Phantom of the Night (2005)

     by Michelle M. Pillow

Oh, my god, what is happening? I feel like I went to bed one night, snug in the knowledge that I had a giant bookshelf full of Phantom of the Opera books, and when I woke up they were all full of vampires.

 

When I read this, it was only out as an ebook, meaning it wasn't published in a hard format that I could hold in my little hands. Sadly, it lived up to every bad stereotype of ebooks; I spent ten bucks on two hundred "pages" of MS Sans Serif and margins the size of Bigfoot's instep. It was misery to plow through. There were no indentations or tab stops and paragraphs are separated by blank white lines, the number of which could be anywhere from one to seven with no warning, explanatio,n or consistency. There were no italics or underlining anywhere in the book, even when it needed them, and chapters didn't even start on new pages of the PDF. It was a bit like reading the novel I wrote on an electric typewriter when I was twelve, except that I didn't have a seizure every time I went for the carriage return.

 

It’s been rereleased a few times since then in multiple formats, so I can only hope these kinks were ironed out.

 

Note from Author

 

But first, this. God, someone out there must have been listening when I mentioned how much I love authorial notes that manage to be both completely redundant and deeply uninspiring. For the most part, this one exists to do two things: the first is to confirm for us that this is, indeed, based on Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, and the second is to do a lot of scene-setting regarding nineteenth-century performing companies and how they differed from normal society, which is really something that ought to be happening in the text itself, but I'll take what I can get.

 

When the story itself did start, this note caused me NO END of confusion and heartache.

 

Prologue

 

Pillow is not the worst writer I've encountered in this project (she'd have to work pretty hard to be, considering that I've made the acquaintance of such worthies as Bernadette and Russell), but on a scale from Amoeba to Shakespeare she's hovering somewhere around Middle-School Student Who Uses Her Books as a Paper Source to Roll Roaches. Her writing is amateurish in the extreme, riddled with grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors, excess repetition of words, and just plain bad choices in phrases, such as a distressing tendency for things to be described as "for real". She also apparently believes she has mastered the arts of foreshadowing and subtlety, but I'll go ahead and spoil the rest of the novel now by letting you know that she hasn't.

 

But the story, right? This could still be saved if the story is good! Oh, friends, just go get your bottle of choice now. God knows I did.

 

So we open with Lily Graye, our Christine character, hanging out with her father Gregory, her brother Sethan, and friend of the family Jude. Leaving aside the question of who names their kid Sethan and whether or not Daddy here might be a lapsed member of the Hasidic Jewish community, it's interesting that Lily has a brother at all; the only other piece to date to assign Christine a brother (and thus a living relative once Daddy Daae kicks the bucket) was Bernadette's 2002 novel. It's an interesting change in dynamic, as it kicks Lily out of the traditionally completely bereft orphan role and into that of having at least some familial contact left (sort of. Wait for it).

 

At any rate, Lily, at the tender age of eleven, is already madly in love with decade-older Jude, who entertains her by performing scenes from The Taming of the Shrew in their living room. In your normal Phantom-story setup, this easily pegs him as Raoul, especially with all her internal malarkey about him always being there and practically a part of the family and she's already in love and determined to marry him as soon as she gets old enough. It might be touching if it weren't written with all the literary flair of snot.

 

Lily's deceased mother was apparently a ballerina at the famous Pavilion theatre (possibly based on the one in Essex, or maybe Bournemouth?), but she was forced to quit performing when she married Gregory. Since this is modern-day, I have no idea why; he's a professor, so it's not like they're traveling or he desperately needs housekeeping services. This is the first, tiny step on a road to exponential period failure the likes of which I have never seen. I've never encountered anyone who was so catastrophically bad at their own time period as Pillow apparently is in this book.

 

The prologue ends in pretty much the most heavy-handed fashion imaginable; Lily suddenly comes up with a "bad feeling" (or at least she says she does, though despite the fact that we are in her internal monologue she never actually seems to have it) and begs Sethan and Jude not to go to the "college party" they're planning to attend, and not only does Sethan promise to return but he also forces Jude to swear to protect Lily always if something happens to him. Gee. I wonder if he's going to live out the evening. Better wait for the mistress of suspense to enlighten us.

 

Chapter 1

 

Y’ALL HE DIED.

