Darkness Brings the Dawn (2006)

     by Jodie Leisure Minton

This is a preposterously bad book.

 

The clues start, as they do in so many bad sequels, with Minton's dedication. When the major players being thanked are Erik and "Gerry", we know what direction we’re going in without any wasted time. The most interesting part is the author's assertion that there are many "secret messages" in the novel that only her most ardent readers will understand, leading me to question almost everything that happens in case it's just an allegory for a different flavor of nonsense. Is the missing period in this dedication part of the secret messages? This can't bode well for my blood pressure.

 

Preface

 

This preface means business. It is not short. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's the beginning of the terrible, horrible, soul-sucking and constant parade of examples of exactly how bad a writer Minton is. From the random italics, the unfathomable amount of misplaced punctuation, the endless comma splices, the run-on sentences so massive that it's difficult to understand them, and the random spaces dotting the text just for fun and games, it's clear that she has no idea how to properly signpost her work. More than that, however, it's clear that she also has the mother of all boners for Gerard Butler (the aforementioned "Gerry", of course), the Phantom of the 2004 Schumacher film, and that you had better agree with her or get the fuck out.

 

Not that there's anything wrong with liking Butler's portrayal of the Phantom. Lots of people do. But when you wax on and on about how "Mr. Butler's singing voice was beautiful and melodic", well… perhaps you would also find the mating bellows of an elephant seal beautiful and melodic.

 

At any rate, all personal preferences aside, Minton informs us that you must have seen the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film in order to truly "get" her book. The Leroux novel simply will not do, nor even the original Lloyd Webber stage musical. I wasn't kidding earlier when I said that this is apparently a very exclusive party.

 

The famous Ecclesiastes quote appended to the end of this is nice, though.

 

Chapter 1

 

I know the source material for this book, but even so it kills me every time I see someone set their Phantom story in 1871 as if it were a completely normal and reasonable time for the story to occur. The Palais Garnier wasn't even built yet in 1871, still a half-finished skeleton with a facade that was plagued by funding problems, political upheaval, and various invasions. More to the point, there's a war going on at this time that makes opera-going pretty much nil. I would, however, absolutely love a prequel-style story in which Erik is involved in the Communard revolution that used the half-finished opera house as a base. So maybe someday we’ll get that.

 

But, anyway, in a magically untouched-by-Prussians-or-revolution Paris of 1871, Erik is tearfully yet masculinely escaping from the opera house immediately following the events of the previous story. Pretty much the second he manages to escape the burning opera house and manhunt within via the clever means of taking a rowboat out onto the nearby river where mysteriously no one will notice him whatsoever, he happens across a dirty street urchin of a boy whose soulful puppy-dog eyes instantly convince him that he should share his food, boat, and time for the foreseeable future while fleeing from the authorities on a presumably dangerous journey. 

 

Why? Who knows? It's sympathy, you see, because the boy is frail and "wafe-like", whatever that means. To add to her already legion sins against the written word, Minton goes on to write out a local-color accent for the boy to illustrate his low-class piteousness, including dropping the g's from -ing words and using such phrases as "I didna mean to steal". (You think it's funny that this makes this random French boy look Scottish? So did I. That's because you haven't gotten far enough into this book to know despair yet.)

 

Oh, and of course everyone has to use random French words, because this story is set in France, dammit, and how else will the reader know?!

 

The boy, whose epically French name is Jake, is also SO PAINFULLY OBVIOUSLY ACTUALLY A GIRL WEARING PANTS that Erik looks completely oblivious for not noticing when the reader can’t help noticing. He even thinks that she has "almost girl like features", and thinks it's weird that she's gasping and turning red when he reveals his nekkid chest, but eh, it's probably nothing.

 

Oh, and now it's time to start consciousness-hopping between the two of them, sometimes mid-paragraph with no warning. I’m pretty convinced that "mon dieu" is the only French cussin' phrase Minton knows and that learning more was apparently just too much of a hassle, because we’re going to hear it a lot. Which is too bad, because if there's a language with a reputation for colorfully filthy swearing, it's nineteenth-century French.

 

Somewhere on this already stunningly ill-considered and boring journey, Erik manages to fall out of his own boat so that his mask can fall off and we can establish that Jake, of course, doesn't give two shits about his oh-so-horrific-and-estranging appearance. Of course, this is based on the 2004 film, so she's right in thinking that it's definitely surprising but not worth being put off by after the initial shock - but that just plays into the problems the film had with that idea in the first place. Either this disfigurement is not very bad, in which case it's hard to keep up sympathy for Erik's whines about being locked away from his fellow men forever when the war going on right now is probably doing way more visible physical damage to people than he will ever have to carry, or it is bad and the movie makeup is just representing that rather than showing it literally, in which case Jake should either have some explanation of why she's more sensitive than the rest of Paris' population or be having just as much of a fucking fit as EVERYONE ELSE WHO HAS EVER SEEN IT. 

 

Erik has a moment of clarity in which he tells the "boy" to leave him alone, but immediately then invites him to be a fellow traveler on his journey anyway. Almost slipped the author’s control there for a second, I see.

 

Chapter 2

 

Something I do like about this book's approach is that Erik, in his numerous flashbacks to the previous business with Christine, acknowledges the father role inherent in the Phantom's character, noting his intentional insertion of himself into a paternal role for her and comparing their early relationship to one between father and daughter. Many sequels and even rewrites tend to ignore this dynamic in favor of sexytimes, sweetness and light, or just plain avoiding the creepy incest/manipulation overtones inherent in it, but it's something that makes their relationship more complex and richer in nuance when included. Not that Minton is doing anything with it here - it's mentioned, but flashback time is over pretty soon and Erik's relationship with Christine is unimportant to this book's goals - but I am glad that it exists, at least.

 

In case you were wondering, the previous story's leading man is mentioned only once in passing, and his name is spelled as "Raoal".

 

Despite being a super-genius (and apparently a richy mcrichpants since he goes off and outright buys a coach and four instead of renting them to get to his destination), Erik still can't recognize that there's something weird about Jake, despite his oh-so-very-street ability to accurately assess the worth and care of horseflesh on the fly. What do you mean there might be a shocking discovery in store soon?

 

Mercifully, Minton gives up on trying to hoodwink the audience around page 20, so we no longer have to put up with "oblique" references to Jake's gender when it is totally revealed that, surprise, she is female. Erik will continue to be the kind of oblivious that can't figure this out for a while yet, sadly. Our inaugural scene for Jake embracing her womanhood is her deciding that it's worth it to risk the entire charade (she thinks Erik will send her home if he finds out that she's a woman, because obviously that's the worst thing that could happen to a lone woman out in the wilderness with a dude and not so much as a chemise around to cover her) so that she can get a bath, and to that end decides to steal one of the horses to ride into town and get one while Erik is asleep, because apparently she is also totally unaware of the sorts of things that happen to horse thieves. 

 

When she is caught icing this cake full of fail, Erik puts the cherry on top by just telling her to go back to sleep and rehitching his horse, because hanging out with and not even vaguely punishing a confirmed horse thief (who is a RANDOM BOY YOU DON'T KNOW AND PICKED UP FOR LITERALLY NO REASON WHATSOEVER) while you have fancy new horses is excellent problem-solving. Horses are fucking expensive, Erik! Then again, that has no bearing on this story since he has a literally bottomless pocket full of money and there is never even a vague hint that he can't afford any goddamn thing in the world he wants.

