Progeny (2001)

     by Becky L. Meadows

There are novels that make you say, “What the hell is this book?” multiple times during reading. This is one of those novels.

 

The first credit in the dedication of this book is to "my Angel of Writing, the spirit of Erik, who guided me through every word of every chapter in my labor of love and to whom I have given part of my soul through this work." I thought this might be about to suggest some kind of astral or time-travel shenanigans and was proven wrong, which is hilarious if you picture my face when I later read Meadows’ other book. The dedication goes on to make it pretty clear that the book is based on Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical, which she thanks for seeing Leroux’s novel “in its true light”. Assuming Leroux had somehow been way less romantic and meaningful than he meant to be in his book and that Lloyd Webber had “fixed” it was a bizarrely popular interpretation in the late eighties and early nineties and led to some truly terrible writing as a result, but we can’t go around punishing everyone for Forsyth’s mistakes, so on we go.

 

It’s also pretty funny that the author’s husband and children made the dedication… but only in sixth and seventh place, after Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford (who originated the roles of Christine and the Phantom in the Lloyd Webber musical, respectively), Andrew Lloyd Webber, “all who believe”, and the fictional character of Erik. Leroux did not make the dedication at all, except to be obliquely scolded by comparing his novel to Lloyd Webber’s interpretation of it.

 

In thanking the volunteer editor for the book, it is revealed that there was, in fact, an editor. This mostly serves to point out how very, very badly most writers need professional editors in order to make their work readable. I am unable to imagine what this must have looked like before it was edited, even by a volunteer editor. I hope this editor drank a lot.

 

Prologue: Christine

 

This little prologue doesn't include much action; Christine is looking for her son, Christian, in the garden, and the kid is running around chasing an "angel". His mother does a dramatic half-swoon when he repeats this to her (don’t worry, this is just a warm-up swoon for the rest of the novel) and then rhapsodizes ecstatically in her internal monologue on how much this reminds her of Erik, god rest his soul. Yes, we are in a sequel, so one would assume he is dead... except that, you know, he's apparently playing patty-cake with Christine's kid in the garden. She goes on to think about how deep her love is, and how much she wishes their souls were intertwined, which is a bit concerning since she appears to be married to Raoul and raising a family with him after having escaped Erik's clutches.

 

Christine's inability to put two and two together when it comes to her kid playing with a mysterious black shape that he calls an "angel" is but the first incident in a titanic series of ostensibly reasonably observant people being totally unable to figure out obvious basic truths. This is one of those plots where any thinking whatsoever would destroy the entire thing and therefore thinking is Banned and only for the Unromantic. The fun has only just begun.

 

It's worth noting that the name Christian, while not particularly original, is still a good choice for Christine's son. It emphasizes not only his link to her but also suggests him as a second Christ figure, which is good because Christine completely drops the ball on that in this novel.

 

Book 1: Christian

 

Chapter 1:

 

The novel is divided into several books, which isn’t uncommon in longer pieces of fiction. Given that Meadows shamelessly steals material from Susan Kay’s 1990 novel throughout her book, I’m guessing she also borrowed that particular convention. Unfortunately, where Kay’s “books” were self-contained parts of the story, Meadows’ books have only one purpose, and that is letting her switch points of view. It’s not the worst idea to have definitive cuts when you’re changing point of view, but often there isn’t any plot-compelling reason to switch to another character at a particular time, and since every single character’s point of view is written in exactly the same style and voice, sometimes you have to wonder why she bothered. I frequently forgot whether a scene was from the point of view of Christian, Christine, Erik, or Madeleine, because they all sound exactly the same.

 

Our first scene in the book proper is a repeat of the one from the prologue and involves the young Christian, apparently a vocal and piano-playing prodigy, chasing a mysterious masked man into the opera house cellars after he catches him lingering about his dressing room after a performance. The Phantom apparently has no physical negatives whatsoever except for the face under the mask, by which I mean Meadows really, really wants us to know how hot he is. His appearance is so handsome as to be jaw-dropping, and he is often described with hilarious adjectives such as "robust". A very far cry from Leroux's skeletal, dank-smelling monster, but Meadows does at least include some vivid description, and her obvious desire to present the Phantom as a kingly figure plays into the idea of his rulership of the underground well.

 

And now for one of many things that made me want to hire a zeppelin to putt about over potential authors' homes with informative corrections on its massive sides: the character's name is Raoul de Chagny. He is from a long line of de Chagnys. The “de” is part of his last name - it basically means “of”, so that his name is Raoul of or from Chagny. Unfortunately, characters, including French aristocrats who would never, keep leaving the first half of his name off and referring to him as “Chagny”, which… is not his name. That would be like referring to someone named McIntyre as just Intyre all the time, or someone named Vandermeer as just Meer. 

 

Once in a while, a character will tease us by saying the entire name correctly, but then everyone goes back to just plain old "Chagny" again. This is the NAME OF ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS.

 

I'm unsure as to whether married ladies kept their previous names in this particular time period and culture, so I'm not sure if "Christine Daae de Chagny" is correct. But what I do know about the time period is that the fact that Raoul and Christine have gotten married and now live right outside of Paris in an idyllic happyland should involve some kind of repercussions or social stigma - it was kind of a big deal in the original novel that he was willing to marry someone so far below his station! - but apparently everyone is okay with the vicomte (wait, sorry; he's a viscount in this... except sometimes, when he's a vicomte instead) marrying an orphaned nobody opera girl, and they still get invited to all the right parties. Philippe would be appalled.

 

Christian apparently has eyes that are "deep brown but mixed with flecks of gold that sparkled..." You'll excuse me while I go try not to asphyxiate laughing at the boy with the glitter-eyes. I know why Meadows is doing that because it is not exactly subtle (but it's a SECRET, so no one will reveal it for TEN THOUSAND MORE CHAPTERS), but that doesn't make it make any more sense. Speaking of said secret, Christian likes to stare into the mirror and wonder why he doesn't look like Daddy. He doesn't even really look like Mommy. Who does he look like? The reading audience sighs deeply and his mother just keels over in a dead faint when he asks her, followed by telling him nothing reassuring. (By the way, what kind of fifteen-year-old asks his mother, "Who do I look like?" What a bizarre question.) 

 

He doesn’t seem very concerned about this question, talking about it in a sort of literary monotone, so it’s something of a surprise to learn that the question apparently "raged in [his] mind and left smoldering embers in [his] soul." Y’all are just getting prepared for the prose in this book.

 

The fun continues when Christian goes back to boarding school and after seeing a bully abusing a stray dog succumbs to some kind of blackout rage in which he beats the boy to within an inch of his life and then completely fails to remember the incident afterward. I can get behind the episode as being inherited from OhWaitI'mNotSupposedToKnowWhoYet - some mental illnesses and personality disorders can have genetic components - but Christian's internal monologue in regards to it is wildly inconsistent. He veers from being shocked and appalled at having hurt someone so badly, even indulging in some compulsive hand-washing to get the blood off, to feeling persecuted that the school's headmaster isn't punishing the half-dead boy like he's being punished (you broke all his ribs and you’re mad that he didn’t get suspended?), to smiling with unholy glee at his own power over life and death. There's intended to be a contrast between Christian's good nature and the evil he's inherited, or something, but it doesn't really work and leaves him very unsympathetic for the reader. 

 

The lazy justification that it was okay to almost kill the dog-kicking kid doesn't fly with me, either - having a throwaway antagonist abuse an animal to show they’re Bad without having to do any work is an ancient cliche and a lazy and cheap one to get an emotional reaction from a reader that the writer didn’t bother to earn. Yeah, of course dog-kicking is bad, but so is beating a fucking kid to death with your fists and then not being very sorry about it later. I see you, Meadows.

 

At any rate, Christian is kicked out of boarding school for almost killing a fellow student (and because he couldn't be spending this book running around opera houses and sewers if he were learning, could he?), and Raoul has to come get his son and take him off to a doctor to see what's wrong with him. Said doctor, despite the very shaky science of genetics in the 1800s, informs Raoul that such blackout rages are known to be hereditary. Christian can't figure out why his father suddenly looks kind of depressed, but I bet I and every other reader still stuck with this book can.

 

There is also much ado about the fact that Christian has black hair, which doesn't match either Christine's brown curls (well, hello there, Ms. Brightman) or Raoul's blonde locks (and you, too, Mr. Barton!). Genetics says this can totally happen, but let's not rain on Meadows' parade too much yet. We have so very far to go.

 

The book is also technically questionable, in case you wondered if at least it wouldn’t be difficult to read. Extra periods leer from the pages, disrupting perfectly good sentences; things are "leveled on" people rather than leveled at them; ellipses march behind my eyelids in a neverending procession. Random, mid-sentence line breaks make paragraphs where no extra paragraphs should be. The homophones are the worst issue; at no point can I take a book seriously in which someone's face turns "beat red", unless the author is trying to communicate that the character's face is red because someone has just punched him in the nose. Similarly, when someone is sporting a "rye smile", I doubt very much that Meadows wanted me to be envisioning the character with a gigantic piece of brown bread plastered butter-side-down to his face. And there's bonus redundancy, too, when people are wearing the "black leg of the trousers of my black evening suit".