 

In fact, everybody died. Sethan, Jude and Gregory were all murdered that very night while Lily was mysteriously somewhere else who knows stop asking questions. She has been traumatized about returning home and finding their cold bodies for the past twelve years, but it's mostly okay because somehow she managed to become a performer at the Pavilion, just like her mother, through the efforts of her aunt Isabelle, a costumer with obvious Madame Giry-analogue overtones (she's not a boxkeeper, but hey, she's also not a ballet mistress - there's something new!).

 

Now begins the Willy Wonka Tour. The Pavilion is, indeed, apparently a magical place as Pillow said in her authorial note, because all the actors, staff, and crew apparently live in it year-round and never leave. It's not a school; it's not a boarding house; it's not an apartment complex and nobody pays rent. They just... you know, live there.

 

I blame the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film for this. Y’all... you know that nobody actually lives at the theatre, right? (Well, except for the Phantom, but that's one of his many charming eccentricities.) You know that nobody lived at the theatre then, either, right? Performers in the nineteenth-century generally had apartments in the city, just like everybody else. You know why? Because nobody can pay for a bazillion people to live in a building that seriously wasn't designed for it. And feed them. And clothe them. NO ONE DOES THAT. It's fiscally unsound and socially strange. I hate to break it to you, wee authors of the world, but Schumacher lied to you about those ballet dormitories. He lied so hard. They don't exist. 

 

But here at the Pavilion, which is a strange wonderland of unlimited financial resources where no one ever leaves, everybody lives there, is fed there, and hilariously wears only clothing from the costume department. It all sounds a little bit like maybe Lily lost touch with reality when her family died and this is her conception of wherever she actually lives, which would be kind of neat except it isn't really happening. Lily and her roommate Arianna (a lovely ballerina who is so obviously a retread of Meg Giry that it hurts) live in chorus girl quarters... that apparently have a gold-encrusted ceiling. Shit. Do the actual important people who live here sleep in diamond sheets or something?

 

Another thing I blame on Lloyd Webber's version combined with a deep lack of knowledge about the performing arts worlds: people, "diva" is not a title. It's not a position, or a job description, or an anything, really. It just means "goddess" in Italian, and it's something you call someone who is an excellent and widely-renowned female performer. You can theoretically call any popular lady a diva if you want to. It's a nice thing to say.

 

But no, not Pillow. Diva is a thing now in her book, apparently. It's an entire caste unto itself, in fact; in the Pavilion, there are several Divas, all of whom go by "Diva Firstname" at all times, and all of whom are apparently served dinners of roasted dodo and dinosaur eggs on platinum serviceware in a hall made entirely of peacock feathers and the burnished skin of their lovers. They are all, of course, terrible people, because being a good performer who is paid well is tantamount to having no soul. The entire theatre, naturally, hates them.

 

But I can't let the frankly out of control wackiness of the setting have all the fun, so instead let's check out what wild nonsense the characters are exhibiting, starting with Lily! Lily receives lots of presents from a secret admirer and has for years. They are always expensive, fancy, and often inappropriate, such as the tiny silk nightgown she is currently wearing. She thinks nothing of them, though... I mean, why would she? Obviously it's just some other performer being nice to her. They couldn't be from anyone with a romantic interest, despite the lingerie, because, I mean, nobody's ever left a love note or anything. So it's probably harmless.

 

It's hard to be me. I want to start a pool on Lily's chances of survival, but I'm hamstrung because A) I already know what happens at the end of the book, and B) life-threateningly clueless women are apparently murder-proof in erotic novels, as we learned from the Rhodes book a little while ago.

 

There might not be love notes, but there are occasional unlove notes included. They say things like "Some birds are merely birds, others grow to be dragons." What the fuck does that even mean? It doesn't mean anything! Is Lily secretly dragonborn? What's going on here?

 

What's going on is that Lily has no fucking survival instincts (and you’d think she would when her entire family died in a home invasion), and Arianna, in a near-exact reproduction of the "Angel of Music" conversation from Lloyd Webber's musical, thinks she just has a few gentle delusions but is generally fine. Oh, there's a Phantom in the Pavilion, by the way. Or maybe not. Apparently no one but Lily believes in him, so he's not exactly reigning over the place with terror or anything. She knows he's real because once, when a stagehand was Assaulting her Virtue because it’s important to sexually assault female characters so men can look good saving them, a "masked protector" swooped down out of the shadows and knocked the guy out before vanishing.

 

It's cool. It makes her feel safer! No, there's probably no connection to the sexy presents, why do you ask?