 

Oh, and both of you are supposedly super-knowledgeable and experienced with horses, and yet you're going to sleep and leaving them hitched to the coach all night? Not only are you terrible, you apparently also want the entire coach stolen as efficiently as possible.

 

Erik spends some more time not figuring out that Jake is a woman, despite musing on how weird it is that she won't take baths in the river when he does and keeps all her clothes pulled up way too high despite the heat. There could be plenty of other reasons for this - people don’t like being exposed for lots of reasons, and anatomy doesn’t necessarily correlate to gender - but I think we all know better even this early on than to think Minton is even aware of any of these possibilities.

 

How many more times is Erik going to get conveniently shirtless just so Jake can drool over that hot bod? We've already done it like four times, this last time for no good reason whatsoever in an added scene that seriously has no other function (Erik must strip down to repair the coach's busted wheel, which, for good measure, broke when the horses "bulked" at a rabbit). When Minton said that you needed to watch the Schumacher/Butler film to truly get her novel, I didn't quite realize that this was because she wanted you to have the right imagery for hundreds of pages of boring softcore pseudoporn.

 

So it's not surprising that Erik is not exactly the dancing skeleton he was in Leroux's novel, but even so I'm about as bored by the endless descriptions of "the sinewy muscles of his abs" as it is possible to be within just a few chapters. Awesome period lingo there, and I see that the opera ghost has time in his busy day to get his crunches in. Perchance in a mall?

 

The language, by the way, is overtly sexual even when sexytimes are not happening and everyone is clothed. Sadly, it's not good sexual overtones - it's all very blatant, usually unvaried, and uniformly unhelpful in either describing what's happening or adding to the story. Those who came for the theoretically titillating descriptions of Erik's "long, hard torso" or the moment when "his green eyes colliding with hers so harshly it penetrated her senses" occurred, however, will find no shortage of them.

 

"She didn't possess the finite skills or worldliness that most women knew about men, but she was certain that this was a man who would be sinfully, and seductively possessive in a very primal and sexual way to any woman that he decided was his. And that thought totally fascinated her. That she was attracted to him, was something she absolutely refused to think about!"

 

Page 26, you're killing me here. NOT ONLY have we already jumped on the "possession of women is sexy! Go on, guess the percentage chance that this character only exists to provide gratification for the Phantom without having any identity of her own!" bandwagon, but the writing is positively bizarre. "Finite skills"? As opposed to what, the infinite sexytime skills that are out there? And "worldliness that most women knew about men"? What?

 

In case Erik the Orphan-Adopter wasn't acting weirdly enough yet, Minton decides to finally toss the last shreds of his original characterization to the wind and have him decide to playfully dunk Jake in the lake and take off all of her clothes, because if there's one thing we all think of when someone mentions the Phantom of the Opera, it's somebody playfully stripping other possibly underage dudes in the middle of a lake. Naturally, this causes Jake to transform from a street urchin boy into a stunning and fully-mature and voluptuous redheaded woman, further reinforcing the conclusion that Erik, who has failed completely to notice the generous boobage, must be as observant as a rock.

 

Apparently Erik can "feel the fiction of her taut young breasts" against him. Man, she's a really early adopter of implants.

 

Furious at his behavior, Jake marches off behind the coach in high dudgeon and Erik, who has immediately switched from "young boy I'm helping" to "hot chick I want to bang" in no seconds flat without the slightest bobble in adjustment, cheerfully ogles her until she's "out of site".

 

Chapter 3

 

In this chapter, we establish that Erik is a huge lecher full of smooth pickup lines and snide referrals to Jake's anatomy. His eyes also turn "dark emerald green" when he gets excited in the pants. Sadly, his burning desire to bang her the second he sees boobs is not actually all that attractive since he clearly has no interest in her personally (he can't - he didn't even know who she was until a minute ago and has never had a real conversation with her), and she's not helping matters by staring at his hard-on like the twit she is.

 

It took only three chapters of this book for me to get to the point where I have to ask: why not just create a new, original character, Minton? Nobody in this story has anything to do with the Phantom story except for Erik, and he's so wildly out of character that he's basically a completely different person anyway. Why not just create your own character, who not only has a physical deformity and a tragic past but is also a sexual dynamo and lover of orphans? Bang, boom, you're done, and you have something that wouldn't make people like me read your book and talk about how horribly bad you are at understanding the story it's based on. If you're not going to use the actual personality of the Phantom of the Opera - not even the one from the 2004 film - then what's the point of using him as a character at all? You can just write an original character and also imagine him as looking like Gerard Butler. The Romance Police won’t hunt you down.

 

But we're stuck in this thing until the end, trying desperately to cling to the fraying threads of relation to the original story. The stunning appropriateness to time period continues, including massively disjointed dialogue that ranges from the stuffily formal ("Have you a...?") to the distressingly 1980s ("No way was she going there!"). There's also a lot of loving description of Erik's epically tight pants and totally open shirt. The amount of time spent on describing Erik's wardrobe in this book is second only to that describing the girl's. (By the way, if it’s bothering you that I keep calling her Jake, ME TOO. Nothing says a female character is very important and not at all just here for the male character’s gratification like forgetting to give her a fucking name.)

 

Erik, who is clearly the world's biggest creeper, immediately starts calling Jake "ma cherie" all the time and musing about how incredibly shapely she is while refusing to let her leave and forcing her to continue traveling with him. He clearly hasn’t learned from any past mistakes, and he’s being so creepy and harassing that the chance of him coming back from it gets slimmer all the time. She puts up with it, however, because she's in the middle of escaping from an arranged marriage (of course!) to an old ugly guy, and also because she thinks Erik is way hot. Erik has a minor tantrum over her description of physical ugliness being one of the reasons she's rejecting her suitor, yet still won't fucking let her just leave and bother somebody else.

 

Oh, for fuck's sake, writers. I'm going to quote page 34 as a good example of Shit I Am Tired of Watching You Do:

 

"He had several times entertained the idea of slaking his unsatisfied lust upon a common whore, but his sensibilities as a more refined and learned gentleman smothered those radical desires, wishing instead for the companionship of that one soul that could share more than just the baser urges of the body, but those of the soul also."

 

I am so tired of the Erik Can't Get It On With a Sex Worker Because That Would be Gross trope. It turns up all the time in sequels and rewrites, mostly twenty-first-century ones, and it's got all kinds of problems. I'm lettering them, that's how many problems it has.

 

A) Brothels and sex workers are a commonplace feature of the time; not considered something you would bring up in polite conversation, especially by the upper class, but commonplace. There's no unconquerable stigma to frequenting one as an unmarried man and I can't see it being an issue since Erik has no reputation to speak of anyway.

B) This story is set in Paris. There are nice brothels here. Erik is apparently possessed of unlimited funds. In fact, with unlimited funds, he could easily pay someone to be his personal lover and not sleep with other men at all, if that's what floats his boat.  Furthermore, even if your only options were back-alley assignations with exhausted ladies missing some of their teeth, they are not automatic shorthand for "not worthwhile people" and you are not somehow "virtuous" for avoiding them. It's gross classism and whorephobia at their finest.

