For the wins of Roseblood, please hop on over to my brownie-in-law’s blog and read what she has to say.
The Sins of RoseBlood
Oh my. Everything? Can I just say that everything about this book was a sin?
That’s not good enough for you, is it? Actually, it’s not good enough for me either. It’s important that you realize exactly how much this book failed.
Note: This review contains a LOT of spoilers. Please stop reading if that will make you unhappy.
The Font is Red, a Horror Story:
Help me, my eyes are bleeding. Oh, wait. That’s because, in a bizarre effort to be cutesy, someone decided that the font in this story should not be black, like every other sensible book on the market, oh no. It’s RED. Let me ask you something. Have you ever hopped on an old blog or myspace online (say, from the 90s) that hasn’t ever been updated? Sometimes the background is a gradient. Sometimes the font is a bright fuschia or lime green to catch your attention. How long can you stare at that before your eyeballs ache? Survey says: 2.5 seconds. At most.
RoseBlood’s font is red. It’s not cute– it achieves the same thing that those 90s blogs did. It’s eye-catching, but it immediately becomes grating, annoying, and it’s actually waaaaaaaaaay harder to read. Our brains aren’t programmed to read colored font for long periods of time.
Bonus: Sentence #1: “At home, I have a poster on my wall of a rose that’s bleeding.”
I knew this book was going to be a bundle of riotous good funTM after I misread the sentence as: ‘At home, I have a poster on my wall of a nose that’s bleeding’
And really, is that any less creepy? Why does she have a picture of a rose that’s bleeding. A bleeding rose, people. The first sentence of RoseBlood is about roses… and blood. Wow.
You want to know why? It’s because A.G. Howard has precisely zero percent idea how to be subtle and even less an idea how to foreshadow properly.
The world actually can’t work this way:
I lost track of how many times I rolled my eyes… in the first chapter, and let’s not even talk about the rest of the book. Nothing is actually grounded in reality. For example, apparently, RoseBlood (or Le Theatre Liminaire, as it’s called in France, or maybe in history, who knows) burned. The entire top floor burned up randomly, which means the roof probably burned too, but apparently, nobody said “Hey, hold up, we can’t live in a building with no proper roof. Plus it’s unstable. I don’t know what kind of crackpot architect designed this but they should go to the guillotine.” The basement apparently also has a basement, and one (both?) are flooded. Perfect! So everyone gets to inhale airborne mold and ash all the time! Brava!
Bonus #2: Four years olds are not ‘toddlers’ and have already learned how to sing their ABCs. This one, I’m not certain that Ms. Howard didn’t do on purpose. Maybe she wants Rune to be a slowly-developing child. But it was just another stone in the pile of things that cause this story to seem so ungrounded in reality that I have to add it.
Bonus #3: There is glittery smoke.
Bonus #4: The roses actually bleed. No rhyme or reason. They just do. And sometimes they’ll spell out Rune’s name in blood. Neat, right?
People Don’t Talk Like That: an essay in how dialogue is actually supposed to be.
Okay, okay. *Rubs temples* What is the point of people talking to each other, in real life? To communicate. Sometimes it’s banal, sometimes it’s pretty fragmented. I feel like A.G. Howard maybe never has had an actual conversation in her life, because most of the dialogue in this book is super fake. Does anyone know the cardinal sin of dialogue?
No? Okay. The Cardinal SinTM of dialogue is when you info dump. What’s that? When two characters are talking and telling each other things that they already know. These experiences are in the past, but the reader needs to know them, so the characters have to rehash a conversation that seems really bizarre about something they both know. It might sound something like this:
“They found a skeleton in the deepest basement, floating in the water. A skeleton, Mom. Do I really need another reason to be scared of water? This weather . . . it’s an omen.”
“Right,” Mom scoffs. “Any minute you’ll start preaching about auras and visions.”
Tension knots in my shoulders. My dad and grandma spoke of auras a lot, as if they could see them. And since I see rainbows when I sing, I used to think that ability had passed on to me.
Do skeletons float? No. No, they do not.
Weirdly fragmented, like she shoved an entire backstory into a snippet of dialogue. Luckily, the skeleton, the flooded ‘deepest basement’, and really even the auras don’t have any bearing on this story. Enter a long and semi-cryptic discussion about a grandmother who thought Rune was a witch and tried to drown her. Rune has all these weird magical powers (she absolutely has to sing when she hears opera and then she has to drift away in a dead faint– or if she doesn’t, she’s wracked with terrible burning pains. Oh! and she sees auras. And her eyes glow. And she’s supernaturally melodramatic–oh. I think that might actually be A.G. Howard’s author voice seeping through) so I’m not sure that ol’ Grandma Lilith was wrong.
Enter the Sexy and Mysterious Young Phantom of Everyone’s Dreams
His name? Thorne. His real name is Etalon but the Real Opera GhostTM calls him Thorne. And since this is France, obviously Thorne is a French word….? No. It’s another cutesy way of being heavy-handed about the whole ‘bleeding roses’ thing. The actual French word for Thorne is épine.