 

This, however, is interesting: the Pavilion is apparently run by the Baron Von Hughes, whom all the chorus girls whisper is a lecher who sleeps with the divas before making their careers. Why, is that the shadow of the Baron Hunyadi I see there, transplanted out of the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film and given a Dutch background instead of a Hungarian one? I'm tickled - or, at least, I would be if I thought that was actually what was going on. I'm on the fence. On the one hand, lecherous Baron who makes or breaks the careers of the ladies around him is spot-on, but on the other hand, nothing else in this festival of nonsensee is going to resemble any version of the story but Lloyd Webber's, so it may be nothing.

 

In fact, after meeting the Baron a little while later, he looks suspiciously like Harold Zidler from Luhrmann's 2001 film Moulin Rouge! in temperament and appearance. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that that film had also influenced Pillow's book - it's another example of a film wherein all the performers apparently live in the theatre (though to be fair, some of them do, since the place doubles as a brothel). And it's very much magic realism, which... well, I suppose I have to give Pillow props for trying if that's what she's trying to do here, but she's not really succeeding.

 

At any rate, while Pillow gleefully mashes words together where they do not go, I now find myself staring in confusion at more performance art failure. "Diva Giselle" has "thirty costumes" for the same part that she "demanded" in order to satisfy her "whims for each night the play is open"? You have no fucking clue how professional theatre works, do you? Costumes do not magically appear, tailored and perfect. They cost money. They are sewn by professionals who have no interest in your whims and are not going to fit you for thirty costumes for one part unless you have a gun, and furthermore, as the performer, you usually have next to no input on costuming whatsoever. That's what the costume designer is for. You just wear it and go out and look nice in it.

 

EVEN IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, THAT WOULD NOT HAVE WORKED. AND IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE 2005.

 

I'M STILL IN CHAPTER ONE.

 

Arianna's life is hard. She had to spend all day with the ballet chorus, practicing their pas de bourrée! They spent "hours" on it, I tell you! This is because it is the only ballet step anyone who is not a ballet dancer knows to mention in literature.

 

The theatre is abuzz because the Baron has recently fired one of the capital-D Divas (apparently she wouldn't sleep with him, although ordering thirty costumes is okay) and there is a vacancy for the part of Queen Titania in next week's opening performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Pavilion is apparently set up expressly to fail, since not only does it house, feed, and clothe thousands of people and routinely give in to their ridiculously extravagant demands, but it also enjoys firing performers with no plan just before opening night. Oh, and one of the THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ON STAFF WHO ARE HERE ALL THE TIME couldn't have been, you know, AN UNDERSTUDY? Arianna is, of course, certain that Lily should "try out" for the part, because of course she's secretly an awesome actress. Since Lily is seventeen and about as bright as brick and the Baron would have to have had his head recently transplanted not to already have someone else in mind for the role, I'm afraid I have to disagree.

 

And then all my dreams finished dying on page 16 (YES, ONLY 16), when this happened:

 

"Closing her eyes, Lily saw the three bloodied bodies in her childhood living room. It had been so long ago, but she could still picture their white faces and dead eyes. Their bodies had been drained dry in some sick ritualistic killing - at least that's what the police said in later reports. The killer or killers were never found."

 

Yes. It's a vampire epic (try to act surprised when this huge secret is revealed much later). And then I went for the rum.

 

You know, if her entire family was killed by a ritualistic serial killer and only she survived by virtue of not being home, Lily is, if possible, even more catastrophically ill-advised to not be concerned by HER SECRET PRESENT-GIVING STALKER.

 

Pillow goes off into a lengthy discussion of the state-of-the-art sound system in the Pavilion and what breathtaking effects it can achieve even though sometimes the Baron insists on hiring orchestras for the performances in his "premiere theatre" anyway. I goddamn HOPE he insists on hiring musicians for orchestral pieces instead of just playing recordings. What, they're not important enough performers to get to live here year-round and wallow in heaps of gold and stolen costuming?

 

Also, if this is such a modern and advanced theatre, why is it situated above a "crypt-like maze" that is kept roped off and which no one ever enters? Is there a reason for that? You're just inviting vermin and litigation.

 

We delve a little more into the bizarre alternate universe that is the bananas theatre caste system Pillow has going on. There are at least five Divas mentioned - Diva Giselle, Diva Roseline, Diva Malvina, Diva Fontaine and Diva Elsa - and their antics range from ridiculous to has-never-met-humans-before. I was seriously waiting for Pillow to pop up and say, "Ha ha, just kidding! This is actually fantasy/alternate history! Here's my choirs-of-angels-like political setup for this wacky place," but she never did.