C) I hate to ruin anyone's perception of what a "refined and learned gentleman" looks like in this time period, but gentlemen fucking loved brothels. They weren't running around advertising that they were spending time with them, but that doesn't mean it wasn't happening. Not every gentleman of the time period was doing this, of course, but it was still far from rare.

D) Erik is not a "refined and learned gentleman" anyway, especially since this is based on the 2004 film and its ridiculous backstory. He's a sewer-dwelling murderer extortionist carnival refugee with a side of arson, and in that film likely intended to be part of an ethnic group massively hated and mistreated in France at this time. He's massively socially disadvantaged, which is the point.

E) "Sex Worker” does not equal Dead Inside, Bad Person, Incapable of Love, or Irredeemable Dregs of Humanity. They're just people doing a job for reasons of their own, and they’re no more disgusting or amoral than miners or tailors. Minton's treatment of the subject (and the treatments of several other writers like her) use the label of “whore” as a throwaway one that heavily implies that the person attached to it is unworthy of characterization or of anything other than contempt. Not only is this irritating because it's cutting off an entire story avenue that might be very interesting or poignant (see the 1989 Little/Englund film's sex worker visit, which is actually quite touching), but it's outright dismissing an entire class of people, specifically women in this case, as unworthy of consideration. Apparently sex workers can't have deep souls, lovable personalities, interesting reasons for their actions, or hopes and dreams worthy of consideration. They're just "common" women provided for men to "slake their lust" upon.

F) This comes up frequently as a hidden double standard; many of the same writers who do this without thinking about it are just as likely to enjoy something like Les Miserables or Moulin Rouge!, in which women sex workers appear as characters in their own right and have motivations and characterization outside their jobs, and then turn around and castigate the very same "kind of woman" in their fiction.

 

But, anyway, there you have it. Erik is a Good Man Who Yearns for Love and is Saving Himself for his True Soulmate. Take note, ladies: if a guy has ever had sex with anyone before you (and GOD FORBID a professional), he doesn't really love you very much. In case the overload of bad romance-novel cliches has any circuits left to fry in our brains, Erik goes on to call Jake a termagant while she muses that "This man had so many facets to his disturbingly, mysterious character." Does he, Jake? Because so far his facets appear to be “self-pity”, “smug superiority”, and “massive misogyny”.

 

By the way, Erik's horses are matched bays (frequently described as such, in fact), but Jake, the super horse-expert, describes one of them as "the big gray beast" when it's heading toward her. I feel like someone should tell these clowns that bay is in fact a color of horse, not a breed.

 

Erik is now going to embark on a determined campaign to make me hate him as much as possible. Refusing to let Jake leave after the revelation of her gender was a good start, and he follows that up with forcing her to sleep in his bedroll with him. Wearing nothing but his shirt and no underthings, because he keeps putting her clothes out of reach. AND HOLDING HER AND RUBBING HIS ERECTION ALL OVER HER AT BEDTIME. His excuse is that he has to keep her physically within reach to prevent her from stealing his horses and running away, despite the fact that he didn't seem to be in the slightest concerned about this problem until he discovered her fantastic gazongas. Because she is a flat cipher of perfection with no purpose other than to be a trophy to reward Erik for his tragic life, Jake tries to argue but goes right ahead and decides to instead focus on how "the heat from his massive body began to penetrate her" when they're sleeping and it's awesome.

 

So now he’s just outright sexually assaulting this girl, who feels that she can’t escape from him or strike out on her own because something even worse might happen to her. She’s fleeing rape only to fall directly into the hands of another rapist. What a great romance, y’all.

 

Erik eventually gets up and just spends the night pacing, but only because "If he hadn't done something drastic, like distancing his own body from hers, he would not have been responsible for his actions". Because obviously his raging, out-of-control hard-on is totally her fault, and if he were to rape her, that wouldn’t be his fault at all. Furthermore, he intentionally drives away without bringing her clothes with them, forcing her to remain in his shirt for the foreseeable future, while he simultaneously muses about how much he loves looking at her in his shirt and how he could never force a woman's hand again after Christine.

 

Fuck this guy. I want him shipped back to the angry mob.

 

Chapter 4

 

Because she is not nearly done doing weird things to her text for no reason, Minton also italicizes the names of all towns and provinces in France. Why? Who knows? Not only is italicizing locations not a literary convention I've ever heard of, she only does it for the ones in France; everything's in normal typeface once the characters get to England later.

 

The hissing shitpile of a plot trundles on, now featuring Erik, mere hours ago forcing Jake to cuddle his erection in case she decided to steal his horses, now putting her on a horse and telling her to go run errands for him in town because he might be recognized as a fugitive. Oh, and he orders her to use his money to buy some dresses for herself, because he doesn't like looking at her in boys' clothes. It is actually phrased pretty much exactly that way. It "gulls" Jake to be given orders, but this does not stop her from going off and doing what he says anyway, even though she could totally peace out with a horse and money now and not have to hang out with a creeper who molests her every night. It's more important that she do what he says, because this is her big chance to make him trust her, and Erik's approval is, as we all know, the only thing worth having in life for a woman.

 

I'm so pissed off at the relationship dynamics - without fail presented by Minton as totally sexy and edgy and romantic, which they are not - that I almost can't focus on how ridiculous it is that Erik thinks random villagers from Dorne are going to recognize him as the Phantom of the Opera.

 

Jake, who is frequently described as "spunky", "spirited", and other words of that nature to illustrate that she is a free spirit despite being one of the most pathetic heroines I've had to read lately, expresses her independence by only buying two dresses like Erik told her and buying herself manly riding garb for her third "outfit" instead. Erik is torn between ogling her curves in tight riding pants and being pissed at her for disobeying, while I'm torn between being mad at Minton trying to feed me this relationship as romantic and being mad that Jake is supposedly a high-class lady that for some reason constantly wants to be wearing breeches (oh, sorry, "britches") and riding astride. She's totally firey and spirited, guys! She wants to wear pants!

 

When he notices that she's wearing a black ribbon in her hair, Erik rips it out without warning or ceremony, because he "doesn't like black on her". Oh, well, I'm so fucking goddamn sorry, dude. Jake thinks that's weird, especially since he won't explain (it's because it reminds him of Christine and his tragic past, woe is him!), but, you know, whatever. It's fine and she's not going to worry about it, while Minton tries desperately to make us sympathize with this abusive asshat's broken heart.

 

But let's not forget about how poor the writing is, because god forbid there should be paragraphs that aren't excruciating for the reader. Erik is prone to "shuttering" in his sleep, which makes me envision him sleepwalking through the town and closing peoples' windows, and his emotions were "long leached beneath a disguised exterior", which doesn't even make any sense - leached doesn't mean that, or anything close to that! On page 49, there's also the immortal line, "Before she knew it, Erik's wonderful warmth had invaded her small body again, and she was asleep before she knew it." Oh, and for bonus points, she thinks that line while he's once again forcing her to sleep in his bedroll with him. UGH.

