Moonlight Masquerade (1989)
by Michelle Kasey
This book is cute and I loved it. I know that I talk about how romance-focused versions of the story are usually terrible because they excuse or minimize so many things, and some of them have been truly horrendous, but this is not one of those versions. It's not the most faithful adaptation by a long shot, nor is it the most in-depth in terms of themes and allegory, but man is it a great and emotionally-charged read.
Our leading lady is Christine Denham, whose last name has been changed because she's now British rather than Swedish. The setting has likewise been moved to Britain, and there is no hint of opera anywhere about the story, something that usually makes me question whether or not a story is really related (I'm pretty sure it is, though). However, Kasey does such a great job of making the characters her own and giving them believable and interesting motives for their behavior that fit the new setting, so non-musical Britain it is!
The basic idea is that Christine, along with her maiden aunt Nellis (a mothering and endearingly flighty old bat who seems to have more in common character-wise with Madame Giry than with Mama Valerius), is traveling to London in order to make her debut and, hopefully, become a social success and secure a husband. Unfortunately, their carriage gets caught in a blizzard and the ladies are forced to take refuge at the nearby country estate of the Earl of Hawkhurst, a brooding recluse who refuses to allow his face to be seen. As in the Ashe romance novel, the earl (our Phantom stand-in) actually meets Christine before the Raoul character does, which means that Raoul has no pre-existing relationship with her to cause readers to think that the Phantom is the interloper. This can be (and has been) done with varying degrees of skill, but the story is set up nicely and flows naturally, so I can't whine too much.
Hawkhurst is such a delightfully kitschy stock British lord name for a Regency romance. Of course, there isn't and never has been any such earlship, but it's such a great example of the stock move of sticking Animal + Natural Feature together to get a British Landowner Name.
The Earl, whose given name is Vincent in this version rather than Erik, is a bit silly here at the beginning, and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to put up with him for too long. His plan to go stand on the edge of a cliff in the midst of a howling blizzard and "feel the power of nature assaulting his body" was not exactly low on the cheese-o-meter. But about as soon as I was writing this down, he huffed at himself for his own childishness and calmed down, and really, how many of us have not had the urge to go be noble and tragic storm figures at some point before realizing that this is actually not nearly as romantic as it seems once our feet are wet?
Interestingly, Vincent does not wear the traditional Phantom's mask, instead hiding his face with a large hood and cloak as in the 1937 Weibang/Sheng film and its successors. I think this probably has more to do with the setting of the book and the desire to keep something as out of place as a mask out of things than it does with influence from the Chinese films, but it's still nice to see function taken over form. He is also tall and fairly thin (unlike the muscle-bound heroes of many romance novels), which may be a nod toward the original source material's skeletal villain.
Christine gets a fuller description in this chapter, and the fact that she's tiny and brunette suggests that there may be some influence here from the Lloyd Webber musical and its diminutive brunette star, Sarah Brightman, which was a recent phenomenon at the time the book was published, or maybe from Mary Philbin in the 1925 Julian/Chaney film.
This first chapter has most of the silliness inherent in the book, with a few very contrived situations such as Vincent telling the unconscious Christine all about his childhood because he feels such a connection with her (even though he's never met her when she was, you know, awake). But it went by quickly and I even managed to forget all about it, which is a testament to how engaging Kasey keeps the narrative and characters.
I was concerned that Vincent was going to turn out to be one of those Phantom characters that doesn't have a physical deformity at all and is just plunked into the role by virtue of being solitary and angsty, but it became apparent, when Christine woke up and had a screaming fit at the sight of his face, that this was not so. In fact, her terrified, continual screams as he flees suggest a substantial shock past the usual "strange man bending over me when I wake disoriented in a strange place" issue, which I'm usually on board with. This is a very early unmasking as most version of the story go - their very first meeting, in fact - but Christine, recently awoken from delirious fever, turns out not to remember it later, so it really only functions to clue us in on Vincent's Secret Uglyface.
I've read better prose, but I liked this nevertheless. It has a good pace, flows well, is nicely descriptive without being overdone, and generally does everything that decent prose is supposed to do.