 

And as if we weren't out of touch with reality enough yet, enter Peter Verona, a very nice man who looks exactly like the deceased Jude and throws Lily for a loop. He's come to be a patron of the opera so everyone has to be nice to him, even though the patronage system doesn't quite work the way it did in the nineteenth century anymore (you want to donate? Awesome. Thanks for the check and here are your season tickets). Of course since Jude is dead she eventually wanders off confused, and we, the readers, are supposed to wonder what on earth is going on. He's quite clearly the Raoul character, enchanted with Lily's performance that night (seriously, she had one line. One. She "stole the show" with her one line bit-part).

 

Lily, by the way, is beyond impressed when Peter knows that his name comes from a Shakespeare play. Oh, yeah, dude, I'm way impressed by that. Bowled over. He must be a genius. Also… like… Romeo & Juliet may be set in Verona, but it didn’t invent Verona. It’s a real city! Three-quarters of a million people live there!

 

I mentioned being out of touch with reality when Peter arrived, and that's because he immediately starts talking to the Baron about casting of shows and putting Lily in a bigger part. I'm going to take a deep breath so the screaming doesn't--

 

FOR GOD'S SAKE, PATRONS DON'T GET TO CAST THE FUCKING SHOW, ESPECIALLY NOT IN THE MODERN DAY. THEIR JOB IS TO WRITE CHECKS AND GET THEIR NAMES IN THE PROGRAM. AND THE DAYS OF WOMEN BEING FORCED TO FIND SOME RICH DUDE TO FUCK TO HAVE ANY HOPE OF EVER BEING CAST IN A PRODUCTION ARE NOT EXACTLY SOMETHING WE ALL ASPIRE TO RETURN TO. THIS IS THE MODERN DAY. OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING.

 

Chapter 2

 

Oh, whew! We made it to the second chapter!

 

Now we jump points of view and, of course, Peter actually is Jude! Surprise! He is very shocked that Lily recognized him, what with his clever disguise of dyeing his hair brown.

 

Naturally, Lily's mere presence and one line in her sultry voice have already caused the mother of all boners in Jude, which makes him feel dirty because she's a decade younger than he is and he thinks of her like a little sister. It's okay, Jude. Everyone knows that all rules regarding proper sex partners instantly cease to apply to you when you become a vampire. Oops, revealed a very well-camouflaged secret there, didn’t I?

 

Jude is now pondering that "Lily was his soul purpose for living - such as his life was," on page 26. STOP IT. That homophone doesn't deserve abuse, and neither does the noble practice of foreshadowing.

 

Hilariously, Jude has "black eyes flecked with green and red". Well, that's a new one. Is he the Christmas Phantom? Festive!

 

But let's not leave Lily on her own for too long (she might wander off and fall into the stage machinery or something). When she goes to bed that night, some strange man in a mask arrives, feels her up in her sleep, refuses to let her leave when she wakes up, and then admits that he's "saving her" for himself before vanishing, apparently into thin air or the shadows of her room.

 

Most people would probably respond to this with panic, terror, and cries for help. Not Lily, though. She thinks someone breaking into her room to assault her in her sleep before ominously threatening to save her for some future purpose is totally hot. It's cool. It's probably just the protective ghost of Jude. No, there's probably no connection to the murders that have just started occurring at the Pavilion, why do you ask?

 

I am very, very, very, very tired of Pillow using the word "patron" as a verb. You do not "patron" someone. Peter is not here to "patron Lily". THE VERB FORM OF THE WORD IS "PATRONIZE", AND IT DOESN'T MATTER BECAUSE YOU DON'T ACT AS PATRON FOR ONE PERFORMER, YOU DO IT FOR THE ENTIRE HOUSE OR COMPANY. THIS IS THE FUCKING MODERN DAY. PATRON IS NO LONGER SLANG FOR "GUY WHO SUPPORTS OR GIVES GIFTS TO PERFORMING LADY IN ORDER TO GET LAID". IT JUST MEANS YOU DONATED MONEY. For god's sake, hasn't anyone here heard of dating?

 

Lily and Arianna get together to have a gossip session about Peter in which they reconfirm that, yes, he is clearly way smart and awesome, and knowing the name of the real-life setting of one of the most well-known plays in the world means he's probably way more knowledgeable about the stage than the "usual pretentious snobs". You know, there’s a St. Peter of Verona. He’s probably just Catholic, y’all.