 

I almost don't even care that they're already having sex by page 53 except that the prisoner-female imagery is disturbingly strong, especially since I don't think Minton's doing it on purpose. This could play all right as a sexy Dominant Male fetish piece, but it isn’t presented as a no-strings fantasy; these guys are meant to be a luminous example of True Love and Forever Happiness, which makes it impossible to ignore Erik's assholish behavior and Jake's eternal tendency to just put up with or even romanticize it because, well, if we're not in this book to reward the Phantom, what are we here for? I spent a lot of the book wishing that this were some kind of lifestyle BDSM romance novel, which could actually be totally interesting in context of the Phantom story, but it's not. It's just a novel in which the man being a dominant figure who is allowed to abuse and take out his anger on the woman is excused because he has a tragic past and is very sad on the inside, and the woman in turn not only sees nothing wrong with this but has no actual personality or depth to her because she only exists to make him happy. She's a Real Doll with a button on the back that makes her say phrases like "I think you're totally hot no matter what your face looks like!" or "I love horses!" when you press it.

 

Basically, reading this book is like reading every terrible cliched Harlequin romance novel that came out of the eighties and nineties, except many of those are actually enjoyably written. I half expect Erik to reveal halfway through that he is actually a sheik and heir to a massive fortune that can only be inherited if he marries according to his eccentric father's will, and probably there should also be some random secret love babies and amnesia thrown in to spice things up.

 

The sex scenes themselves don't help, either, because they’re all so BORING. There's very little variation between sex scenes, meaning that after you've seen two or three you've seen them all (and there are a ton of them in this book), and Minton's stock of descriptors is too low for her to attempt to talk about things like breasts this often. Incredibly graceless prose isn't helping, such as when Jake admits that "her body had a need that she wanted him to fix". She sounds like faulty plumbing.

 

There's too much purple prose disease running around for things to get too heated, which results in us spending pages upon pages listening to minute description of sex that doesn't actually describe much of it. The fact that it's so hesitant to get dirty makes it all the funnier when descriptions make me think that it's gone places it totally hasn't gone, such as when sentences start with "With his fingers fisted..." (in her flowing red hair, folks!) or "Lazily he traced his finger against her moist lips..." (on her face, though).

 

Oh, and by the way, this is of course the inaugural flight of Erik’s jet penis. Both of them are virgins, yet somehow having the best time anyone has ever had. He is extremely experienced in what women like, totally able to perform cunnilingus and finger stimulation without so much as a whisper of encouragement or guidance from her. He is some kind of sex wizard. As usual, there is a tiny moment of pain for Jake before the awesome virginal ecstasy sets in and culminates in mind-blowing orgasm. Erik is also continuing to make sure I dislike him with blazing intensity by persistently thinking of Jake as a "woman-child" mid-coitus, as well as deciding that now that he's tasted of her forbidden fruits she will never, ever be allowed to leave him. Yeah, what this needed was a creepy pedophilia overtone and yet more abusive control.

 

By the way, I haven't mentioned it until now because I was trying to ignore it in the hopes that it would go away, but Jake also purchased a full-coverage flannel nightgown on her shopping trip. Erik immediately throws a hissy upon seeing her wearing it because it's not flattering and he has grown "accustom" to rubbing up against her mostly-nude backside when he forces her to sleep next to him, causing the nightgown to become a huge super-important point of contention as Jake tries to mitigate the CONSTANT SEXUAL HARASSMENT and Erik just keeps throwing tantrums like something he owns has been put in the closet where he can’t reach it. 

 

If strange dudes were forcing me to sleep next to them and rubbing their boners all over me, I would also want the most full-coverage, thick nightgown I could find, but sadly that isn't even why Jake bought it - she got it expressly to tease him, with a secondary concern that it's cold. Because Jake doesn't do anything that doesn't center on Erik. And let me just say a nice big fuck you to Erik again, who told her she had to buy nighties because it was getting cold out and then pitched a fit because she got nighties that were designed for warmth instead of for him staring at her frigid, pointed nipples.

 

Chapter 5

 

At this point, all that supposed lingering sexual tension has been resolved and I can't for the life of me find any other plot going on, so is the book over? Of course not. There are thirteen chapters plus epilogue to go!

 

I do like that Erik is finally going maskless as a matter of course in this part of the book; it makes sense for a lot of reasons, the most important being that Jake's already seen it, he's embarking on a new life and might as well take this opportunity not to wear the mask all the time, and we're using the 2004 film appearance which is not really that bad in context of post-war France right now anyway. Of course, I could wish that this wasn't buried in three pages of post-coital navel-gazing and angst, but if wishes were horses we'd have plenty of bays for Erik to misidentify.

 

Erik is sporting "a robot type attitude". Oh, those wacky period linguistics! While the concept of automatons certainly existed in the nineteenth century (in fact, Leroux's Erik made some), the word "robot" wasn't invented until the 1920s, and even if it had been I doubt very much that Jake, now FINALLY revealed to actually be named Monique, would know it even if it had been. But is this the worst of our problems? It is not, so I will move on so we can devote some more time to listening to Monique talk about Erik's magnificent hair and how much he doesn't need to wear a wig over it, the big silly.

 

I am completely allergic to the manufactured "conflict" that is now going to be the "emotional core" of the novel for its entire middle section. Erik has asked Monique to pose as his wife to lend him legitimacy as he flees to England, but woe! She is only doing it because he asked her to, not because she likes him! And Monique is going, but woe! He only asked her to for his plan, not because he likes her! They continue to bang like rabbits, of course, in between bouts of assuming that the other person doesn't care about them for literally no good reason and never mentioning it aloud.

 

Chapter 6

 

Erik goes about Le Havre unmasked, which would be fine with me except that he's going to spend the entire time whining about how miserable it is and how people stare at him and alas, his life is so hard! Minton can't be arsed to actually provide characterization to back up anything these whiners do, so there’s no characterization or psychology to deal with why Erik feels this way or what life is actually like for him. It's worth noting that Minton is aware of the idea of the mask representing mystery and the allure of the unknown, but she hits it with a sledgehammer marked ROMANTICISM so hard that any interesting comment she might have been trying to make is lost.

 

Monique explains her tragically tragic backstory, in which she was raised alone by her father but he died and left her alone in a cruel, cruel world, which sounds suspiciously similar to Christine's backstory as well as being fluffed up until I want to scream from the author's constant attempts to remind me of what a wonderful, beautiful, talented, and selfless person this character is.

 

The following scenes with Erik are unintentionally hilarious, starting with his shock and awe that the solicitors he hired are shaking his hand, not staring, and talking to him like normal people. What, you mean law professionals don't shriek or point and laugh at their clients? Amazing! Even better is the revelation that he has so much money because he does architecture by mail, which is possibly even funnier here than it was in Binkley’s 2005 novel. The real kicker, however, is that Erik engaged these solicitors to create a false English identity for him (which seems shady for an upstanding legal firm!), and they have succeeded in doing so: he is now Erik Devereau, Earl of Pembroke. 

 

Yes! I'm sure it's totally possible that a random French law firm can not only get him a fake identity, they can get him a fake noble identity in one of the most severely regulated and assiduously watched aristocracies in the world! Even better, he's a fucking peer of the realm, because nobody's going to notice that shit! Has anyone checked in with George Herbert - you know, the actual current Earl of Pembroke? Boy, is he going to be surprised when this assclown shows up on his doorstep.