Thorne is unbelievably perfect. He controls the life force of a bunch of firefly larvae, who light up and sparkle with a wave of his hand. He’s flawless (he wears a mask to hide his… I don’t know. He’s really dramatic too and wears a mask just for kicks) and young and handsome and he lurks in the tunnels and he does surgery on animals to replace their vocal chords? Hm. That’s a little creepy, but okay. He also sucks the life force out of roses. Also pretty creepy. And he, like his counterpart, is the very epitome of stalker/ creeper. Speaking of creepy, take a gander at this sentence:
“His mouth watered, hungry to taste those melodies, mocking his struggle to rein in his cravings. He’d never seen the girl’s face in their subconscious interactions. It was always covered by her wild, black hair, or submurged in murky water as she fought to break out of the wooden crate that entrapped her. But he’d glimpsed her eyes many times– a bright, electrified green with widened pupils when they were filled with song, reflections of her heart chakra.” (pg 30)
She’d need to venture out soon. If she didn’t on her own, he would lure her out. When he’d looked in on her earlier, she was seated on the first-tier steps inside the foyer, penning a note on a piece of stationary as translucent as the dress she wore. Had it not been for her sweater and leggings, he could’ve admired that expanse of skin, the way it glowed milky soft and radiant with energy. He wanted to do more than watch from afar. He wanted to stir the music inside her, to drink the pure white light pulsing through her veins.
He fought the craving, thinking instead on the beauty of the frilly, sculpted paper beneath her feather quill– an illusion of lace and ribbon. An illusion like Rune. she might resemble an angel, but there was a ravenous demon waiting to be roused within. If he were to cinch that dark, silken cord of rhapsody hanging loose between them, he could help her wake it… and together they could tame it. (pgs 125-126)
Read that drivel again. Read it and weep.
This is not romantic, it’s creepy. Also, not a lot of it actually makes sense. There’s so much flowery and unnecessary language that the meaning is pretty hard to root out.
The Point of Magic:
The point of magic in a story is to add depth to a world. To allow a character to be more or less powerful. To be…cool. Please note that magic, like the world, must have rules and reasons. Let’s list the supernatural/ magical things in this story:
Familiars: there are sentient animals that are ‘familiars’ for the Phantom and Phantom Jr. These are a scary black cat (Diable) and a crimson swan (Ange). Oh wow. The Angel and the Demon. Cool. Nice light touch, there.
Chakras: Chakra (meaning “wheel, circle”), sometimes spelled Cakra or Cakka, is any center of subtle body believed to be psychic-energy centers in the esoteric traditions of Indian religions. The point of including this? Inclusivity. That’s all. Which makes me angry.
Vampirism: Yes, you read that right. The Phantom and Phantom Jr. are vampires. Oh, and so is Rune. Yay. They’ve managed to alter (?) their vampiric nature to feed, not on blood, but on energy. And it makes their eyes glow copper. But really, being out in the sun, near silver, or iron, or salt, or anything that in some stories can banish vampires… does nothing. Good luck.
Mirror souls/ reincarnation: Yep. Rune is the reincarnated Christine and she and Thorne are twin halves of the same soul. Meaning, they’re the split soul of Christine. Think about that and tell me it’s not twisted and messed up.
Phantom Sr. is just as creepy in this as he was in the stories: A story about Erik and his infant daughter who he’s kept in stasis for many years and who he believes can be made alive if he can just cut out Rune’s voice.
Plot: *maniacal laughter*
Hearken back with me, if you were ever a writer, to your first days of scribbling. If you’re like me, you were seven and had nooooo idea how the world actually worked. Everything was pretty spectacular, and whenever your characters needed something, presto! it appeared. There were no consequences to anything. That weird, youthful naivete perforates this novel.
Every solution pops up right when needed. There’s no scene-sequel. It’s all just a string of mystery or cool stuff until you conclude the story with a vapid happy ever after… with a creeper… in a graveyard.
Don’t get me wrong, I love graveyards. That’s not the point.
Character: A study in utter and complete boredom.
All you need to know is that Rune is boring and melodramatic, Thorne is boring and melodramatic, the Phantom Sr. is boring and melodramatic, the headmistress and all the students are boring and melo— okay. You get it. Nobody acts like actual people. And they’re boring.
Conclusion: Clumsy, obvious, pointless, and plotless.
Am I being too harsh? Hm, no. You see, there are rules about writing. There are even more rules, believe it or not, about writing well. It seems to me that none of these rules are taken into account by the average YA reader, who embraces drivel and trash in the name of fiction. Stand up and tell the editors and authors of this world that they should at least try to achieve some level of quality.
Could I go on for another 2000 words about everything awful in this story? You betcha. But I won’t. It’s too frustrating. Keep in mind, dear reader, that just because something is popular, doesn’t mean it’s well done. This is a great example.
One last comment:
Why am I so incensed about this book? Because a cool retelling of the Phantom of the Opera would be so easy. It writes itself! All the elements of a great story are already built in! Don’t believe me? Okay: mysterious chapels, luxurious opera houses, believable drama, the fact that hidden tunnels and rooms are part of opera house lore, France, graveyards, ghosts and mirrors and smoke, and secret messages and old letters and by all that is good how can you fail so spectacularly and have such an awesome starting point?!?!