Vincent has a très tragique backstory, which proceeded to tease and tantalize me for the entire novel, right up until the penultimate chapter when the actual truth of the situation was explained. The general gist of it is that he was previously involved with a woman named Arabella, did something or other undefined, and then she died; her death is apparently his fault, and causes her brother to disfigure him by attacking him with a horsewhip and Vincent himself to wallow in guilt for the next decade. This is, obviously, totally removed from all of the source material (unless we try to extrapolate a tenuous connection to the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film based on theme, but even I don't think it can stretch that far), but it's intriguing in its own right, and I found myself having to stop several times to pay attention when I realized that I had gotten caught up in the story and was totally forgetting to write things down. Vincent, in particular, is a nice treat; he's brooding and angsty, yes, but tolerably so, with an actual motivation (or so I hope) and an attitude that never dips into the truly painful depths of emoness.
Kasey's Christine does drive me up the wall a little bit now and then with her nonsensical habit of narrating all her thoughts aloud when no one is there. Every stream of consciousness moment turns into an extended soliloquy, and it's a little bit awkward as a mode of exposition; on the one hand, I like that she's trying to keep things from descending into pages and pages of internal monologue, but on the other hand, this woman talks to herself constantly. You get used to it as the book goes on, but I feel like there could have been a better way, like, say, talking to other characters (you have Nellis, right there!).
Christine manages to spy on Vincent coming in from the garden with his hood down; she sees him in profile, and is baffled by his insistence on hiding his face because she's bowled over by how handsome he is, confirming that this is definitely a half-face deformity as in the Lloyd Webber musical. Her confusion is a nice way to ramp up her eventual shock when she does see the other half of his face.
It's an unwritten (or possibly even written) rule somewhere that all romance novel heroines should be spunky in some way, because they're strong women in their own right, damn it. Unfortunately, in practice this often means that heroines are touted as independent and strong but turn out to be spineless wishy-washies (the heroine of the 1991 Stuart novel comes to mind, in fact), which is annoying because the narration constantly telling us a character is smart and feisty when in fact they don't do anything does not actually make it so. But, amazingly enough, this Christine is believably spunky; it's endearing and precious and also sometimes effective. Sadly, she is sometimes still prone to anachronistic silliness, such as when she laughs at Vincent's manservants and remarks that they "acted as if they have never seen a female in her dressing-gown before" (well they're not supposed to), but I forgive her because it's infrequent and none of us would be ideal if there was a secret camera on all our thoughts and interactions.
Christine takes a bath in Vincent's chambers in this chapter (it's the only place with a tub). This is a very emotionally charged scene, because Vincent, who is totally spying on her in the nude in a way that he definitely should not be doing, gets downright ungentlemanly when she realizes he's in the room somewhere she can't see and begins to have a justifiable, lady-like, nineteenth-century fit. This is completely understandable, because she's naked and alone in a strange place and this creeper comes up behind her and STROKES HER NAKED SHOULDERS AND THROAT, and as one would expect from a girl in this time period, poor Christine is extremely traumatized by the blatant sexual harassment. Her weeping and shivering after the scene was very realistic and very pitiable, and Vincent has been a very bad man and I expect he will need to work hard to get back into her (and the reader's) good graces.
Look, I know this was written in 1989, but can I someday have a romance novel hero who doesn't sexually assault his love interest? Please? One, y'all.
Among other things I love about the fact that this is set in the nineteenth century is the fact that Christine's aunt Nellis is reasonably chaperonely. She seldom lets the girl out of her sight, worries constantly, and is scandalized by the slightest whiff of interaction with the dreaded Man, Bringer of the Sexing. Christine, though sometimes quite forward and inappropriate for the time period, manages to pull her behavior off by being innocent and even somewhat childish, which both makes Nellis' protectiveness seem more reasonable.
We get a little bit of description of Vincent's ex, Arabella, in this chapter; she is described as tall and blonde, with an extremely gentle and innocent temperament. I was intrigued by what sounds like a similar character to Leroux's original Christine, who was both Nordic and innocent; if we entertain that idea, we could even theorize that, in this version of the story, "Christine" is already deceased, and the current story is a sort of sequel. I saw a similar possibility in the 1987 Argento/Barberini film, though that film and this book are about as similar as apples and napalm. In the end, there doesn't seem to be much to support this idea, but the inclusion of a previous relationship ending in tragedy seems to be a forerunner to a lot of the later sequels that will be written for the Phantom story.