 

After some more time spent hammering on how Erik is so incredibly sexy and charismatic that everyone "hardly notices" his appearance anyway, thus making the previous story make very little sense, it is revealed that Monique, ordered to go shopping for more sexy clothes for Erik to stare at her in, has been kidnapped right off the street by hooligans, because apparently you can get carriage-jacked in broad daylight and no one will so much as call the police or look up from their croissants. Erik goes into instantaneous panic mode and dithers around trying to figure out how to rescue her before she is Forever Despoilt. 

 

Sadly, all of this happens offstage. We don't see so much as a hint of the scene itself and are not present as readers when Monique is kidnapped, even though we've been in her point of view at least as often as in Erik's. Everything is discovered via Erik's detective work around the dress-shop and scene of the crime. Monique, who is not actually an important character in any way, shape, or form except as Erik's all-important prize winnings for a life of angst, doesn't need a scene about her response or feelings or attempts to escape, because what the fuck do we care about her problems? My god, people, Erik's free sex is in jeopardy.

Chapter 7

 

Erik is assailed by a "bone-piercing fog", followed by "total silence... except for the occasional familiar sounds", as well as a "cherry atmosphere", after which he had a conversation in which something was "said indicatively". What is even happening in this book, y’all? I can't even tell anymore.

 

This chapter is just painful. While the common people (clearly not the same caliber as the solicitors, hemm hemm humm we're all upper class here) are bizarrely hostile about Erik's face for no apparent reason, a few thugs, led by the piercingly Frenchly-named Jarvis (not Gervaise; Jarvis), discuss the horrible things they want to do to Monique in a stultifying stream of vernacular spelling (bonus points: they're speaking in French, so their lower-class English accents don’t even make sense). We are meant to sympathize with Monique's plight when Jarvis beats her across the backside, but the scene has nil emotional impact; not only is Jarvis a completely soulless, one-note villain with no purpose other than to ooze around and be evil, but Monique's pain isn't even described. We're just told that it hurts and left with her drugged and confused, waiting for her gallant rescuer to show up.

 

Speaking of her gallant rescuer, he has now realized, through soul-searching while he tracks her down, that he loves Monique forever and is totally over Christine. Okay. You're just a many-layered onion of profundity, aren't you, Erik?

 

Apparently Erik is carrying around "a magnificent ruby ring encircled with diamonds... along with a solid gold band", just, you know, in case. Why is not explained, nor why they are perfectly sized for Monique's fingers when he manages to find the brothel she's been sold to and sneak into her room under pretext of buying her services for the night. Charmingly, he has already begun referring to her as his wife in his own inner monologue, because again, fuck what she might want, this is the Erik Show. To drive that point home, he also puts the ring on her unconscious hand and spends some time being a gigantic asshole by kissing her split lips. Oh my god, I will literally root for Jarvis if he’ll kill this guy for me.

 

Luckily, he is so very intimidating that the madame of the brothel and all her hired rowdies just let him walk out with Monique without attempting to stop him in any way, because oooh, oooh, he's so scary. Later, he returns to the brothel and murders Jarvis and his cronies, but that's okay; no one will "morn" them.

 

Minton's favorite adjective to apply to Erik is "commanding". I don't know how many times she uses it because I lost count after the sixth chapter of relentless refusal to even use synonyms, but it's a whole goddamn lot. Erik goes ahead and starts getting his redemption on around page 112 in rehash of past events, admitting his love for Christine and confirming that he only wants her happiness now. It's nice to see, but I wish it had mattered for its own sake, instead of being obviously included to make sure there was no doubt that his heart was free for angelic Monique now. I also wish it hadn't been completely reversed by his current douchebag behavior. (Besides, I don’t even believe it. It’s awfully convenient that he’s over Christine and wishes her well now that he’s succeeded in kidnapping and coercing someone else and thus doesn’t have to commit to actually changing his behavior.)

 

For fuck's sake, seriously, DROP THE BUSINESS WITH THE NIGHTIE. It's not precious. It's not adorable. It's not romantic. I have only so much time in my day in which I am feeling intrepid enough to sit around and watch large men shouting "I DON'T LIKE LOOKING AT IT, TAKE IT OFF" at women they ostensibly love. It’s not even fun and fetishy! It would be the least you could do, Minton!

 

Monique has two split lips and a heavily thrashed and welted bottom, but that can't stand in the way of true love and concomitant sexytimes. Clearly, Erik tenderly teaching her the ways of cowgirl will solve this problem. The idea of tenderly not having sex with her until she's recovered from her horrible physical trauma and psychological ordeal does not even occur to him.

 

Chapter 9

 

Upon realizing that his injured companion is, you know, injured, Erik apologizes (for making her walk, not for making her have sex) and states that he should have fetched her a wheelchair. A wheelchair... for the woman with the injured ass. Logical as always, Erik.

 

Erik's and Monique's relationship continues to be illness-inducing, an endless round of Erik dangling the carrot of sex and brandishing the stick of disapproval, now with bonus threats about beating her if she dares suggest that they break up. This is all very masculine and hot, of course, so Monique sees no problem with it. Neither does Minton, who romanticizes it so heavily that I can't decide if I'm more upset over the relationship itself or over the fact that its author obviously sees nothing whatsoever wrong with putting this hideously abusive relationship on a pedestal.

 

Chapter 10

 

Monique and Erik have successfully made it onto a boat bound for England, where the majority of the rest of the action will take place for far too long for any reader's comfort. But oh, no, y’all - the ship's RESIDENT ORGAN-PLAYER has gone missing! He didn't get on the boat for some reason! What will they do when it's time for music to be played in the dining rooms and salons?! This problem is probably insurmountable.

 

Monique embarks upon an extended metaphor here regarding a horse in her childhood that was considered a man-killer because it had trampled an abusive owner, but was gentle and perfect for riding when handled with kindness by its new keepers. Erik, of course, is supposed to be the horse, and Minton wastes way too much ink trying to convince us that it's okay that he's a stalker/murderer/extortionist/rapist/arsonist, because people have been mean to him, so that's not his fault. It's an overt and egregious attempt to dismiss his faults because of his past; not only does it not work, because he is a thinking human rather than an animal and being treated badly does not give you carte blanche to treat others badly in turn, but it's irritating because of the sermonizing over how evil Jarvis and company were a few chapters ago and how much they lived only to hurt others and deserved to die. I don't see anyone sitting around realizing that they probably had hidden positives or might have been hurt in the past; no, that kind of excuse-making is an honor reserved only for Erik (read: the hot, sexy rich guy).

 

Erik decides that he should take Monique to a fancy dinner party, and this chapter is almost nothing but getting dressed for said party and everyone either angsting about how they have to be seen in public or admiring how much the other person is way hot. Erik hits all the asshole notes in an astonishing symphony, going from being excited about showing Monique off as if she were a prize poodle to giving her expensive jewelry to stop her from being mad at him to being pissed off that everyone else in the room has noticed that she's attractive and might be thinking sexy thoughts about her.

 

This scene has zero purpose except for giving Minton an opportunity to dwell on how incredibly sexy and magnetic and charismatic this powerhouse duo is, and how no one in the entire ship can ignore them or do anything else but sigh worshipfully when they pass.