 

Chapter 2:

 

Christian's quest to find out the Great Mystery of his origin continues apace, though sadly not apace enough to speed up some painful navel-gazing. My question is this: if the incident in Leroux's book (and Lloyd Webber's musical, too) was so frightening to the Parisian public, and if Christian is actually regularly performing and hanging out at the opera house, how can he not have yet heard about what happened to his mother and father? Both versions of the story play up the idea that performers are notorious gossips, and even if they weren't, how can this kid have gotten to age seventeen without EVER hearing even a WHIMPER of that whole mom-being-kidnapped-by-a-murderer and dad-almost-dying-in-her-defense thing? People died! Shows were disrupted! It was a big deal!

 

In case anyone wondered if the prose was calming down, someone is now crying "a stream of rainbow tears". That someone is not, despite appearances, a unicorn.

 

But there is a positive here in that Meadows uses some of that good old Greek mythology imagery here, referring to Erik with a Hades metaphor. This is one of the classic metaphors used to refer to the Phantom, who represents a ruling force in a dark, shadowy realm (and, in his original death's-headed murderous form, has more than a passing relation to the concept of death) and who abducts a beautiful young representative of sunshine and growth (Christine, standing in for Persephone) to be his wife. It's nice to see it represented here, even if it doesn’t go anywhere much past a nod.

 

Now Christine is wandering the shore of the lake beneath the opera house, alone, at night, in the complete darkness without any kind of extra light source, shouting forlornly about how much she misses Erik and wants to see his ghost. Unfortunately for us, she somehow fails to fall in and drown or otherwise meet her end doing this ridiculous nonsense, so we're stuck with her for another 375 pages. Her son is understandably confused and wondering what the hell she's doing, but since he's also skulking around the underground for no particularly good reason, he can't exactly go call her on it. He also probably doesn’t want to admit that he has some kind of supernatural darkvision that lets him see in what, again, is an underground cavern with no light whatsoever.

 

Instead of confronting his mother, Christian gets to listen to a conversation between Erik (a mysterious man that he just has no idea about, somehow) and the daroga, who has apparently arrived to stop him from going after the desolate and extraordinarily unsafe Christine. The relationship between Erik and the daroga is decently well-drawn, even if it is touched on only briefly; the idea of the Persian as the Phantom's opposite number, providing reasonable and responsible counterarguments to Erik's impassioned demands, is nicely present. In fact, several lines, most notably ones in which Erik refers to the Persian as his conscience, are forcefully reminiscent of Susan Kay's 1990 novel, which made the Persian a significantly more central figure than he was in Leroux's book, so I’m guessing the relationship Meadows is alluding to is the one from that book.

 

Christian, despite not having any idea whatsoever about the world in which he lives, and despite being a sheltered performer from an aristocratic French family, somehow still knows how to identify the seal of the Persian national police, on the fly, in the dark. It's easier than having him talk to the man and learn who he is through character interaction, I suppose.

 

The great retcon of the end of Lloyd Webber's musical - not Leroux's novel, since that whole daroga and death and newspaper thing apparently didn't happen - is revealed here, and not for the last time, because characters are going to go on and on and on about it like you wouldn't believe. Ready?

 

At the end of the previous story, after letting Raoul go, Christine instead chose to remain with Erik because of her unbounded love for him (initially, she says this was because, a la Leroux, she had to promise to be his wife to save Raoul, but then she realized that she totally wanted to stay anyway so it's all cool). They "married", by which I mean that they declared they were married (applicable in many cultures and time periods, but not in 19th-century France when the participants are Catholic), and then for some reason Erik decided that Christine would be better off without him, so he faked his own death with the aid of a Romeo & Juliet-style drug and sent her home with Raoul, who, incidentally, he never actually let go and had been keeping locked up in a dungeon all the while. 

 

This convoluted mess is trying to have its cake and eat it, too, and of course it isn’t working. Erik may let Christine go, but not before he gets everything he wanted - validation, love, human contact - and his reasons for doing so are confusing at best. He doesn’t do it because he realizes that kidnapping and captivity are bad bad things he shouldn’t have done or because he realizes that real love can’t hurt someone this way and that he has to let her go if he loves her; he does it because... something something, mumble. He also blatantly lies to her in order to get her to stay with him, promising to let her fiance go while keeping him imprisoned without her knowledge, and when he does decide to let her go, he does it by forcing her to leave when she doesn’t want to, lying to her again (this time about his death, which is traumatizing), and then handing her off to another man rather than anything approaching letting her make her own decision.

 

In other words, it utterly fails to redeem Erik through his act of love, because he doesn’t sacrifice anything and just keeps on doing exactly the same controlling, distressing, and deceitful things to Christine he’s always done. It’s just an excuse for Meadows to say that Christine and Erik definitely had The Sex, and to de-legitimize Raoul as her love interest by making him the consolation prize instead of the chosen fiance from the original story.

 

In other words, it’s garbage, and so is Erik’s current behavior, which is a lot of wailing and rending of garments and threatening to attack the daroga if he doesn’t let him go kidnap Christine again.  You… but you… but you sent her AWAY, man, you… this is just SO MUCH NONSENSE to get the characters into the dramatic positions Meadows wants them without employing a shred of goddamn logic. Even if we had been bamboozled into thinking Erik had been redeemed by his act of nobly giving up his “wife”, apparently it didn’t take.

 

By the way, are you confused about Christian's age? So am I. I definitely wanted to give it earlier because I got the impression he was significantly older in the chapter portions of the book than the prologue, but I couldn’t. He is twelve near the beginning of the book, when he's asking about his face and beating up boys at boarding school, but then "time passes" and no clear age is set for a while. I can't find the passage that got it into my head that he was fifteen for a while, but the next time we get a solid age for him is three-quarters of the way through the book, when he's seventeen. To further complicate matters, the back cover copy claims him to be nineteen, despite no textual evidence to support this.

 

But, anyway, don't let me bore you with basic facts about the main characters. Not when there's deathless prose like page 32's "Ever since our first encounter, I had never doubted the deep, dark force that surrounded his essence" to enjoy.

 

By far my favorite part of this early-in-the-book muddle is the interlude in which Christian attempts to cross the lake to Erik's house via boat and falls victim to the siren. The description of the attack mirrors the one given by the daroga in Leroux's book, and Erik's later flippant explanation is just as ambiguous as the original's, keeping the scene mysterious. Unfortunately, the characters continue to be boneheads; it is a shining moment when, seconds from passing out from near-drowning asphyxiation, Christian reflects that he finds the presence of the attacker "strangely comforting". Yes, I'm sure his completely unknown biological connection is enough to cancel any discomfort he might be feeling from having been attacked and almost murdered by a relative pretending to be supernatural.

 

A very distressing trend begins on page 30, in which Erik apparently has a "mound of sorrow" in his soul. Throughout the book, Meadows will frequently refer to mounds of emotion, as though the characters sweep all their feelings into piles and then wallow in them like pigs. I can't even figure out the literary effect that she's trying to achieve; what IS a "mound of sorrow", and how does one arrive at the conclusion that it is the best choice when describing a character's sadness? A mound of sorrow? What? 

 

Chapter 3:

 

While not strictly mythological, the Greeks come back in for a rally later when Erik demonstrates "the speed of Achilles", referring to Zeno's famous paradox. Considering the nature of the paradox, the use is a little bit ironic, but hey, she's trying.

 

It was in this chapter that I started keeping track of the number of times specific words are used, because Meadows apparently has a very limited vocabulary of words from which to draw when describing emotions. "Agony", "ecstasy", and "sorrow", in particular, are used with such reckless abandon that they cease to have any meaning. They appear in every vaguely applicable situation at the drop of the hat, and nobody reading this book should have any difficulty imagining a scenario in which Erik's agony and sorrow over having barked his shin on the organ is soothed by the ecstasy of a bandaid.

 

Naturally, when Christian wakes up in Erik's house and the disfigured composer is playing at his organ, he determines that the thing to do is clearly to unmask him. Obviously, we're trying to draw a parallel between him and his mother, but she was an innocent young girl who wanted to see the face of her mysterious yet alluring benefactor, while he is a kid who's almost just been killed and is completely at this man's mercy. He fails to unmask the Phantom, but his attempt does enrage Erik to the point that "his golden eyes had turned scarlet", so like, I am aware that yellow eyes don't really occur in nature and that Leroux employed the device in order to cast doubt on his character's status as mortal or supernatural, but that’s still hilarious. The Erik of Meadows' novel is completely, unequivocably human and has no supernatural elements at all, and while I can tolerate his yellow eyes as a nod to the original novel and as a part of his character image, I can't get behind them randomly turning into glowing coals like the Saturday cartoon villain-of-the-week.

 

Christian goes home and has a teenage hissy fit rant at his mother, who immediately caves in and promises to tell him the whole story, despite her previous convictions that he must be protected by never knowing. It is far from the last time that she will totally fail at being a responsible mother (by her own standards). She does the exact opposite of what she says she should do for Christian’s benefit all the damn time.