Despite her earlier trauma, Christine is determined to figure out just what, exactly, Vincent's damage is, and she sets up a midnight meeting with him to play chess and talk out from under the watchful eyes of her chaperone. While this isn't the best plan with the guy who was watching her bathe, she retains a certain amount of innocent self-possession which makes her seem blithely unaware that there's the potential for danger in the setup. Entertainingly, while Nellis doesn't know about this, Vincent's servant Lazarus (I see what you did there, Kasey) does, and he is not particularly subtle about communicating that he thinks this is beyond improper.
The only other thing I note here is that Vincent mentions that he's going to go put some cucumber slices on his eyes because they've gotten swollen from fatigue. That seems so... modern. The internet found me a brief mention of cucumbers being used in curatives for bad eyesight in ancient Rome, but nothing that seems equivalent to the modern use of cucumbers to reduce puffiness around the eyes. I was suddenly jerked out of the nineteenth-century narrative I was enjoying to have a visual of Vincent wearing a little towel and relaxing in a spa mud bath. It was disorienting.
Christine's breathless musing that she's going out to "seek danger like some penny-press heroine" made me giggle, because, of course, you could certainly call the original Christine in her newspaper serial a penny-press heroine herself. Very cute. Her determined invasion of Vincent's quiet time whenever she can get away with it is much less annoying that one might think, and their interaction is characterized by Christine's pointed insights - "You would never hurt me. You are much too busy hurting yourself," which she is lucky is correct due to romance novel fiat because hoo boy - and Vincent's gradual realizations when she offers them.
Vincent, as is not really all that surprising given he's started experiencing some Feelings, spends a lot of time comparing Christine to the mysteriously deceased Arabella; his most dominant thought always seems to be some variation on the idea that Christine is strong, whereas Arabella was weak (and there is implied subtext that that weakness may have contributed to her death). I stopped to ponder whether or not this might reflect the popular perception of Leroux's Christine (and Lloyd Webber's as well) as being a somewhat weak character; while Christine is probably the strongest character in the novel and certainly the pivotal one with all the ability to effect change with her decisions, modern readers often interpret her lack of physical prowess and genuine fear at her situation as weaknesses that make her a damsel in distress instead of a heroine, and later adaptations often draw on that idea. Kasey has made it a point to let us know that her Christine is, while certainly naïve as any gently-bred girl of the time period, not really all that delicate or gentle and certainly not weak and retiring. (Of course, we could have illustrated that just fine without making poor dead Arabella the whipping girl to represent Less Worthy Femininity, but it's early in the novel, we can still have hope.)
There's some more explication of Vincent's deformity here, too - he has no use of the arm on the side of his body that, presumably, is injured. I was excited to see that it seemed Kasey wasn't going to skimp on the deformity, since so many authors (particularly in romances) do in order to keep their heroes more conventionally sexy.
An interesting facet of Vincent's personality is a certain obsession with perfection; he is prone to subjecting items to careful scrutiny in order to suss out their imperfections, and invariably destroys them when he finds one. The idea seems to be borrowed from the original character of Erik; while Vincent doesn't have any musical talent to speak of, Erik's obsession with musical perfection and his constant driving of Christine to achieve it are a nice parallel to Vincent's mindset. There's also an obvious connection to his inner conflict over the "imperfection" of his own scarring, which he is externalizing by destroying anything "imperfect" that reminds him of it.
This chapter dashed my hopes a little bit. Vincent's face is finally revealed, though this "unmasking" scene is gentler than most and he allows her to do it, as in the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries. Unfortunately, after all that discussion of how Vincent had been disfigured with a horsewhip and how hideous he was now, I was more than a little bit let down by the description, which tells us that he has three thin, faded, parallel scars that are "almost attractive". Seriously? That's what supposedly made Christine scream like a fucking banshee the first time she saw him? That's what apparently translates to a terribly damaged arm that can't be used? Three vaguely attractive scars? What the fuck. The lack of a credible disfigurement is a letdown since it devalues those reactions and Vincent's own level of moping. The character would be totally justified in having trouble dealing with the aftermath of a brutal attack and permanent disfigurement, but it really feels like Kasey wanted a much more devastating kind of damage and for some reason edited it down at the last minute.
However, Vincent does clue us in later that he hasn't actually looked at himself in years (he's had all mirrors removed from the house), since the wounds were fresh, and thus doesn't actually know that they look better now (really? You haven't seen yourself in YEARS?), and Christine's initial reaction can be written off as lingering confusion and trauma from her carriage crash and the stress of waking up with some unknown dude bending over her. So it's not completely implausible, just mostly unsatisfying.