 

We haven't spent much time with Auntie Isabelle, Lily's costumer relative yet, so Pillow helpfully allows us to do so in order to show us that she, too, is from fucking Neptune. Obviously a parallel character to Madame Giry, she's in frequent contact with the Phantom and the only other person who knows he exists. You see, when she first brought Lily to the Pavilion as a child, a mysterious masked man appeared to her and started paying her in gold coins (...what, crowns? Doubloons? ARE YOU AWARE THAT IT'S THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY?) to take good care of her. Then he started leaving her presents all the time and stalking/spying on her up unto the present day, when Isabelle is surprised that Lily is asking her about it. I mean, she didn't think it was anything to worry about - obviously, the guy was just some nice masked person who wanted to see that the poor child was taken care of. Isabelle never mentioned it to Lily because she just assumed she knew. I mean, it's so obvious.

 

I've come to the conclusion now that Lily's problems are some kind of genetic curse.

 

Oh, and apparently costume-mending Isabelle is secretly the puppetmaster of the entire theatre, because somehow she's going to "get Lily an audition" for the part of Titania so she'd better go rehearse, like, stat.

 

In closing, it is revealed that the Phantom is a vampire. A pretty, pretty vampire. Named Jude. Shocking. My blood pressure apparently wasn't high enough yet, so Pillow brings the pain by having the vampire attack Lily for her delicious virgin blood and then telling me all about how wondrous and hot and exciting and erotic it is when he holds her down against her will, stabs her in the neck, and sucks until she passes out from blood loss. And don't try to run any "he's a vampire, that makes it automatically sexy" bullshit past me, madam - you actually write something about him using a power or her feeling a feeling or something that is credible, or no dice.

 

I like vampire lit, people. And yet here I am, reading a thoroughly unsexy vampire attack, and I just want someone to beat Jude to death with a piece of scenery because he’s just sexually assaulting Lily and I’m going to have to read about how they’re in True Love anyway.

 

Chapter 3

 

After recovering from the vampire attack in the basement (she doesn't know who it was, thanks to the clever mask), Lily figures the smartest thing to do would probably be to wander around the theatre in the middle of the night by herself in her tiny sexy nightie. Well, excess blood loss can cause brain damage, I suppose. (That does sound suspiciously similar to a previous version of this in film, though…)

 

In case you wondered anything about the world outside of the nest of frothing bizarreness that is the Pavilion, the theatre is apparently situated in a fictitious city named Elegan, which is, you know, super elegant and stuff, full of lights and culture (no, we're not going to see any of it, but take her word for it. CULTURE). It is renowned the world over for its general awesometown qualities. There is a large castle on a hill where a mysterious recluse lives, but nobody is really very curious about that.

 

I made a concerted effort, really I did, to just pretend we were doing some kind of alternate reality thing, but Pillow, with her relentless modern-day Americanisms, wouldn't let me.

 

Lily decides, alone on the roof in the middle of the night, that she really misses the Phantom who just attacked her in the basement and she wants him to come back up and do it again. I share his confusion when he arrives (apparently she can telepathically summon him because he's tasted her blood, which is convenient), because I also do not know why she isn't afraid of him, aside from the all-too-lovingly-described crisis she is currently having in her panties.

 

And then, on to the vampiric sexinating. Much to my eternal disappointment, Pillow's sex scenes, which should be the best thing about the novel based on what I've seen of the rest of it, are lackluster. Come on, erotica writer! This is what most of us paid the price of admission for! In fact, I'll share a bit with you guys from page 47:

 

"Insanity.

Passion.

Desire.

The words echoed in her brain. It was all there inside them. They were one, souls merging, bodies drawn together. He couldn’t pull away. She needed him too badly. Her body was on fire, her thighs hot, her pussy wet and aching to be filled. So long she’d waited for a man to make her feel such passion as wrote about in plays. Silk glided under his hands as he gripped her hips."

 

Prose to die for. Conveniently (a lot about vampires is apparently convenient, I'm learning from this book), he is able to use his swanky mind-powers to prevent Lily from feeling the pain of losing her virginity, so we don't have to worry about him having to do anything pesky like actually performing foreplay. The Phantom is, of course, the bringer of orgasms. Several of them.