 

Book 2:

 

Chapter 1:

 

The entire first half of this chapter illustrates that Christine is, apparently, one big fat failure at being Catholic. I don't demand that the characters be monks and nuns - after all, they're people, and people do things against the dictates of their religions all the time - but this is a woman devout enough to actually believe that she was being visited by an angel. Her convoluted discussion of Erik's past sins and how okay they are is vastly touchy even for non-Catholics, just on the basis of general social mores. He's murdered people, but that's okay because people are mean to him? He's going to go to Heaven despite being a murderer who gives God the middle finger whenever possible, because it wouldn't be "fair" if he had to live in darkness after death, too, since he already does in life? Lady, that is not how mortal sins work. The entire time she's reflecting on this as she believes he's dying next to her on his bed, I wanted to slap her. If she'd really loved him, she'd have gotten a goddamn priest down here some way so he could be shriven before shuffling off his mortal coil, but apparently she's hoping that the rules of her religion don't apply to him for some reason. 

 

Again, I'd really love for some version of the story to explore Christine's views on religion in-depth. Was she originally that devout, or was she just clinging to the idea of the angel out of grief over her father? If she was, how did finding out that the angel was a fraud affect her faith, and how did that in turn affect her later actions? Did she absorb any other religious ideas, especially from the Phantom, who lived in a Muslim society for a while and was angry with the very concept of God? Are ideas like “he has to go to Heaven because it wouldn’t be fair otherwise” because of some major change or shake-up in her religious views? Sadly, this book doesn't even try to pretend that it's doing that. It's just the author using Christine as a mouthpiece and thus ending up with out-of-character apologism.

 

I almost missed the extended pondering of Erik's blamelessness, because it was followed by four pages of recap from Leroux's novel. There was not nearly enough new material to make it interesting. It's a tricky thing to rewrite the ending of a piece in order to make a sequel work; there's a very fine line between not explaining enough for the reader to get it and explaining too much and boring the reader silly, and this book didn’t come down on the positive side.

 

I've complained about this before, but why do so many authors insist on Christine referring to Erik as her "angel" after the big reveal, after she knows he's a human being? That’s an incredibly important moment - he’s broken her faith and shaken her religious convictions, not to mention that Erik himself desperately wants her to know him as himself and makes it clear so there won’t be any more confusion. She never refers to him as an angel again after she learns the truth in Leroux's novel, instead calling him Erik until the end; even in Lloyd Webber's musical, she uses it only at the climax of the final piece, and it's not used in an affectionate way but rather in order to remind him of his previous kindness to her and shame him for his current violent coercion. 

 

Why use a name that would just constantly remind her of a betrayal that, in Leroux's novel at least, was devastating? Why use a name that doesn't apply to the character at all outside of that deception? It's lazy shorthand meant to help superimpose a positive image over Erik's mixed bag of sympathetic and unsympathetic behavior.

 

This version of Erik uses chloroform to drug Christine and make her more tractable, which is definitely not angelic. Oh, but he’s her true love.

 

Meadows uses a lot of turns of phrase that are at best baffling, at worst sort of counter to the effect she is intending. I understand the intent when Christine says that Erik's and her mutual love "welded our souls together", but the result is that the reader is just having visions of industrial equipment. Every hyper-dramatic sentence is more amazing than the last, such as on page 54 when Erik's "body erupted with the mound of sorrow that had collected in his soul," (mound of emotion again!), after which Christine's "heart ruptured with the force of his agony". These people are exploding.

 

Taking a leaf straight out of the 1991 Stuart novel, Erik's and Christine's souls remain "bonded" indefinitely after they declare their love for one another, which leads to a ridiculous convention wherein every time they touch one another they have some sort of empathic link that allows them to feel one anothers' emotions. This is always literally described as feeling the other person's emotions crash into them or sweep over them or otherwise wash them helplessly out to sea. The text makes it clear that the author is not considering this any form of magic or supernatural occurrence; no, they just have that much love. They are better than you.

 

Interestingly enough, Philippe is apparently alive and well, which I… guess explains how Raoul still has standing among the aristocracy, if his older brother is helping him? We can add his survival to the list of changes made to the end of Leroux's novel, and like the others it’s there because Meadows wanted to remove the Phantom murdering anyone so he wouldn’t be unsympathetic. Philippe himself barely gets more than a cameo as a passing mention in which someone notes that he "almost disowned" Raoul for marrying Christine (well, I'll be damned! Meadows did look at the social stigma! ...except not really, but at least she acknowledged its existence) but then changed his mind. Bye-bye, Philippe. Hope to see you in a later retelling.

 

This isn’t the first spin-off of the Phantom story in which Christine "marries" Erik; the end of the 1990 Kay novel was almost exactly the same as the story Christine is relating here (though that book didn't claim the relationship to be a literal marriage, just a metaphorical one), and the 2002 Pettengill book featured an actual church wedding for the two characters. This comes from the idea of Erik's "entitlement" to Christine: that is, he's suffered and deserves a happy ending because of it, regardless of what actions he might have taken, and therefore Christine gets offered up as a wife on a silver platter because she is the physical representation of the things he wants - social acceptance and personal validation. Christine becomes an object used to reward the “real” main character, and this book just has her drift sadly between Erik and Christian (or, as we should call him, Erik II) because those are the only things she’s allowed to care about. It’s disheartening.

 

Meadows does address Christine's more independent actions in Leroux's story, but she describes them from a point of view of Christine's helplessness and devotion rather than her personal strength. For example, when Christine slams her own head into the wall in an attempt to escape captivity via suicide in Leroux's novel, it was an act of surprising strength and independence as she refused to allow herself to be a passive victim of Erik's actions and demands, but Meadows describes Christine as reacting "like a trapped animal" who is too weak to face the reality of the situation and wants to kill herself to avoid having to say no to either of the men involved. It’s not an invalid interpretation, I guess, but it doesn’t go down well with all the effort being put into making Christine a trophy in her own goddamn story.

 

For those keeping score at home, Meadows is indeed attempting to set up a situation in which Raoul and Christine aren't really married because Christine was already married to Erik first. All of the characters will absolutely accept this as the truth and defend this marriage to the death later in the novel... with the exception of Raoul, who will point out that his wedding to Christine involved vows and a priest, whereas her "marriage" to Erik did not, but everyone will ignore him because he's just a big mean jerk who wants to stand in the way of true soul-welded love. Had Meadows found some way to actually make them a married couple - bring in a priest! Do the background work to make any of these characters plausibly believe in no-ceremony weddings! Hell, have us suddenly find out that the Persian is a Muslim imam! - this might have worked out, but she didn’t, so it doesn’t. Honestly, it makes sense for Erik to feel he's outside of society and for his marriage to be one that is mutually agreed on and that could have been touching, too, but the author is in such a hurry to get to the florid prose about eternal love and also getting it on that she doesn't go into that, either!

 

But, wait! All that hasn't happened yet. Rewind to Erik's and Christine's "wedding night", which actually happens some time later than the "wedding" because Erik doesn't want to freak Christine out. In Leroux's novel, Erik could be said to at least in part represent sexuality for Christine; he is the unknown, the dangerous, the compelling, all of which combine with a definite aura of genitive creativity to make him a sort of forbidden fruit for her. However, his desire for her, in return, never seemed particularly sexual to me, being more about his insecurities and his driving need to prove himself to the world, God, and his own fears by having a wife and becoming a member of society, thus forcing everyone to acknowledge that he is a man rather than a monster. Of course, the idea that Erik's love for Christine is in part motivated by his desire to prove himself to be human is not very romantic, but that's part of what makes his eventual epiphany and redemption when he finally lets her go and acts in her best interests so poignant - he has stopped acting selfishly and begun to love unselfishly. 

 

By the late 1980s, adaptations of the Phantom story have begun to skew so markedly toward the romantic interpretations of the Phantom rather than the horrific ones that it’s almost inevitable that the Phantom would get sexier (some of the horror movies before that touched on sexuality, but usually just as another threat to Christine, not an attractive quality). At this point in time, I’m dying to see a modern author tackle the story with a Phantom who is sexually representative but not actively sexual - or who is even asexual or not attracted to women (or whoever is standing in for Christine, in the case of those few adaptations where the singer is a dude). Do something new, y’all.

 

What all of this really means for Meadows' novel is that when it comes to the literal Phantom-sex, I'm always interested to see how it goes, why it happens, and what that means for the story and for the time period in which the story was written (and, hey, if it's well-written, toe-tingling sex, bonus!). Unfortunately, the sex scene is about what you would expect from the abysmally overdramatic rest of the text, being a combination of things that make no sense - your dress "seemed to melt from you", Christine? - and hilarious prose imagery such as the "fire deep in the pit of [Christine's] stomach". It is mind-blowingly bad in its simultaneous heavy utilization of cliche, confusion, and just plain poor writing. There is, naturally, an earth-shattering orgasm for virgin Christine, sleeping with her virgin husband.