After that letdown, I am absolutely petrified of finding out what happened to Arabella. I'm deeply concerned that it will also turn out to be something ridiculous that Vincent is moping over out of all proportion, like her catching the sniffles and expiring of pneumonia after they had taken a walk in the spring rain or something. I don't know, at this point, if I can handle another event that doesn't actually require this much angst. But it's still a mystery to all the readers, including me, and Kasey has done a good job keeping us interested in finding out.
There's more detail on The Whipping of Vincent (sounds like a bondage flick) here, including the fact that his face was "flayed to the bone". Yet it only has three "rakish", almost-attractive scars? I don't know a lot about the general healing of whip-inflicted wounds in the nineteenth century, but I stand by my earlier theories.
Vincent, in his internal monologue, also discusses here how his obsession with perfection extends to seeking out the flaws in people as well as in objects; his primary example is Arabella, whose flaw was, apparently, weakness (oh my god dude just dying does not make her a weak and flawed person and what the fuck). However, he can't see any flaw in Christine, which leads us to the natural conclusion that Christine is the only woman he can love. This is not a flattering look on Vincent, who apparently has to have a perfect, flawless girlfriend but also requires her to accept the flaws he hates in himself, but it is, again, a parallel to the original Erik, who set his sights on perfection and only perfection in choosing his mate.
I'm seriously not a fan of all the Arabella trashing, though. She's not even alive, you don't have to have her competing with the main character for Vincent's affections.
I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Christine managed to find and open the secret passage that Vincent uses to get from his room to hers. Her exploration and confrontation of Vincent at the other end is a reversal of roles, making her the one invading the Phantom's domain rather than him the one invading the normal world's, and emphasizing his helplessness for once. It's a moment where she can regain power after his invasion of her space during her bath, and in which the playing field between them is leveled, at least a little, by removing his ability to sneak up on her as easily.
While there is quite a bit of social inappropriateness between these two, particularly when they're alone and Christine's chaperone can't stop her in a flurry of scandalized horror, Vincent redeems his gentlemanliness by trying to send Christine away because he's afraid he'll get all sexy otherwise. Again, he doesn't make himself look good by thinking about how much he's going to "take advantage of her" if she doesn't leave and how he'll be helpless before the onslaught of his mighty hormones. Look at yourself, Vincent, look at your choices. And unlike many romance novel heroes, he does not half-ass his attempts to piss her off into leaving; in particular, the part where he sneeringly tells her that if she wants to accommodate him so badly she can go over there and lie on her back crosses the line back into near sexual assault territory all on its own, especially since she's still alone and he's still the literal lord of the domain she's currently staying in. She does eventually manage to flee in distress, both because he's scaring her and because she genuinely likes him and doesn't know why he's being so hurtful; while Christine's affections for Vincent have grown too quickly for me to quite take them seriously, she's a naive enough character that I have no trouble believing in her sincerity, and I'm interested to see whether the dynamic develops into real emotion.
Damn it, Christine, stop talking out loud to yourself. Find Nellis and pass the Bechdel test if you need to verbalize so much.
There is a fantastic passage on page 120 that shows us that Kasey is totally paying attention to the dynamics of the original Christine's choice between Raoul and Erik: "Love, to Christine, had always meant holding hands, and kissing, and thinking sweet thoughts. This feeling, this sudden warmth mixed with mounting frustration, she knew without being told, was another side of love... this was wanting." The scene is handled beautifully, as Vincent struggles with his impulses and tries to control himself for her sake, and she realizes that her version of love is very different from his and that she will have to deal with that eventually. Christine has, up until this point, been attempting to love Vincent in the same fond, childhood manner that the original Christine and Raoul conduct their love affair; unfortunately, just as in the original novel, her relationship with the Phantom is characterized by a more passionate, less safe kind of love. Even though we have no Raoul character, Kasey's managed to work the same conflict in all on its own, and I did a little dance of reader glee in my chair.
By this point, after yet more discussion of the deceased Arabella's weaknesses and what sounds like possibly dumbness, I'm starting to get worried that Vincent is protesting too much and that he literally did, like, kill her by pushing her off a cliff or something.
While all this sneaking back and forth to Vincent's room in the dead of night is definitely scandalously inappropriate, it also preserves the idea of Christine being the only one with any contact with the Phantom (since Vincent refuses to ever show himself around Nellis or the majority of the servants), and is analogous to the original Erik's periodic visits in which he brought Christine briefly down to his home.