 

Lily is still unaware, post-sexings, that Peter and the Phantom are the same person. Her lack of awareness apparently can't be helped, but it is interesting for the rest of us to note that we don't often see Raoul and the Phantom as actually being the same person; the last time we saw that was in the 1974 de Palma/Finley film, which also pulled some other dual-person shenanigans. Of course, it'd be more interesting if this twist hadn't been completely predictable and honestly kind of boring, but, as I said at the beginning, I'll take what I can get with this book.

 

There's some more random Diva hate in their conversation; the Phantom declares that they all have very weak minds that can easily be dominated. Dude, all of them? How does becoming a star performer make you “weak-minded?” What even is “weak-minded”?

 

After ordering her never to see or call for him again lest he further corrupt her with his evil ways, Jude departs to do some underground moping. He bit her again during sex, you see, and each time he drinks from her he "marks" her (and apparently if he ever does it a third time they'll be inextricably bound together forever). The three-drink maximum idea is very much not new to vampire literature; White Wolf's Vampire: the Masquerade uses a similar concept, wherein three drinks of vampire's blood permanently binds you to the bloodsucker in question as a thrall, but the use of the phrase "mark" and the accompanying telepathic shenanigans suggest that Pillow borrowed this particular idea from Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, which uses the idea almost identically.

 

Vampire literature: when it's just too hard to make it the same as everyone else's, feel free to borrow someone else's plot points.

 

In case there was any shred of originality or non-painful cliche still clinging to Jude, Pillow goes on to inform us that he apparently shops from the Morbid EmoVamp Catalogue (he decorates his underground lair with black marble angels and crosses, despite not ever evincing anything resembling a religious opinion), is tormented by his corrupting influence on Lily's pretty, pretty innocence, and would kill himself if only he knew how! Here, feel the depth of his suffering on page 54:

 

"'She deserves more than a monster,' he whispered, staring at his reflection so hard he broke the glass mirror into shards. They fell to the ground like snowflakes. His feelings consumed him until all he felt was the pain."

 

But what about the pain we're feeling after having read that, Pillow? Not everybody is a master of self-medication like I am.

 

Chapter 4

 

This is far from the first place it's been done in this book, but please. Please, I am seriously begging anyone who will listen now. Learn the difference between a "leading role" and a "leading roll". One is a part in a stage production, and the other is... I don't know, the first baked good of the morning or the beginning of an acrobatics routine or a drum solo or something.

 

It is with exquisite irony that I see Lily thinking, "Does the man actually think he is clever?" about the Baron. Sadly, he is obviously entire realms cleverer than she is. I mean, regard the following from page 58:

 

"While being someone's 'property' should've been objectionable, Lily found she didn't mind it as much as she should - especially if she belonged to Peter."

 

Oh. Well, as long as she's okay with it, then. There are a lot of things I dislike about vampire fiction (ironically, because I also love vampire fiction), but possibly the biggest daddy of them all is the often prevalent and prominent idea that being possessed like an object by the vampire is not only okay but highly desirable. The vampire making someone think that with mind-powers, sure, I'm down - but the author pushing that angle, not so much. I... you... isn't fiction written by women for women supposed to be more progressive?

 

Some actual auditioning and rehearsal is going on here, which may come as a shock to readers who until now thought this was a book about a magical vampire-populated wonderland. Everyone talks about "the words" a lot, but I get the impression that Pillow doesn't actually know what part of the play she's talking about. This is one place wherein appropriate quotes from the Bard wouldn't have gone amiss, but Pillow can't be arsed to go look any up so they just talk about "the words" over and over. Then again, I suppose quoting Shakespeare in the middle of this mess would have thrown things into even more unflattering comparison.

 

And speaking of theatre knowledge, I kind of have to question whether or not Pillow has even read A Midsummer Night's Dream considering that she continually and persistently refers to Queen Titania as the lead. Titania's no bit part, but she's definitely not the female protagonist or lead - that'd be Hermia and Helena, the actual main female characters of the play.

 

But everybody knows that the fairy queen is always the lead role. So shut up, drama-lovers.

 

Of course, Lily's magical audition that she somehow got out of nowhere goes fabulously and she lands the role, even though there is no real reason for this to happen. She's not allowed to hang out with the Phantom anymore by his own word, but she keeps having dreams wherein he shows up in her room anyway, takes her down to his lair, bangs her brainless (I believe she can feel "his hard cock claiming her to her soul" at one point... charming) and then returns her to bed. Lovely. I can't decide which part of him mind-whammying her, raping her, and then gaslighting her into thinking it never happened makes him more desirable as a romantic hero.

