be her own. A future where she would be free from fear, uncertainty and dependence on others.
Along the way, we learn the origins of the phantom’s obsession with Christine: at the root of lies a dark family secret of love, betrayal, murder and vengeance that links the two of them inextricably together.
A haunting tale, The Phantom’s Apprentice is set against the glittering background of the fin-de-siècle Paris, where entertainment and gilded beauty mask loneliness and pain, and nothing is what it seems.
And for fans of Heather’s writing, I highly recommend checking out her other historical fiction titles, including The Last Christmas in Paris that I had the pleasure to review on this blog in 2017.