Nellis, who is gossipy enough for an entire flight of ballet rats, finds out about her niece's illicit midnight visits and, well... I expected more shock out of her, really. She has to assume there's been hanky-panky (even though there hasn't), but she's just sort of like, well, I guess we'll leave now. I guess as long as Christine doesn't fall pregnant, no one knows they're here and therefore it can't directly threaten Christine's reputation or prospects as long as Vincent doesn't go out and start bragging to the London social circles.
Vincent, having realized that moping about in his castle doesn't exactly make him the most admirable of possible mates, decides to try to regain the use of his arm in this chapter. While I really enjoy Kasey's descriptive powers - it sounds very painful and difficult, and like I would give up were I doing it - I still wonder about all these advanced physical therapy techniques that Vincent is using. I mean, physical therapy as a concept was just barely beginning to be thought about in the late nineteenth century, and ideas like using a ball to exercise a hand seem pretty modern. Vincent appears to be a very precocious dude. But I don't know that this isn't possible, and it's done well and for development of the character, so... eh, it gets a pass this time.
Much to Christine's distress, Nellis and Vincent collude in order to pack her off to London for her season, despite her hysterical protests that she wants to stay here with Vincent. For our Phantom character, his decision to send her to London is analogous to Erik's decision to send Christine back to the surface world after her first underground visits with him; they are both hoping that she'll come back of her own free will, thus validating the relationship. Additionally, since the situation is a little bit different, Vincent's dismissal of Christine allows her to remain the initiator of the relationship (i.e., she will have to come back) despite his up-to-now dominant position as owner of the estate. Vincent is more emotionally mature than the original Erik in his reasoning (Erik wanted confirmation of his control over Christine and affirmation that he could be loved without forcing it, whereas Vincent is just being mature enough to say that Christine needs a shot at seeing if she likes normal life before she decides to hide away with him forever), but the effect is the same, and I find him a much richer character than I did back when he was assaulting young women in bathtubs.
Vincent gives Christine a necklace as a parting gift, which functions to take the place of the ring that the Erik gave to his Christine; the difference, of course, is that because Vincent is not past the point of reason, he doesn't threaten that the world will end if she ever takes it off, but even so it's a physical token to carry the idea over.
By this point, I have a suspicion. A tiny, wee suspicion that I know who the Raoul character is going to be...
I was so right. Our Raoul character is none other than Fletcher, Arabella's brother - the very same man, in fact, who took a horsewhip to Vincent's face after his sister's death. He doesn't actually appear yet in this chapter, but his reputation precedes him; like the original Raoul, he is a soldier, and has a reputation for decency and kindness. I wonder if the whipping incident is analogous to the fight between Raoul and the Phantom in Lloyd Webber's musical, though it would be substantially altered and changed in chronological placement if that were the case.
Christine's misery at her separation from Vincent is genuine, but even better, her pouty brattiness is, too. She is a childish and imperfect character, which really makes her more relatable and believable (not the original Christine's paragon of virtue role, though she's still leaps and bounds ahead of most other characters in this novel), and her comeuppance when her aunt finally won't have any more of her sulking is satisfying, especially since she realizes her errors and begins behaving better, showing that she's maturing as a character as well. Her contrition was a bit speedy for my taste, but we're running out of chapters, here.
Fletcher makes his arrival, and, naturally, he's a study in contrasts with Vincent; gorgeous, blond, tanned, and courteous. He is immediately smitten with Christine and makes a half-in-jest proposal upon their first meeting, but when she tells him sweetly that she's already in love with someone, he gallantly decides to be her dedicated friend instead. Aww. Despite the fact that there are no declarations of dramatic love going on, the fact that Fletcher and Christine then spend most of the rest of the season together and become very fond of one another indeed is obviously intended to mirror the gentle, undemanding relationship between Raoul and the original Christine.
Vincent, still moping about at home but now with most of the use of his arm back after a few months of grueling work, suddenly has an epiphany about how many hot guys will be in London and decides to race off after Christine in a fit of insecurity. While this made me giggle a bit at him, it's entirely in keeping with the original Phantom's possessive mood swings.