 

We already knew that the Phantom's appearance is based on the Lloyd Webber musical rather than the Leroux novel, but it appears that he may have been watered down some even from that, judging from the descriptions here of his "full and pink" lips. That Lloyd Webber makeup isn't a full-body deformity, but it is also pretty famous for its grotesque lips.

 

Post-sex, Erik has a conveniently-timed crisis of conscience and decides that he can't demand that Christine stay down here with him forever after all. It would have been much nicer of him to have this epiphany before having sex with her and seriously damaging her chances of marrying anybody else (not that her chances were great in the first place, but it sure doesn't help), but you can look at the situation as a sort of extension of the kiss epiphany in the novel or at the end of the Lloyd Webber musical. Since Meadows wants this to be a much more passionate, sexual relationship between Erik and Christine, apparently this version of Erik isn't satisfied being kissed for the first time and has to get laid for the first time, at which point he experiences the same understanding that he's not being kind to Christine by keeping her hostage. 

 

Of course, there's a serious difference in that this version of Christine is mooney-eyed over Erik and doesn't want to leave... so he drugs her and sends her torpid body home with Raoul, who he's been keeping locked up in the next room for his entire honeymoon, apparently. Erik's somewhat roundabout justification is that he's giving her a choice to go experience Life Upstairs with Raoul and that she can come back if she chooses him instead, but the fact that he’s trying to frame drugging a woman so she can be kidnapped against her will instead of being an adult and telling her he’d like her to leave is not a good look. She never does come back, because Raoul is a sensible dude and wants to tell the police where the murderer lives and she has to promise never to go back there in order to stop him, and also probably because he DRUGGED HER AND KICKED HER OUT WHILE SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS and that is a pretty obvious sign a dude does not want you around and you should not argue with it.

 

Christine's insistence that Erik is dead makes a little more sense here when she relates the story of how she went back to his house to deliver her wedding invitation (your wedding, remember? To Raoul? You do remember him?) and saw him expire of a wasting sickness, after which the daroga booted her out of the house again and sent her home. Of course, we already know from the first few chapters that this was faked, but she doesn't.

 

Christine is kind of a massive asshole to Raoul, starting now and continuing on throughout the rest of the book. From her internal musings on how her love for Erik is "infinitely more important than what I feel for Raoul" to her hysterical tantrums when he tries to do concerned things like stopping her from being recaptured by a guy who murdered people, locked him in a dungeon, and drugged her so he could have her removed, she is really, really less than admirable in her dealings with him. I want him to dump her neurotic ass and move to Jamaica with a supermodel.

But to be on Christine's side about something for a minute, can you imagine if you loved someone, married them and had your wedding night, and then they drugged you and when you woke up they'd handed you off to your college boyfriend like a hand-me-down sweatshirt and then you found out seventeen years later after raising their child that they'd faked their death to avoid you? How is Christine not coming for this man with a hunting rifle? Does Meadows honestly think the dude being like "oh, sorry, I just really loved you and panicked" would make it all fine so they could instantly bang again five seconds later? 

 

In case you weren’t done with this sex scene for all the reasons above, in closing I’d like to remind you that this whole part of the story is being told by Christine to Christian, so that means she’s detailing her sexcapades to her teenage son. At length.

 

Chapter 2:

 

Yes, it is apparently confirmed that she did tell Chapter One to her son. All of it. Including her earth-shattering Phantom-induced orgasm. Yeah, I know he's seventeen (I think), but that is still way way way WAY too much information for your kid, Christine, especially in the nineteenth century.

 

Christine refers obliquely in her internal monologue here to the fact that Christian is Erik's son, rather than Raoul's (this is a SHOCKING REVELATION, by the way). This will not officially be announced until another quarter of the way through the novel, at which point everyone will again act shocked and surprised.

 

The bizarre descriptions continue, from Christine's body "melting into the covers" to the "mountain of utter joy" that is now quivering in her soul at the thought of reuniting with Erik (what, mounds of emotion aren't good enough for her anymore? Now it's mountains?). Christian's eyes glow (yes, glow) when he's angry.

 

Here's a question I had for much of this book: Raoul is always away on "business". He goes here, he goes there, he goes to London for a week. But since he hasn't been removed from the de Chagny line or fortune, what, exactly, is this "business" he's always up to? I assume that if he were still in the army, some mention of that would have been made, but he ain't. I don't think that Meadows knows, either. I imagine her waving her authory hand: "Oh, you know, he's doing viscounty things. Pay attention to Erik and Christine and stop bothering me about these unimportant side characters."

 

Now that Christian has revealed to Christine that Erik is, in fact, still alive, she naturally trots right on down to the opera house to look for him, even though that's a terrible idea (and something she promised not to do). There we discover that apparently Erik doesn't physically age because he looks exactly the same after almost two decades and that both he and Christine are perpetually leaky faucets, because I don't think anyone stops crying from this point until the very end of the novel. Every action and conversation is accompanied by a rain of agonized tears, which really loses its effect when it's constantly ongoing. Unfortunately, because I know this is supposed to be a poignant scene, I couldn't care less about Christine's indignant hurt over having been tricked or Erik's agony-wracked regret at having driven her away, because I think they're both pretty much jackass characters and I don't give a damn about their reunion. 

 

Christine says that she loves Raoul "as a brother", which is a classic modern interpretation of Raoul's rule as the safe Gothic lover from Leroux's novel; while the original novel sets up the choice between two equally appealing but fundamentally different romantic ideals (Erik, the sexually-charged and mysterious, passionate affair, and Raoul, the loving, warm, undemanding suitor), many modern readers view Raoul as less of a hero because of his lack of passionate context and subsequently reinterpret his feelings (or, at least, Christine's feelings for him) as platonic love rather than romantic. It's interesting to note that while Christine is often reimagined in this way to love Raoul in a strictly platonic context, he always still loves her romantically, despite the fact that she is an equally innocent, non-sexually-connotated character. There’s probably an element of self-insert wish-fulfillment there, where readers imagining themselves in Christine’s place want the adoration of both characters. Another idea that might apply is the possibility that patriarchal culture still views innocence and sexual repression as desirable traits in a woman but not in a man, leading us to view Christine as more positive because she possesses them and Raoul as less so for the same reason.

 

Chapter 3:

 

And then, boom! Christine is banging Erik like there is no tomorrow! Like, every night! Seriously! The attempt to circumvent the issue of adultery by saying, "Oh, well, I was married to Erik first!" is still an obvious attempt by Christine (and the author) to rationalize behavior that she knows to be unethical.

 

Page 95 is like distilled literary pain. Erik has "eyes full of questions that [Christine] answered breathlessly with [her] soul". Moments later, the same eyes "became tortured pools of tears". Then his eyes are "burning questions of desire". This all happened in the same paragraph.

 

But then we got to the very bottom of the page, where Christine reflects that "It had been seventeen years, seventeen long years since I had last made love."

 

...WHAT. Are you trying to tell me that you've NEVER slept with Raoul, your HUSBAND? What the hell is going on here? What is going on here, it turns out, is that she did sleep with him a few times, but after Christian was born the doctor informed them that another childbirth might kill her, so Raoul refused to touch her after that out of concern for her safety. I know this is meant to illustrate the loneliness and passionlessness of Christine's marriage to Raoul, but what it really tells me is that he loves her too much to risk her safety just to get his rocks off, while Christine apparently doesn’t even bother to mention the danger to Erik (it's especially ironic that she's thinking about how she couldn't sleep with Raoul WHILE sleeping with Erik but no, she still doesn’t think to bring it up). No, she is achieving "release from the shackles of celibacy, release from the nagging thought that perhaps I was not as attractive as I used to be..." Yeah, good thing you have someone to cheat on your loving husband with now.

 

About a week later, Christine suddenly remembers that she could get pregnant, and "wonders how she could have forgotten it". I also wonder that, since she was thinking about it DURING SEX. There is much angst over Erik's wayward penis bullets once she tells him about this, though I find it kind of hilarious that no one has realized that there is the secondary concern of Raoul possibly suspecting something is up if the wife with whom he does not have sex suddenly turns up pregnant. Luckily, Erik is apparently able to whip up a Plan B elixir in the bathroom, so any possible Phantom Baby Part II action is averted for now. Later, in order that the mad bangerating not be interrupted, he shows her "a device used by people to prevent pregnancy", so now we can all have fun trying to guess what kind of “device” it is. It’s probably just a condom, which was present in the nineteenth century, though unpopular, only sort of effective, and usually made of animal intestine. But can one call an animal-intestine condom a "device"? Why does this sound like Meadows had to throw in something to allow the shagging to continue, but didn't feel like doing any research into icky things like nineteenth-century birth control because it might involve details that would ruin the warm glow of the characters' mounds of happiness?

 

The following line, "Raoul had never offered a solution to our intimacy dilemma," does not engender the intended feelings of preference for Erik that it's supposed to. It just makes me annoyed by the heavy-handed attempt to convince the reader that it's okay for Christine to cheat on Raoul because he's not trying to use contraception (incidentally, not okay in the Church as well, which, as revealed by some of his later dialogue, Raoul also belongs to) and thus doesn't really want/love/deserve her as much.