 

Speaking of said roommate, once Lily gets a chance to tell her about losing her virginity to her semi-mythical masked stalker on the roof in the "throws of passion", Arianna's first question is not "Who is he?" or "How are you?" or "Are you okay?" or even "Did you get his name?", but is more along the lines of, "Awesome, did you have an orgasm?" THIS ENVIRONMENT IS NOT DOING ANYTHING TO HELP THIS POOR GIRL.

 

Oh, and Arianna assures her that she shouldn't suspect her Phantom of being the murderer, whose kills are now several in number (all drained of blood, natch). That would be jumping to conclusions, and that would be mean. GOD, Lily.

 

Chapter 5

 

By the time Peter shows up in a horse-drawn carriage to take Lily on a date, I am trying to raise my little "But you said it's modern-day! People have televisions and credit cards!" pitchfork but my arm is too tired. Whatever. I give up. Maybe it's like the little carriages you can ride in Central Park in New York City. The entire book just feels like Pillow wanted to do a period piece but didn't want to do any research or learn any vernacular, so she just made it modern-day and then cherry-picked her favorite period elements with no rhyme or reason.

 

Time to jump straight into carriage-bangings. In order to keep things interesting, we're going to do a little cunnilingus to start with before getting on to the usual humping. Lily's dialogue during the fun and games is so stupendous that I have lovingly preserved it for you, starting on page 77:

 

"Ah."

"Peter."

"Ahhh!"

"Mm, yes."

"Ah, ah, yes!"

 

Pillow, level with me. Is this secretly abstinence material? Because you have done an unprecedentedly amazing job of making that sex seem like the most boring thing ever to happen, ever. I don't come to erotica to be bored by sex!

 

Peter just can't contain himself, however, so he bites her again during, I dunno, her second or third orgasm or something, I lost track. Of course, once he does that and she thinks about it really hard for a few minutes, she figures out that he's one and the same as the Phantom, and furthermore that he's one and the same as Jude, and that he is a vampire! The shock! The horror! The leaping out of the carriage and running disheveled through the streets!

 

She can run but she can't hide, because that was Jude's third drink so now they have inescapable telepathies with one another, because why violate her in just the normal ways humans do when you can do so much more as an undead asshole? Also she still thinks he's hot and she is woe, tormented.

 

Chapter 6

 

Another person turns up dead in the theatre. The Baron responds by making an announcement and cautioning everyone that "we must be organized or the outside world will try to come in and police us." You... what? THIS THEATER IS AN ALIEN LIFE FORM.

 

Meanwhile, Jude turns up again and mentally dominates Lily into giving him head with his vampire powers, thus making it a stupendous number of times I’ve had to watch this dude rape this poor girl. How nice. I'm also learning about vampire physiology here, since apparently he's still producing semen for Lily to swallow and apparently vampires don't need any warm-up time in between rounds, since once she's done with that he just knocks her down on the floor of the coatroom and goes for it traditional-style (see, she got a turn and she likes it so the mental domination was okay, the author would like you to know).

 

Oh, and he informs her that there's some kind of underground vampire power struggle going on in the theater or something, so that's why she shouldn't hang out with him. Except when he wants head.

 

Chapter 7

 

After a brief detour to vilify some random other girl for being Not Lily (yeah, who does that jerk think she is, wearing hair extensions and admiring your dress?!), Lily goes off to perform as Queen Titania for opening night. This apparently involves a lot of quick-changes and scurrying backstage, even though Titania's only in three scenes and they all take place on the same night in the same place and she has no costume changes. Oh no! Random other girl stole Lily's dress while she was onstage! WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING?

 

It is, of course, equally shocking when random other girl and her friend both turn up dead shortly thereafter. Luckily, "the Baron practically owns the police", so it's no problem. Will the wonders of this place never cease?

 

It turns out, we discover through conversation with still-wacky Aunt Isabelle, that these murders have been going on for a long time (years!), though usually they're just "disappearances" and the Baron hushes them up. Well, yes, they probably should stop the murderer, but ticket sales might fall if people found out there was a murderer in the theater and the city of Elegan wouldn't stand for such a blight on its wondrous reputation. So it's probably better to just keep on ignoring them.

 

IT’S LOGICAL, MOVE ON, READER.

 

It is now the eleventh hour and of course it is revealed, in a shocking twist, that the vampire killing everybody is... not Jude! The patron of the entire place (SIGH) is actually a vampire and has been eating people there for years! Lily discovers this via Standard Villain Exposition Methods, which in her case involves the Baron barricading her in her room, unbuttoning his pants and kindly explaining the whole thing to her before adding that he's an evil rapist who was "promised a taste" of her before handing her over to the big baddie.