 

Dinner is both mind-numbingly boring (oh, look! They're learning which forks to use and hobnobbing with British nobility!) and infuriating once again, as Erik intentionally dominates the conversation to prevent anyone from interacting with Monique lest they become competition for his property. He is only mildly worried about it initially since their dinner companions are English and Monique only speaks French, but when a few of the young men at the table politely attempt to include her in the conversation by speaking in French themselves, he refuses to let her talk and overrides or cuts them off whenever possible. Monique helps out by listening to these poor dudes who are trying to be polite to her and then ignoring them, because she "doesn't want to anger him" by responding. I feel like this scene is going to end with Daddy punching Mommy at the dinner table.

 

After Erik and Monique fidget in mingled embarrassment and outrage at the "prying and intimate" question of whether or not they, a couple pretending to be married, have kids, Erik naturally feels his loins inflame at the possibility, which did not occur to him until just now even though they have been bangerating in fields like bonobos for the past week.

 

Luckily, we don't have to listen to him smolder with desire much longer, because suddenly "Erik's body was bombarded with a massive jolt of memories, shock waves invading his senses with a blinding force". What is causing this sudden, ridiculously described overload? Why, someone is playing the organ in his vicinity! The shock! The horror! 

 

This does not stop him from immediately going to the organ, intimidating the poor guy playing it into outright fleeing, and then sitting down to play himself. The entire dining room, of course, is enraptured by his incredible artistry, which is legit for a Phantom but still being described by Minton and thus irritatingly syrupy and hyperbolic. The performance and accompanying memories so overload his poor, taxed soul that he disappears in a cloud of red smoke. FROM A DINING ROOM ON A BOAT HE HAS NEVER BEEN ON BEFORE IN FRONT OF A CROWD OF PEOPLE SURROUNDING HIM AT VARIOUS ANGLES. I'd love to assume that this means he is actually a supernatural Phantom, since there's no way he has trapdoors or escape routes here, but sadly this is not the case. It just happens, okay? Hilariously, no one ever asks him how he did it, nor even expresses surprise at this exit. They just go back to their stuffed duck.

 

Let’s do another quote block:

 

"A kind of ethereal trance spread throughout the smoky room as the guests listened, wondering who this man was that held them bound with his faultless technique and his magical power, pulling them into the depths of his intoxicating music!

 

Erik had breathed this music into his being for an eternity, just as he had inhaled the air that sustained his life, and its euphoric existence became the life-force that was his world. It had replaced that multitude of essential things that were heaped upon the ordinary man without care or appreciation, yet denied to him with scorn and refusal. It had been a refuse of retreat, blocking out the beatings, the repulsive reactions displayed at his physical flaws, and comforted him when his body raged with the lustful passions and physical needs of being a normal man, regardless of the sinful actions of the masses. Music looked blindly upon the ugly side of his face, and glorified in the side that was handsome, because he was the same man inside, whichever side you gazed upon. Music alone had touched his senses, aroused his passions, befriended his soul and caressed the very core of his dark and dismal existence. When he feared he would die within the dark abyss of loneliness, it was his music that pulled him from its dark, penetrating depths, calming his violent tempers and dark, brooding moods. He craved with every fiber of his being to possess the life of a normal man. In his tortuous, lonely isolation, music had been his companion, his wife and his world, and eventually he had shared it with only one person!"

 

This is what we are dealing with, people. (Also, "refuse of retreat" is not a typo, by either me or her. She uses the word to mean "refuge" a few other times throughout the book. Because when you gotta hide, it might as well be in a dumpster.)

 

Chapter 11

 

Of course, there are still constant Threats to Monique's Virtue all over the boat, usually in the form of random men manhandling her the second she's out of Erik's sight, both because she is IRRESISTIBLY BEAUTIFUL and also because they have apparently forgotten all the rules of the upper-class society they are ostensibly a part of. That's just how things are for Monique - her beauty and impetuous charm are so spellbinding that all women become jealous hags and all men become rapists. It's science.

 

Once she extricates herself enough to go find Erik, she discovers him standing alone on the bow of the ship in the dramatically pouring rain, screaming at the sky. Like so many other moments in this novel, this would have been a great time for Monique to realize she needs to get the hell out of this guy’s orbit, but instead she immediately realizes he needs sexual healing and also decides to be mad at him for not telling her all about whatever his obvious damage is.

 

Interestingly enough, Minton uses the burning of the opera house from the end of the 2004 film as symbolic of Erik deliberately swearing off music, as it is linked firmly to Christine in his mind; to give up one, he must give up the other. It's ridiculously overdramatic, but it's nevertheless an interesting idea that I haven't seen any other authors pursue yet. Erik whimpering "Please, just make the music stop," is reminiscent of Dr. Hohner's hatred of Marcellina's voice in the 1944 Waggner/Karloff film, though sadly the end result was the saddening realization that I could have been watching that movie instead of reading this book.

 

And that's a choice I wish I'd made, because it's at this point that shit gets inexcusably horrible. Once Monique gets Erik back to their cabin, they have a fight in which she is upset with him for never telling her anything about his past and he is upset about basically everything ever, primarily at this moment his feelings of ostracization and her temerity in demanding to know anything about him. The fight is not the part that's horrible, though it's bad enough; the part that's horrible is that eventually, fed up with arguing, Erik knocks Monique down, forcibly strips her, and violently rapes her to shut her up.

 

It's not ambiguous. She fights him and asks him to stop and is described as in serious pain when he forces intercourse on her. She even asks him to slow down, saying she would willingly cooperate if he'd stop hurting her, and he refuses - because this isn't about her, as usual, it's about him, and he lets us know with no doubt in his internal monologue that he doesn't want her cooperation. He wants to hurt her. He wants her to be helpless and afraid and not enjoy this. He states, multiple times, that this is about him taking control of her, proving that she's powerless to stop him; he's using her as a proxy for the rest of humanity, just as the original Erik did with the original Christine, except that the original Erik's response was to court, look up to, and love his representative of humanity. Minton's Erik's response is rape. His few lines of dialogue in this scene are along the lines of "I am in control" or "You belong to me".

 

You might be wondering what the fuck the author is trying to do here. It's a good question. You might think that this is the moment when Monique realizes what a horrible situation she's in and runs for the hills, finding someone to help her. You might think this is the moment that Erik loses his lady-love because of his own violent, rash, and inexcusable actions yet again, maybe this time learning something from the experience. You might even think that this is the moment that Erik realizes what a monumental bastard he is and gets down on his knees and begs for forgiveness. 

 

But you would be wrong about all these things, because you'd be making the assumption that Erik can do wrong, and that is not an assumption that Minton shares. The most gut-wrenching part of this whole production is that Minton does not ever blame Erik for doing this, nor acknowledge that it was wrong. Never. Not once. The characters don't talk about it after the fact, nor even think about it in their internal monologues. No one's perception of him is changed. Erik continues to be the dashing, sexy, commanding, rich wet-dream of a hero until the end of the book, the entire run of which Minton is glorifying all his wondrous attributes and castigating everyone who has ever been cruel to him, and not one time does she acknowledge that he has ever done anything bad. 