 

Back at the Chateau de Chagny, Christian's eyes have apparently become gold with brown flecks in them, rather than the other way around. This makes no sense, but is at least less ridiculous-sounding than the glitter-eyes were.

 

Unexpectedly, the person I like most here is Christian. Christine's rhapsodic internal monologues about how much she loves Erik and how much the sex makes her soul sing are interrupted by her son pointing out that she is treating his father badly and flouting her marriage vows. He even hopes that Raoul kills Erik at some point, which I can only agree with because it would speed up the conclusion of this book. In fact, anybody, please kill somebody else important. I have other things to do and this book is not making reading it quickly an easy task.

 

Erik is now SHOCKED to discover that the kid who looks and acts exactly like him in every way except for the facial deformity is, in fact, his son. Why Erik, supposedly a genius, could not figure this out when he even knows the timeline matches up, and why he would be stalking the kid if he didn't know it, I couldn’t tell you.

 

Now, there has been a lot of evidence for Meadows borrowing heavily from Kay's novel already, what with her characterization of Erik's and the daroga's relationship, her description of the events at the end of the novel, and the idea of the Phantom's son being raised as Raoul's, but it all becomes official here. Erik actually refers to the daroga by name and that name is Nadir, which is of course the name assigned to Leroux's nameless Persian by Kay in her own book. While Kay's novel was out of print at the time that Meadows' book was released, it had not fallen into the public domain, which makes the use of its characters and plotlines probably not a great idea.

 

Book 3: Erik

 

Chapter 1: 

 

One really has to admire Christian's chutzpah in trying to shoot Erik in order to avenge his father’s honor and save his mother's virtue. I cannot, however, admire the fact that he wants to "reek" revenge instead of wreaking it, since that implies he has on some kind of Eau de Retribution. Even less admirable is the fact that Erik plans to murder him in order to hurt Raoul and only stops when Christine starts screaming that the kid is his son rather than Raoul's. Christine is remarkably okay with carrying her half-strangled unconscious son back to Erik's house to recover, but then again, Christine is remarkably okay with pretty much everything Erik does, no matter how reprehensible.

 

There is much sorrow over the horrible fact that, had Christine ever told Raoul that the child wasn't his, she would have been kicked out of his house for unfaithfulness! She would have been alone in the cruel, cruel world! There would have been poverty and people looking down their noses at her! Honestly, if Raoul has remained faithfully married to Christine for seventeen years and loves her so much he goes to great lengths to safeguard her health, I don’t know where she gets the assumption that he’d throw her out to die in the gutter from. It’s just something the author informs us of and assumes we’ll agree with. Erik is able to conveniently feel all of this just by touching Christine, when the torment of her wealth of sadness rushes over him like a tidal wave or something, and he mourns how she had to shoulder the secret of the boy's heritage all alone. It's all very dramatic.

 

In case we needed any more confirmation that this Nadir is in fact the same one from Kay's novel, his wife's death, a large part of his backstory, is mentioned in conversation. Oddly enough, Meadows uses the name Nadir very infrequently, probably fewer than ten times throughout the novel, and usually refers to him as either the daroga or the Persian. I have to wonder why she bothered to borrow the name at all, since it seems like it's either accidental writing that she didn't check for consistency or an attempt to ride on the coattails of Kay's success in the Phantom community.

 

We indulge in a short flashback, in which Erik discovers Christine's pregnancy seventeen years ago when he hears Raoul chastise Christine for riding in the middle of the night in her condition (what is she doing riding a horse in the dead of night? Nobody knows). Christine insists to Raoul that she isn’t sure if she’s pregnant yet by giving him way too much detail about her periods for a nineteenth-century lady, which begs the question of why she said anything to him in the first place. Does Raoul have her cycle on a calendar somewhere or something?

 

Apparently, Erik saw childbirth "several times" in Persia. I am pretty sure that, seeing as how he is male, he would not be allowed at births, especially in Muslim Persia, but nobody cares what I think. Luckily, he has a magical drug that makes the baby pop right out and completely eases her pain like SuperMorphine. Is there no aspect of physical health that Erik can't whip up a potion for? Fuck being the Phantom, he should go into alchemy and the apothecary business. Or become the world's creepiest midwife (imagine seeing THAT dude when you look down between the stirrups). Somehow, he knows vast volumes about childbirth, but doesn't know that babies are often born with blue eyes and fair hair that may darken to other colors later, so he is convinced that the kid is Raoul's and goes off to mope somewhere.

 

Chapter 2:

 

Christian continues to be the only person willing to call Christine on her bullshit. From his cutting response when Christine accuses him of showing her disrespect ("Disrespect, Mother? You have an affair... How much respect are you showing for Father?") to his enraged response to her attempts to defend said affair, he’s having none of her insistence about soul-welding. Christine resolves the situation by slapping her son and then going off to have more sex with Erik, because why just be irresponsible when she can also be abusive? 

 

Oddly enough, while it seems like Erik's mask is full-face as in Leroux's novel, it is consistently described as white, which links it directly to Lloyd Webber's musical. It seems likely that Meadows is mixing the two versions there, and indeed she does so when it comes to the disfigurement itself as well; she never tells us what it looks like, stating only that it covers his face and doesn't extend to the rest of his body.

 

I'm curious about why Erik still refers to Raoul as "the boy", considering that said vicomte is probably nearing 40 by now. It's easy to forget that Erik is meant to be much older, what with the mysterious lack of physical aging he's got going on, but it seems plausible that Erik still thinks of him as a boy; after all, he hasn't had a lot of direct contact with him since the events of Leroux's novel. On the other hand, he's been stalking Christine at her house for the last seventeen years and has probably seen him grow up just as much as anybody else, so it's open to interpretation, and besides, it’s confusing. Christian is here being an actual boy, which makes me have to sort out who he’s even talking about every time he does that.

 

Speaking of Raoul, Erik goes into a rage when he learns that Christine's husband once had her locked in a room with doctors for several nights because she was ranting and raving about coming back to Erik's lair. Christian owns all the adults again when he points out that not only was Raoul doing so out of genuine concern for her safety, but hello, hypocrisy much, Erik? (And no, we never get to hear about any of that, what it was like for Christine, what it meant for her and Raoul, how she recovered, what they all thought. Because it isn't important and it's just here to make sure you know Raoul is Bad. No one cares about Christine, just about the feelings of the men who want her.)

 

Chapter 3:

 

I have to say, by this point, that I want to know what happens. These characters are just such a huge clusterfuck that I have to see how Meadows is going to try to resolve this vast snarl of a situation that she's created, and I can still see the kernel of an interesting plot premise under there. I want to see how the story turns out, even though I want to strangle all the characters and I can't stand the quality of the writing. If only Christine would stop making out with Erik in front of her horrified kid...

 

When Christian accuses Christine of betraying Raoul by having an affair with Erik, she pulls out the "married first" card, as I knew she would, and claims that she was betraying Erik all the years she was married to Raoul. Christian, who is smarter than his mother would like, points out that since there was no priest and the vows were never recorded, she never actually married Erik. Christine retorts that "it's all the same, isn't it?" and insists that God heard the vows, which is a very nice idea that completely rationalizes her ability to have her cake and eat it, too. Christian's incredulous pointing out of the fact that that would mean that her vows to Raoul didn't mean anything and she’s been lying her ass off for years is met with mumbling, waffling, and indecisiveness, because Christine is incapable of even deciding which marriage is valid, much less choosing one of the men. 

 

It would be nice if I could view this as a natural outgrowth of her character in the original novel, in which she was torn between the two as she tried to figure out what she wanted, but this Christine is not doing that. This Christine chose both and is playing a game of diminishing returns trying to have both while she knows that this isn't possible, and, not incidentally, doing pretty irreparable emotional damage to a lot of people while she does so, including her son. As a reader struggling to like or identify with her as a major protagonist, I am deeply frustrated by her inability to make a mature decision here, and am not impressed by her choice to behave in a reactionary way as her emotions dictate instead of taking some responsibility for her life, her choices, and the welfare of her child. Christian eventually gives up on getting any sense out of her and departs, saying, "God will repay you for this treachery, Mother," and, damn, I really hope so.

 

Also, Christine actually says, verbatim, the following immortal line when Christian points out what a dangerous disaster Erik is: "Yes, I have no doubt he's murdered. But I can see beyond that, Christian." I don't blame Christian; I would have given up at this point, too. He's more tolerant than I am, in fact, because I would have told Christine where to stick it when she instructed him to lie to Raoul for her about her whereabouts.

 

There is more extremely obvious borrowing from Kay's novel here, including Erik's time as an exhibit in the carnival sideshow, the earlier scene from his mother's house in which he sees his face for the first time in a mirror and attacks the apparition in a panic, and his mother's furious reaction when he asks her for a kiss and she rebuffs him. These scenes are partially rewritten, since they are being told from Erik's point of view rather than from his mother's, but very little has been changed. A further element of Kay's novel is present here when Erik begins having heart episodes, which will increase in frequency over the course of the book; this device was also used in Pettengill's 2002 novel, though it's likely that she also borrowed the idea from Kay's work.