 

Naturally, this Attempt on her Virtue, Again is interrupted by a heroic vampire who busts in, kills the Baron by ripping his heart out, and reveals himself to be... wait for it... Sethan, her brother! NO! Somehow, the idea that he might also be a vampire since Jude is NEVER OCCURRED TO HER! She does a nice little faint so he can carry her off into the night.

 

By the way, the mysterious evil vampire owns the deed to the Pavilion now, which he made the Baron sign over to him IN BLOOD. Why in blood? I have no idea. Because he's a vampire, okay?

 

Jude, who arrives to play detective and figure out what happened to Lily while everyone runs around in a panic over the Baron's death, needs to stop using the word "supernatural" as a noun. He really, really does. It’s too late to introduce a lexicon for this mess.

 

Chapter 8

 

Sethan is, of course, the recluse who lives in the castle on the hill. He is, like Jude, all fucked up and grumpy over being a vampire, and he says mean things to Lily before admitting that of course he isn't going to hurt her. Luckily he doesn't have to, because Big Evil Vampire has arrived and kicks him aside like small fry.

 

Turns out that Big Evil Vampire is, in fact, the vampire who killed all of Lily's family way back when (NO WAY). He explains, in Standard Villain Exposition Method #2, that he would have taken her, too, because he just can't resist that delicious innocence, but she was too young so he waited for her to grow up first (vampires: good with killing people, committing rape, and mind-controlling people against their will, but god, they're not perverts). She is Shocked and Appalled and will Never Give Him What He Wants, Never!

 

Jude turns up at this point and also gets swatted over, though he and Sethan get a few seconds to gape fishlike at the startling revelation of the other's survival. Come on, they BOTH thought they were the only one?.

 

Pillow just gave up here and started calling the big bad vampire Gregor in the narrative, even though no one ever introduces him or anything (I'd like to say that's interesting in view of the fact that Lily's father's name was Gregory, but honestly I think it's an accident). Hilarious discussion of how gorgeous and commanding he is but how somehow Lily doesn't think that's hot like she thinks Jude is hot ensues. The following examples of dialogue from Jude and Sethan, all from page 121, also ensue:

 

"You'll not touch her, you fiend!"

"You'll pay for your sins, I promise you!"

"I beseech you!"

"I curse you both!"

 

Guys. THIS IS THE MODERN DAY. YOU ARE MODERN-DAY PEOPLE. WHY DO YOU WANT TO MAKE ME CRY?

 

And you're not off the hook, either, Gregor. "Is that anyway to greet your father"? "the times Jude had drank from her"? You're all fired.

 

In a scene that I'm sure is supposed to be of utmost tragedy but really is only the culmination of a pretty boring plot we've seen coming for miles, Lily is vampirized by Gregor against her will while Jude and Sethan wail in denial, even though Jude was totally going to do that anyway (but for purposes of true love which would have made it better, apparently). There is much vampiric crying while Gregor tells them they are losers.

 

But not as loserly as Gregor, because somehow Sethan, who is about as convincing as a cat covered in bird entrails, manages to do a sudden 180 and convince him that he's on his side now so that he can shove his hand into his chest and yank out his heart to kill him. Even though both of them were 100% totally helpless against this guy a second ago, and he is theoretically a centuries-old powerful and intelligent vampire who can hear all their thoughts. He dies so quickly you could blink and miss it. Yay!

 

Sethan chooses to mope in his castle alone forever while Jude takes Lily back to his lair to teach her about vampiring. She is surprised to discover that she recognizes the place - why, those sex dreams were real?

 

Luckily, being a vampire is fine with her and everyone is just happy to be in love.

 

Epilogue

 

And now they co-haunt the theatre as a matched pair of Phantoms, though who is running or paying for the place with the dastardly Baron dead is anyone's guess. Lily can't perform anymore because she's a vampire now and... she can't, okay? But that's fine, because she's in love. In fact, Jude proposed to her the very night she woke up traumatized and bloodied in his arms.

 

Man, vampires are so smooth.

 

Obviously, we started with something that was pretty identifiably Phantom-based, but then there were some twists, and some turns, and some leaps over canyons and now... now we are here. 

 

This was not responsible use of vampires in fiction.

All content © 2007-2020 Anne Myers

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