The innocent "engagement" game of the original novel is played out again here, as the entire upper echelon of London society assumes that Fletcher and Christine are betrothed. Fletcher, interestingly enough, gets some of the entitlement factor that I so often see applied to the character of Erik; because of his tragic past and the death of his sister, he gets some spillover sympathy to make him more attractive and relatable as a character, though he never quite makes it up to the level of real contender for Christine's heart (or does he? Kasey is good at this suspense thing!). Since Kasey isn't demonizing Raoul as many modern versions do, she is still confronted with the problem of making a very Victorian hero more attractive to a modern reader, and she does so handily, neatly preventing us from disliking him because he might impede Vincent's happy ending and allowing us to like him as a sympathetic character in his own right. See, other writers? Do it like this! It can be done!
Naturally, there's going to be a masked ball. Vincent, newly arrived in London, can't resist the chance to go spy on Christine without her knowing he's there, though he swears he just wants to see her and dance with her once and then he'll leave, honest.
I know Kasey's read Leroux, now, from her description of the death's-head mask that Vincent wears (though he doesn't go the full Red Death hog).
After dancing with Vincent, blissfully innocent of his identity, Christine goes off with Fletcher and he proposes again, this time sincerely and adorably. The switch in dynamics is in full effect - since Vincent was here first in Kasey's story, Fletcher is the interloper - but it's all done beautifully, with real emotion on the part of each character. Vincent's pain at Christine's apparent betrayal when she kisses Fletcher is believable, and I found it in my heart to forgive him his stalkery ways even as I rooted for the new, no-assault relationship blooming between Christine and Fletcher.
By far the funniest thing going on here is when Fletcher starts laughing after Christine kisses him.
"Good lord, I do believe I've just been insulted," Fletcher remarked wryly once the short kiss was over. "Father would be so disappointed in his son."
"Insulted?" Christine repeated in confusion...
Fletcher smiled, though his expression remained crestfallen. "That kiss, Christine, was the sort you would give your brother, or a kind elderly uncle. I've been kissed a time or two before, you see, and I've learned to recognize the difference. You really do love that other man, don't you? Even worse, you were totally unaware that I've been falling more madly, passionately in love with you each day over these last two weeks. It's enough to make a man doubt his own importance."
See? I love Fletcher. I don't dislike Vincent by any means, but I like Fletcher and I wish he didn't have to be sad. Can I vote a ménage à trois for the ending of this novel?
And in case there was anyone who wasn't sold on Fletcher yet, when Christine confesses the identity of her secret love, he thinks the whole thing is cosmic justice, and not in a bitter way, either. The following scene, wherein Fletcher visits Vincent (to whom he has not spoken since his sister's death) and the two men reconcile, is amazing. Both men achieve redemption and freedom from the pain of their oppressive paths (Fletcher abandons his plan for suicide; Vincent lets go of his guilt over Arabella's death), and I can't express how emotionally well-done the scene is. I got all choked up.
And, at long last, the truth about What Happened to Arabella is finally out. I mentioned before that I was terrified that this would turn out to be too minor to justify all the angst over it, but Kasey delivered. After Vincent had pressed his suit a little bit too zealously on his fiancée (though of course he didn't hurt her or anything, just got a little gropy and then left, continuing Kasey's annoying tendency to say "well, there was some sexual assault but it was mild please still like my character"), Arabella slit her own wrists and left a note saying that she couldn't bear the idea of having sex with Vincent, so she was taking the easy way out. Fletcher's murderous rage is pretty understandable, too, since he thought that his best friend had raped his sister and caused her suicide. However, Fletcher has since discovered that Arabella was in love with and pregnant by another man, and that was the actual reason for her despair at the idea of pairing off with Vincent. So Vincent is absolved (sort of, in the sense that he is still a creeper who can't keep his goddamn hands to himself) and the good feeling is apparent as they renew their friendship.
To be honest, this book could have been truly great if it hadn't been trying to fix-it Christine and the Phantom character together; if the original ending had been preserved, with Fletcher and Christine pursuing their relationship and Vincent achieving some peace and closure for his own horrible past so that he could move on, this would have been one of my favorite versions ever. As it is, Vincent and his grabby hands are excused for his bad behavior and too much of the book focuses on Arabella and Christine as Motivations for Feelings instead of people, but even so, it was a good read.
This isn't great literature. It's not ground-breaking, and it doesn't have a ton of surprises. But it's a fabulous read, and an example of a writer doing a great job of using the Phantom story to tell her own story without cheapening the original.