 

Erik is by this point tired of sharing Christine's time with Raoul and suggests that he use the same drug on her that he used to simulate his own death, which would then allow her to be free to live with him while the upper world thought she was dead. In her first responsible move of the novel, Christine refuses because of the grief it would cause her son to think she was dead, though frankly I kind of wanted her to do it, then tell her son she was alive and just let everyone else think she was dead. Go have your underground love nest, let Raoul remarry someone who actually loves him, and let me go read something that doesn't make me want to stab all the characters.

A way better strategy would be for Christine to just leave Raoul for Erik. Why isn't she doing that? She will literally NEVER EXPLAIN why she doesn't just do that. The author seems to think this is a love triangle where Christine is torn between her feelings for the two of them, but she consistently works to make sure we know that Christine has no romantic feelings for Raoul and her marriage to him doesn't even count, so... why is she still there? It's not for Christian, who knows what's happening, hates it, and is an adult anyway. JUST LEAVE HIM AND GO DO WHAT YOU WANT TO INSTEAD OF BEING AN ASSHOLE, CHRISTINE.

 

Had she stopped with it being hard on Christian, I would have liked her for the decision, but on page 169, she adds, "But what about God, Erik? Isn't it cheating God, in a way, to pretend to die? Aren't such decisions His?" Oh, NOW you care about God? You're okay with bigamy, adultery, blasphemy, and murder, but FAKING YOUR DEATH IS WHERE YOU DRAW THE LINE.

 

Meadows starts getting concerned that there hasn’t been enough action in a while, so Erik kills a mugger on the shores of the lake. What the hell is a mugger doing in the sub-sub-sub-basement of the Paris Opera House? No one cares because the important thing here is that this additional murder is not Erik’s fault because he did it to save Christian so there can't be any aspersions cast on his role as the hero. I didn't pay much attention, partly because the interlude is mostly pointless (it serves only for Christian to get to actually see Erik kill someone in person rather than just suspecting it) and partly because I was too distracted trying to figure out how anyone could have written the phrase "It seemed as if he had inherited many of my sixth senses" with a straight face.

Book 4: Christian

 

Chapter 1:

 

Christian's internal musings suffer from the same inconsistency here that they did earlier in the novel; he's afraid of Erik, yet goes down to his house to ask him about his relationship with his mother and Raoul, and he hates him for being the wedge in his parents' marriage and yet for some inexplicable reason also likes him, and it's all very tiresome. Meadows is obviously trying to work a nature vs. nurture idea here and coming down heavily on the side of nature, but there's not enough time devoted to it to make it the thoroughly plausible idea it needs to be, and the effect is that I'm reminded forcefully of Forsyth's 1999 novel, which is something no one should ever want to remind anyone of. So when Christian, having just had several fights with his mother over her adultery and then having seen her lover murder someone, is letting Erik massage his temples casually, I’m just tired. I’m tired, y’all.

 

Erik stomps about a lot and informs Christian that he will murder Raoul if he so much as lays a finger on Christine. This happens a lot over the course of the book, but each time, I just end up being confused as to why everyone seems to be so thoroughly convinced that Raoul's going to hurt Christine. I mean, this is the guy who gave up sex with her out of love, who married her despite vast social pressure to do otherwise, and who has doted on her in every scene we've seen them in together. At this point in the book, he knows she's cheating on him - he doesn't know who with, since he thinks Erik is dead, but he's not stupid and can put two and two together when she keeps leaving the house all night and making up bad lies about where she's been - and the most he's done about that is to raise his voice at her and then feel bad afterward. Meadows has set him up as a very sympathetic character who simply has the misfortune of being married to a woman who wants to bone somebody else, so it's rather confusing every time Erik starts a rant about how he'll wring Raoul's neck if he abuses her. You’re projecting, Erik.

 

(Actually, what he and everyone else is doing is having a Direct Telepathic Link to the Author, unfortunately. But we won’t get to know that until later.)

 

Christian reflects that Erik returned Christine to Raoul in order to spare her leading a life underground with him, knowing that Raoul would provide a better life for her, and thinks that "Surely that was love in its purest form, coming from a being with a soul as black as midnight". Overdramatic prose aside, yes! Letting Christine go with Raoul is the Phantom's big moment of redemption in which he finally expresses love in an unselfish manner by thinking about what she wants and what would make her happy for once. Unfortunately, Erik's later decision to completely renege and start stealing her off to his house and sleeping with her again, almost two decades later and in spite of the daroga trying to warn him against it and reminding him of the reason he did it in the first place, negates that sacrifice almost completely. Mention of said sacrifice therefore fails to bring a tear to the eye, since it has stopped being a noble gesture and become more of a nonsensical choice that caused several years of pointless angst.

 

This time, it is a "mound of curls" on Raoul's head (yeah, that's not the anatomical placement the phrase "mound of curls" makes me think of). At least it's a mound of a physical object this time, though I somehow doubt that Raoul is actually piling all his curls on the top of his head. Topknots weren’t really in fashion in early 20th-century France.

 

Christian discovers here, much to his shock and horror, that Raoul has been out with a sex worker. While I can understand the kid's desire to freak out, considering that both parents are ruining his conception of their happy marriage, this is actually a neat choice on Meadows’ part. It wouldn't be uncommon at all for a member of the aristocracy to see the occasional lady of the night, and it makes a lot of sense for Raoul since the guy has been completely unable to touch his beloved wife for seventeen years. Interestingly, this reminds me of the 1989 Little/Englund film, which also featured an interlude with a prostitute, though in that movie it was Erik visiting her, not Raoul. The idea of the prostitute as a method of relief and intimacy for a character who is denied it through little fault of his own is fairly similar, and in both cases a sympathetic way of revealing how said character copes with the strictures of everyday life. 

 

It is pretty rich of Meadows, though, to imply that Raoul is just as bad or worse than Christine for hiring sex workers, as if Christine didn’t just give a big inner speech about how celibacy was a prison and seventeen years was eternity, and this was used as an excuse to show that it was totally okay for her to cheat on her husband. I suspect the difference is a nasty little assumption that Raoul hiring a sex worker is somehow less “pure” or “good” than Christine sleeping with a man she is wildly in love with. Christian eventually somewhat recovers from his shock and reflects that, while he doesn't approve of Raoul's behavior, he has to admit that Raoul is only visiting sex workers for physical enjoyment, while Christine is having a full-blown love affair.

 

Christian follows the earlier description of Raoul's hair with mention of the "mound of thoughts that assaulted [his] brain". The mounds are attacking us now.

 

Blah blah blah, people keep mentioning Erik's biceps. Apparently he's quite buff. All that working out his alter-ego Eric from Phantom of the Mall does must be spreading to other versions.

 

After seeing Raoul drop the sex worker off, Christian wanders through a bad part of town like a bonehead, gets accosted by some muggers, and goes into his fugue rage state and murders them. Luckily, Erik has been stalking him and spirits him off into the sewers before the police arrive. WHY MUST THESE MEN CONSTANTLY MURDER PEOPLE, and, more importantly, WHY IS MEADOWS SO DETERMINED TO MAKE THE READER DECIDE THAT’S OKAY?

 

Chapter 2:

 

Everyone decides that Christine's former dressing room (now Christian's, because why not put him in the womens' section?) is the best place to talk about Christine's infidelity, and are all then discombobulated by the animal scream of anger that occurs when Raoul looms over Christine a little bit too much. Yes, my stars, what could THAT have been? No one knows. The only person who can be pardoned for not knowing is Raoul, who still thinks that Erik is dead, but it's a stretch even for him, considering his past. Christine is thoroughly surprised when Erik later tells her that he was behind the mirror for the whole conversation.

 

Christian begins becoming confused about who's side he's on now, wondering if it's really Christine and Erik who are doing wrong since Raoul is also unfaithful. This is still the 1800s; it is not what you would call an enlightened time for feminism yet, and where a man discovered in an affair would have to endure scandal and public disapproval (depending on his station and the details), a woman would be immediately dropped by public opinion to the level of irredeemable trash. Mind you, in Christine's case, it's probable that no one would be surprised considering her origins, but that's neither here nor there since apparently no one in this book gives a rat's ass about class boundaries.

 

Christine has an epic tantrum when Christian suggests that they turn Erik in for being a murderer; the focus of her argument is that "they would kill him Christian, not because they thought he might be guilty, but because of his face! Only because of his face!" I feel like they would probably try to arrest him, and then possibly kill him because he's a wanted criminal and known murderer rather than just because he's ugly (because this is the nineteenth century, not the frigging twelfth), but logic is completely lost on this woman and Christian is apparently too tired to argue with her any longer. Due to the blackout he suffered when killing the muggers (muggers: an author's best friend for throwaway antagonists who don't matter and are totally extraneous except to open the door for more navel-gazing!), Christian isn't sure if he killed them or if Erik did, and wants one or both of them to go turn themselves in to the police and face the music. Christine is not a fan of this idea, but considering that her response when Christian tells her to get her shit together and pick one of her "husbands" so that everyone can stop dealing with this miserable situation is a petulant "I don't want to," she can just show herself the fuck out.