 

Minton presents a lot of frankly horrible situations for her female lead in this book; Erik is oppressive, abusive, and an asshole, and that's enough to make me question whether or not she really realizes the kind of role she's putting women into in her fiction. But the fact that he is also a rapist and that's somehow considered not just okay but downright unremarkable pushes it to a new level. I'm disgusted. I'm beyond disgusted. I feel sick.

 

And to make sure I don't feel any better, Monique's response to this is, while he's hurting and raping her, to immediately begin making mental excuses for him - he's upset, he doesn't know how to love because of his upbringing, other people have been mean to him so he's lashing out - and decide that it's "okay rape" and he didn't really mean it. She immediately proceeds to start having sex with him as if everything is normal and fine, and, as a final, insurmountable insult, the reader then has to sit through four more pages of ecstatic shagginating, as if Minton expects us to be able to dismiss the beginning of the sex scene and just go on to be titillated as if nothing untoward had happened. Internal monologues inform us that Monique is attempting to show herself as his equal while he's still trying to grind her down, and the end result is that he succeeds in "winning" when she finally begs him to bang her and he gets to spend the rest of the scene grinning in triumph over her submission.

 

In another story, one in which this was presented as Monique’s attempt to rationalize and manage the trauma of what was happening to her and in which Erik had defined psychological problems that were examined carefully and his history of violence and disregard of other people was acknowledged, I might have gone with this. In another story, it could have been a way of illustrating his inability to relate to others without hurting them and the overriding strength of his ostracization and self-hatred being the most powerful factor in his life (even though it would still be a miserable example of "hurt the female characters to show things about the male ones"). But in this story, Monique’s inner monologue is not a rationalization for survival but the author directly sermonizing to the reader about why Erik’s behavior is all right and in fact we should think he is pitiful and lovable and just needs comforting. Erik is meant to be a dreamboat hero beloved by all with no flaws, one who any woman would be lucky to have in her life. And this is not that guy. This doesn't belong on the same planet with that guy.

 

And then he proposes to her afterward. Because, at this point, why the fuck not?

 

Chapter 12

 

I don't know if she realized how violent reader reactions to that last chapter were likely to be, but Minton follows up with a dry, almost scholarly discussion on the way nineteenth-century paddleboats work, including a page-long lesson on hog-chains and random italicization of key terms like "speaking tube". I think it's great that she did enough research to know how paddleboats work, but it's a whole goddamn lot of ink to waste on "the boiler just blew, we're stranded". Then again, the relief of no longer being in a miserable rape scene almost makes it all worthwhile.

 

Speaking of, post-horrors, Erik goes out to see what's wrong with the boat that has suddenly stopped moving and orders Monique not to leave the cabin, charmingly adding that "punishment is not out of the question". Someone cannot set this guy on fire fast enough for me.

 

Despite the fact that he is in no way allowed to go into the engine room, avoid the people in charge of the boat or override their orders, Erik still does all these things because his super charisma just makes him so commanding and intimidating that no one can say no to him. This is lucky for everyone, because naturally he can repair the problem when no one else can since he is "an engineer of construction and architecture", which frankly probably does not cover steam vessels but nobody cares, Erik is a genius who gets what he wants.

 

He spends the next few days rebuilding the boat and its engine room along with the crew, during which Monique is allowed out in order to bring him lemonade and admire his rippling pectorals or some shit. The crew and captain instantly fall in love with him because he "doesn't put on heirs", and he is without exception beloved by all because he is such an amazing, gifted and wonderful person.

 

Then a construction accident happens that breaks several of his ribs and knocks him out, and you'd better believe I fucking cheered like I had just personally won the lottery.

 

Chapter 13

 

Unfortunately for her, me, and everyone else reading this book, Monique chooses to put her medical expertise (she grew up in a stable and clearly horse-doctoring and human-doctoring are basically the same) to use, stitching Erik up, setting his ribs, and monitoring his fever. The rest of the crew, of course, also instantly all fall in love with her and watch her wistfully from afar, because she's just so beautiful and sweet and boy that Erik is so lucky.

 

Completely unnecessary and exhausting amounts of text are devoted to Erik's continual throbbing erection for Monique and how many times he must say, "Forsooth, I would bang thee but for my cursed infirmity!" This dude has a concussion, a festering arm wound, and three broken ribs. You know what, Minton? HE CAN'T GET IT UP RIGHT NOW. HIS BODY IS USING THAT BLOOD FOR OTHER THINGS, LIKE NOT DYING AND REMINDING HIM THAT HE'S IN EXCRUCIATING PAIN.

 

Chapter 14

 

Oh, dear, the emanating heat of Erik's fever is "threatening to incinerate her instantly".

 

There're a lot of random shifts to new POV characters in this book, by the way, most of which are totally pointless (such as the earlier ship's engineer who was only present to have a direct perspective on the boat's attempt to implode). In this case, we now jump into the head of Marta, the ship's cook, who has even less reason to be a perspective character and exists only to marvel at the perfection that is Monique. Oh, and to provide a lot of lovely advice about how men are really just children who need love to blossom. You could make a connection to the need for a mother figure that many authors seem to find when faced with the lack of them in the original story... but I wouldn't bother, at this point.

 

Though I did enjoy Erik saying that he "remembered the most bazaar dreams", they immediately moved on to have horrifying busted-rib open-wound sex (again, this problem can be solved with cowgirl). Also, have I mentioned how much I love that they always "climax together", because that’s totally realistic, especially when one or both parties are not at their best? I know that’s a romance novel trope, but it never stops being funny.

 

Chapter 15

 

Do you know what we need? Yes. More threats to Monique's poor abused vagina. Now they're coming in the form of Sir Percy, a gadabout and pursuer of ladies who has decided she's totally ripe for yet more rape and he should pursue her. His very brief backstory reveals that he is the son of a lord but has spent most of his inheritance, which means he's always trying to trap a "titled woman", which seems like kind of a stupid idea since a rich woman would be a much better idea. Minton doesn't seem to be able to tell the difference between titled and rich, however - if you're the one, apparently you're the other as far as she's concerned, as also evidenced by the fact that Sir Percy here, despite being a lord's son and apparently knighted, spends a lot of time being sullen that he isn't nobility like Erik (to complete the picture of pointless antagonism, he's also angry that an ugly guy is so beloved on the boat while a handsome dude like himself is not).

 

At any rate, this random Englishman has decided that breaking Monique up from her husband is a much better idea to solve his problems than just targeting a rich old spinster, so he and a crony are plotting to go to the captain and reveal that they think Erik must be none other than the Phantom of the Opera! Why all these British people know or care about said Phantom is one of the great mysteries of this book (he read an article in the Review about it, guys! Which is the one thing in the entire fucking book that Minton didn't bother to italicize!).

 

Feel free to cherish a fantasy of the Scarlet Pimpernel riding in to skewer Erik with a rapier, but, sadly, this is not that Sir Percy.

 

Chapter 16

 

Are you wondering what the denouement of Sir Percy's dastardly plot might be? Too bad. There isn't one. Captain McShane not only immediately discards the man's story out of hand (because Erik is such a good person, no one could ever think poorly of him!), he also threatens to eject him from the boat and then goes to inform Erik of the situation and suggest that he go to his family's inn free of charge and hang out there. So they do, Sir Percy is never heard from again, and nothing of note happens for the rest of the book.