 

(Why do no authors ever go for polyamory in these situations? Yeah, Erik and Raoul don’t like each other in the original novel because they’re fighting over Christine, but if you can try to rewrite the universe to claim that Murder Is Good, Actually, you can rewrite it so that two dudes who are pissy at each other realize later they can get along or even like each other.)

 

Christian confronts Raoul about his philandering and the vicomte immediately admits to his sins and then very delicately explains to his son the sexual situation between himself and Christine. It is obvious that Raoul loves his son dearly (and equally obvious, to a reader who is not literally a rock, that he is by this point aware that he is not the boy's real father), and his refusal to either deny his behavior or pretend that it is morally defensible is admirable. In fact, he's admirable enough that Christian is somewhat ashamed of his own behavior after talking to him, and, in one of the most relevant instances of character growth in the book, decides to go turn himself in to the police the next day in spite of the objections of all three parents.

 

Chapter 3:

 

His attempt to convince Erik to go to the police with him is hilarious, if ill-fated. Christian's naivete, personal strength, and sense of fair play make him very reminiscent of the original Christine, which is nice because her current form isn't doing much for us.

 

...and then we're back to the cardboard antagonists used to vex the main characters when they run out of things to be internally emo about. First up, it's the police inspector, who is... wait for it... Carlotta's husband! Apparently this version of Carlotta is either Leroux-based or remarried after the unfortunate death of Piangi at the end of Lloyd Webber's musical. Because she was mean to the leads, one of whom was actively sabotaging her career and threatening her life (and in the Lloyd Webber musical literally killed her lover), obviously she is evil and anyone associated with her is, too. There is of course a kangaroo court in which Unfair Legal Things happen, but the day is saved by a pure and good angel named… Madeleine.

 

Why, yes, that is the name used for Erik's mother in Kay's 1990 novel. Like the original Madeleine (and Leroux's original Christine, who is supposedly a dead ringer for her), she is blonde, pale, lovely, and in love with the opera. If you are waiting in breathless suspense to see whether she might be a love interest for Christian, I'll go ahead and spoil it for you: she is. I’d like to say that the cyclical relationships are making a statement about the power of relationships over the rest of one's life and the perpetuation of the Phantom's psychological problems, repeating them from generation to generation because no one is addressing them or the social and systemic evils that created them… Meadows keeps trying to tell us that Erik did nothing wrong and has no problems other than that blackout rage thing we’re all supposed to handwave, so it comes off as more of the same wish-fulfillment. She’s “correcting” the original novel’s “mistakes” twice - first by giving Christine to Erik so that he gets his prize, then again by giving his Mini-Erik, Erik II: This Time Hotter, a new second Christine so that he never has the same struggles as his father. At any rate, Madeleine, supposedly the star witness for the prosecution, fails to identify Christian as the murderer and he walks without even going to trial, all the while thinking about how bodacious she is.

 

By the way, while I love a nice Greek metaphor as much as the next girl, you are not allowed to reuse the same one in the same book unless you put in the work to make it a motif, so the "speed of Achilles" returning on page 219 is not a good idea. Ten-point penalty.

 

And now Christine is off to the cathedral (I know; I'm surprised, too). After Meadows tries to convince us that operatic training apparently makes people loud by default (not extrapolation; Christian, supposedly an opera singer himself, actually thinks this), she uses this deeply inaccurate idea for ease of eavesdropping so people can listen in on Christine’s whispered prayers. The only thing I can think of is that Christine for some reason wants people to hear her. If anything, greater operatic training gives one greater control over one's volume. The great sopranos are praised for their pianissimo, you know.

 

The entire scene is pretty much just more excessive angst, as Christine prays for a magical solution to her husband vs. husband dilemma and then collapses in tears on the ground (sadly, she "crumbles"... but someone will be along to sweep her up, I'm sure). While I'm glad that she has apparently recognized that what she's doing might not be okay now that multiple members of her family are suffering over it, it's much too late for me to care about her emotional state. I'm tired. I'm tired of the constant hyperdramatic antics and prose, and I'm tired of the ridiculously contrived and representationally devoid plot. I’m MUCH too tired for there to be 175 pages still to go in this limper of a plot.

 

Chapter 4:

 

Christian spends a lot of time being very impressed and gratified that Erik didn't kill Raoul in the church when said vicomte arrived to pick Christine up off the floor and worriedly bear her back home to bed. I do not share his sentiments. I don't have enough chocolate chips to go around giving cookies to everybody who doesn't murder people for no good reason.

 

Ready for more Throwaway Antagonist Theatre? This time, it's Madeleine's father, who is a drunken, abusive possible rapist who harasses her constantly (don't go looking for reasoning or even interesting execution; it isn't there)! In fact, he beats her into a coma for going out to the opera with Christian, who in turn beats him until he has a heart attack and dies! I know that this book somehow does not have ENOUGH ANGST in it yet, but I still have trouble believing that Christian has progressed to the point where he can feel his "soul tearing" because of Madeleine's distress. This is only the second time they've met. He carts her unconscious body off to the Chateau de Chagny and commences staring weepishly at it for the next several days, because that’s what the ladies like, I guess. 

 

Will Madeleine ever be upset or conflicted about her love interest physically beating her father to death? No, probably because Meadows thinks that the man having a heart attack mid-beating somehow absolves Christian of responsibility and makes this death one from natural causes. Again, we miss opportunities for interesting stories - can Madeleine feel safe around Christian? What did she think of her father and did she have mixed feelings, as many abuse victims do, and how does she reconcile them? Will she have lasting trauma from what happened to her? No one cares because we have a Phantom and a Hot Phantom to fixate on instead.

 

Chapter 5: 

 

Luckily, Erik the Magical Pharmaceutical Fairy is here to help! This time, not only does he have helpful potions, but he also knows how to perform a partial craniotomy on Madeleine in order to relieve the pressure. Somehow, everyone is able to keep the hole in her skull a secret from Raoul whenever he comes by to check on her. More interesting than the medical proceedings is the fact that Erik is physically present at the Chateau de Chagny (and has apparently been there many times over the last several years); this isn't the first time, since Leroux's novel clearly details the incident with the window and the revolver, but it does reverse the usual situation and place the Phantom as the interloper into Raoul's territory rather than the other way around. It's a good opportunity to play on the classic horror-story idea of the unknown or the evil invading a formerly familiar and safe environment (much as the similar scene was handled in the original novel), but since Erik isn't unknown or evil or even really very impressive in this version, it plays out more like a soap opera cliche.

 

It is around this point that The Truth Comes Out and Raoul discovers that Erik is alive, which of course answers a lot of his questions in a distinctly uncomfortable manner. I cannot condone his subsequent enraged shouting and shaking of Christine's shoulders, but I can certainly understand it. I mean, I want to do that, and I sure don't love her. Christine's attempts to seize control of the situation are laughable, especially when, when asked by her livid husband if she is banging the Phantom, she tells him that it's none of his business. She is somehow SHOCKED when he disagrees, and further shocked when he reveals that because he has basic deductive reasoning skills he is aware that Christian is not his son, apparently because she can’t conceive of him knowing that and still loving both of them and raising the boy. The conversation ends abruptly when Christian overhears that last bit about not being Raoul's son and storms in demanding to know what's going on... because, SOMEHOW, he still has NO IDEA who it could be. HOW MANY MORE TIMES DO I HAVE TO BEAT MY HEAD AGAINST MY DESK BEFORE THIS WILL ALL END?

 

He goes off to reflect on how his "voice had become a husky, trembling horde of loathing" (a... horde? What?) and angst over "the black secrets that tormented [his] soul". This kid is one Cure album away from being someone I went to high school with.

 

Book 5: Christine

 

Chapter 1:

 

Raoul has now had enough character development to really be defined, and he is very much a grown man in this novel. He's no longer wishy-washy in the slightest, nor does he accept any indecision or avoidance out of the dithering Christine; he's not a boy anymore, no matter what Erik calls him. Meadows has made this a conflict between two men - Raoul and Erik, fighting over Christine as the prize - rather than one between archetypes with Christine as the ultimate decision-maker. This is good for the dude characters, at least in terms of making them more relatable, human figures, but it's complete disaster for Christine, since apparently Meadows can’t have all three of them be real people and has to demote her to trophy instead.

 

Erik shows himself in Raoul's house for no apparent reason here and Raoul naturally tries to shoot him; Christine tries to stop him and gets slapped. This is the first instance of serious violence against Christine on Raoul's behalf, but unfortunately, it won’t be the last. Having spent the largest chunk of this novel accidentally making us sympathetic toward Raoul, who is just doing his fucking best, it feels like the author finally realized that she needed to have a better reason to get rid of him than just “Christine and Erik want to bone”, so it’s time for him to suddenly sprout an abusive personality after seventeen hears of harmonious marriage. 