 

They drive through Weymouth on their way to the inn, by the way, which mostly means that the reader is subjected to a few pages of boring, encyclopedia-esque description of the city and its environs, none of which is interesting, well-drawn, or in any way relevant to the plot since they're not even staying there.

 

There's more random italicization on page 252: "Together they slept the unhindered sleep of the dead, that entity where the body feels safe in abandonment, and the mind rests with the disappearance of weariness, and the lifting of the spirit allows the soul to heal." Leaving aside the other bizarre things happening in this sentence (entity? really?), what does that even mean? Is this part of that secret code stuff from the dedication again?

 

Monique, who has the most perfect body conceivable anyway, decides at this point not to wear corsets around the inn anymore. She's such a spitfire rebel, you guys. This is noteworthy because this is also the time that she chooses to begin vomiting randomly, because, as all bad authors know, there is no other way to illustrate pregnancy. If you'd like to be even more amused, consider that she's having morning sickness, yet says that she can't be "more than two weeks along".

 

I am so tired of hearing about Erik and "the pulsing giant of his loins". I really am. This entire chapter is basically just a string of bad porn scenes, flimsily connected by the shreds of an inane plot. The reader has to spend an entire scene reading about a cake accident that of course leads to whipped cream sex, followed by bathtub sex. Oh, and, of course, teaching the little lady to perform oral, which she is immediately fantastic at and also has no compunctions about whatsoever. Dude! De-cream that penis before penetration! You're going to give her Ye Olde Yeast Infection!

 

Erik also outright asks Monique about her period, because whatever at this point, and is astounded to discover that it's late! He immediately goes back to not thinking about it.

 

Chapter 17

 

While what is presumably the noisiest breakfast imaginable is being served in the "dinning room", Monique sees a horse running about from the balcony, and(even from this distance she can identify it as a stallion because horses that are actually good for riding are for losers! Upon investigation, of course, it turns out that Hurricane (manly names for manly horses!) is a stormy and powerful beast who cannot be ridden except with extreme difficulty, but the stagehand, who apparently does not value either his job or Monique's safety very much, allows her to take him for a spin anyway. The devil-horse loves her, of course, and they gallop off bareback down the beach in slow-motion, hurdling fences at breakneck speed while Monique's hair streams dramatically in the wind.

 

Ah, people saying "merde!" That's how you know this is quality French literature.

 

Since Monique is not smart enough to just keep riding far, far away, she is still in the vicinity when Erik realizes that she is doing something without his express permission and mounts up to charge after her and give her what-for (perhaps he was alerted by the sound when she "leaned forward into a cantor"). He scolds her heavily for her reckless adventure, which both of them realize was probably fine anyway because Monique is "too good a rider" to ever fall off a horse, even a strange stallion she's galloping over unfamiliar terrain. That’s right, if you have ever fallen off a horse, even if you are a professional, you are bad and Monique laughs at you.

 

Having realized that he should probably confess to his life of crime before the wedding instead of after, Erik suddenly launches into his long and angsty tale, which unsurprisingly involves a lot of it not being his fault because people were mean to him. Highlights include the revelation that Piangi's death was an accident (gee, look at how much sympathy I can generate for "I accidentally squeezed him too hard with this noose and he died!") and the fact that he was apparently in his late twenties during that story (and still is now, one assumes, since this entire novel has taken place over like three weeks). The scene drips with excuse-making from both of them, and after Erik has gotten all of his angst out, Monique is of course on hand to stroke his ego and remind him of all the people who do love him because he's the best person in the world and no one who isn’t evil could ever think otherwise. 

 

He does not take this soul-baring opportunity to apologize for raping her, because, as we all know, he didn't do anything wrong there.

 

Captain McShane turns up at some point here, since he owns the inn along with his wife (he's a diverse career man!), and like all other characters in this book, his only purpose is to approve of how awesome Erik and Monique are and to give them fabulous prizes for it. The only time I experienced even a tiny bit of caring about him was the hilarious moment when Erik was dithering about putting out the banns (Erik, this is 1871 [argh] and you're using an assumed identity anyway, you could just get a marriage license) and he pointed out that he could have just married them at sea. You know. On the boat he fucking owns. No one is so gauche as to be scandalized by the fact that they've just been banging without being married and lying about it, by the way.

 

After shamefacedly admitting that he doesn't know Monique's last name (because, again, who gives a single fuck about her?), he goes to ask and discovers that it's MacPherson and she's totally like 100% romantically Scottish. Don't bother trying to figure out why this is important for her; it isn't, but it is very important to Minton that we get as much Scottishness as possible into this last chapter on account of Gerard Butler being very Scottish. Yes, I'm making a generalized assumption there, but I'm feeling pretty secure about it, especially considering that he immediately kilts it up in her honor for the wedding ceremony (in MacPherson plaid, yet, which McShane just happened to have lying around somewhere for totally unknown reasons). If you’re wondering why Monique’s first name is extremely French when she just turned out not to be French at all, you’re not getting an explanation. Let it go.

 

People frequently gush about how pretty Monique will be "coming down the isle", despite the fact that no one is actually on an island at this time.

 

One of Monique's favorite descriptors for Erik, by the way, is "gentle", although why is fucking beyond me. I was doing my damndest not to be a sourpuss during this whole wedding because I know an end is in sight soon, but Minton had to go and mournfully tell us about Erik's nightmares "raping his mind" in passing, so now I've gone and thrown everything off my desk and am glaring in complete animosity. How fucking awful for him.

 

Blah blah blah Monique preciously mocks Erik for wearing a skirt despite being ostensibly Scottish, blah blah blah honeymoon banging, blah blah blah carriage rides, blah blah blah London is full of poor dirty people. ARE WE DONE?

 

Epilogue

 

Set in 1924, making them in their late fifties, the epilogue is far too long and, like so many other self-published novels (Binkley’s comes to mind), feels the need to use orphans as shorthand for Erik's wonderfulness. Erik decides to embark upon a career of adopting street urchins from London, redesigning one wing of his earl's estate (oh, god, remember that he's an earl now?) for their use, starting with Jaxon (or possibly Jaxson, Minton can't decide), who he brings home the very night that Monique gives birth. He makes a point of bringing home only orphans with physical disfigurements, because fuck the pretty ones, they can die in the gutter.

 

Erik also delivers his own baby when the midwife is late, which apparently makes it an INSTANT BIRTH that takes almost no time or pain or mess! Huzzah! They name the baby Drew, because period naming conventions can also die in the gutter. Later, they have some sex in a hayloft and decide to start a school for wayward children. I DON'T CARE ANYMORE, MINTON. LET ME GO HOME.

 

Not before a bizarre flashback in which Erik, thirty to forty years after the events of Leroux's novel, has a monumental tantrum over the fact that the gardener has planted red roses in his yard and injures himself by blundering out there and ripping them all up by the roots regardless of thorns and stupidity. Oh, yeah, he's totally over Christine, guys.

 

By the end of the book, Erik has died of old age and Monique is staring contentedly off into the sunset, musing back on all her years of probable abuse, while I mourn the fact that I didn't even get to enjoy the jackass dying onscreen. Children run across the sunset, Sting's "Fields of Gold" plays, and scene.

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