 

It’s not like you couldn’t do something with this. Raoul has to be going through a lot, given he's probably thought all these years that his wife was raped while he was imprisoned and unable to help her, now his wife is cheating on him with that guy and not even sorry about it, he’s been distant from her for years for her own safety and she’s throwing that safety away on someone else, and the guy who nearly killed both of them and kept him imprisoned in a literal dungeon has turned back up in his house and he’s probably having PTSD flashbacks. Those are all legitimate reasons he could start lashing out, getting aggressive or violent, or just plain panicking, but Meadows doesn’t actually care about him as a character so she won’t do any of the work to give us a reason beyond “I don’t like him and want you to not like him either.”

 

Chapter 2:

 

Another blatantly obvious Kay reference when it's revealed that Christian looks exactly like Erik's father (who Erik never met because he died before he was born so… how does he know?). Again, this backstory is lifted whole from Kay's novel and from the character of Erik's father, Charles, in that version.

 

Almost nothing is going on in this chapter except for hysterical whining and angst as Christine and Erik wail over how Raoul is trying to keep them apart. Christine also doctors Erik's hand, which he smashed up by punching through a plate-glass door in a fit of anger when Raoul slapped Christine. Much distress over the fact that he might never be able to play piano again (no lie; actually the concern)! Christine's breathless, adoring exclamations over how Erik "risked it all for her" are even more egregious than usual; punching a window isn't risking it all for her. It's having a tantrum. It’s not like he punched Raoul. He didn’t actually try to stop anyone from slapping her.

 

Also, Christine, stop telling Erik that he has "nothing to atone for". The most blameless versions of Erik still have shit they should probably apologize for, and this is not one of those guys. He killed people, Christine.

 

Chapter 3:

 

Raoul, finally fed up, threatens to send Christine away; she has a hissy fit, begging him to be reasonable, while I wearily wonder what universe she lives in that accepts letting your unfaithful wife continue to live in your house, siphon off your fortune, and bang the ghoul in the Opera House while you do nothing as reasonable behavior. What does she think he's going to do, pretend he doesn't know about it all? She finally gets him to promise not to send her away in return for her promise not to visit or sleep with Erik anymore, but does so with the internal equivalent of crossed fingers, thinking to herself all the while that she's totally going to break this promise, like, tomorrow. It's not her fault, you see - she can't help it because she is incapable of living without Erik! Woe! I took a short foray back to page 69, because I thought I remembered a fucking hilarious line that she'd said earlier, and indeed, here it is:

 

"I reminded Raoul that he had promised [not to turn Erik in], and that I would never marry a man who did not have the honor to keep his promises."

 

Glad that honor stuff doesn't apply to you, huh, Christine? This quote also heavily implies that she knows Erik is alive when she agrees to marry Raoul, so either she doesn't consider her "marriage" to Erik to be a real thing, or she intentionally became a bigamist by marrying Raoul, knowing it wouldn't be a real union. You can't have it both ways, Christine. Either you're married or you aren't.

 

If we can side-journey back to a little representational theory, Christine still functions as the mother figure in this novel, but most of that has been outsourced from Erik to Christian. It's not at all a large shift, since Christian is just a proto-Erik anyway and has the distinction only of having a bit more of a developed conscience than does his biological father. This is something that we see in more than a few versions, and again it probably has to do with modern readers finding Christine's dual role as love interest and mother unpalatable in a purely romantic setting.

 

Every time Erik does anything in the darkness, his white mask glows eerily and is apparently visible for miles in every direction. It's very dramatic, but I'm just saying that this is probably why the original Erik's mask was black. It's inconvenient to always be visible for getting shot, for example, which is in fact becoming an issue at this point in the novel.

 

In case you still somehow had doubts that this book is just shamelessly ripping off Kay’s novel, Erik is startled by Madeleine's name but no one including the narrative ever bothers to explain why. It’s pretty obvious that it’s because that was his mother’s name in Kay’s book, and Meadows either expected her audience to be familiar with it or just forgot she hadn’t explained it because she considered it an automatic part of the backstory.

 

Erik's rage is, again, all-encompassing and stompy when Christine whimperingly tells him all about how Raoul threatened her by saying that he would send her away and keep her from seeing Christian if she didn't agree to dump Erik. Much ranting about the vicomte's sliminess in using a child against his mother occurs, though to be honest, again, what did y’all expect Raoul to do? What was your plan, exactly? Also, if Christian is some wobbly age between seventeen and nineteen, it’s not like he’s separating her from her baby and she won’t get to raise him. Christian is basically an adult in this society and can probably decide to see her or not on his own.

 

Christian, by the way, FINALLY figures out whose kid he is in this chapter. After a brief meltdown, the effect of this epiphany is mostly a predictable but still exhausting increase in unfounded affection for Erik, and a loss of the rest of his compunctions when it comes to watching his mom make out with the dude. Well, if that’s his biological father, of course he loves him and is chill with watching his mom bang him while the dude he was lovingly raised by suffers. That’s how genetics work.

 

I mentioned this earlier, but I almost drowned in this chapter. These people cry all the time, constantly, at the drop of a hat. I don't know how they can have any salt left in their bodies with the constant gushing welling streaming pouring bursting floods of tears that are, one assumes, raising Paris' water level by a few feet.

 

Book 6: Christian

 

Chapter 1: 

 

Christian is okay with Christine and Erik making out constantly because, now that he has Madeleine and he loves her so so much, he understands the torment of their souls or something. Again, he's only known her for a couple of weeks and she's been in a coma for one of them, but shut up. He loves her and they are getting married (no, really. They are. Madeleine points out that she is but a poor street sparrow, but, as we said earlier, fuck social convention in this book!).

 

Christine's Showcase in Flexible Morals continues when Christian catches her sneaking out to Erik's and asks her about the promise she made to Raoul. Her response? "There are promises we make with our minds, Christian, and there are promises we make with our hearts. Which do you think would be stronger?" Here's an idea: instead of justifying our actions with suspiciously maudlin platitudes, we could go ahead and not make promises we're not going to keep, with our minds, hearts, or any other body parts! There is literally nothing stopping Christine from just leaving Raoul to live with Erik, except that she apparently doesn’t want to give up her cushy life as the vicomte’s wife. Her son is grown. Her lover is here. Her husband doesn’t even want her around if she won’t stop cheating on him. Take off your persecuted hat, Christine. I'm tired of looking at it.

 

Chapter 2:

 

And, at long last, the Erik Hunt has commenced, with Raoul running about in the underground looking for him and Christine and Christian also charging randomly around, hoping that their presence will help matters somehow. Things are finally winding down, and, as I predicted way back when this book was fresh and new and I didn't yet want to drown myself in a jug of moonshine, it is apparent that the only way out of this character snarl that Meadows has created is for some major characters to die. I almost don't care who as long as we get to wrap this thing up, but it's pretty obvious that Christine is the best choice since none of the male characters is capable of growth or even of changing their minds. Which means that not only is she a trophy for the men to fight over, but now we can also kill her so they can all experience Feelings. Super.

 

In the final confrontation, naturally Erik and Christine feel that the thing to do is to send Christian to intervene on their behalf and put himself bodily in the way of his crazed former father figure (by this point, Raoul has completely gone off the deep end for reasons that mostly escape me, becoming a violent foil villain for... well, for the original violent villain). Fantastic parenting there, you guys. Christian is not doing much better in the sympathetically admirable department, either, "smirking" when he sees that Raoul looks physically vulnerable when compared to Erik and then deciding that the best course of action is to clock Raoul over the head with a gun and leave his body lying in the cellar while they all run around in the dark some more.

 

This is exactly why we never get so much as an ounce of examination of the relationship between Raoul and Christian. Raoul raised Christian as his own son, suspecting he was really Erik’s but unwilling to blame Christine or her child for whatever happened while he was imprisoned; Raoul is the only father Christian has ever known. But if you brought any of that up, Christian might be conflicted about this whole situation, so he can only be mad about Christine breaking her wedding vows; he can’t actually care about his father. That gives us a bad look for Christian, who seems to care more about the law than his parents’ feelings, but it gives us a REALLY bad look for Meadows, who is essentially telling her audience that adoptive parents will never be as important or loved as biological ones, no matter what they do, how much they care, or how much the biological parents are abusive or dangerous.

 

That’s just straight-up hideous. Plenty of adoptive families are loving and tight-knit and don’t deserve to read that. Plenty of biological parents are abusive or neglectful and their children don’t deserve to read about how they’re obligated to love them, either. There are a lot of gross messages in this book, but that one may be the worst.

 

In an intensely painful (for me) last-ditch effort to resolve the situation without violence, Christian asks Erik to leave his mother alone again. Erik responds by self-righteously asking him if he could let Madeleine go in order to be happy with another man, and then feels vindicated when Christian says that he could not. I'm afraid all the characters will have to pardon me for not joining them in their enjoyment of the fact that they apparently don't have the same capacity for unselfish love that the original Erik did. Christian admitting he would also become a violent and/or murderous stalker if his girlfriend decided she didn’t want to be with him and then bonding with his violent stalker dad over it is an entire planet full of red flags. I'm not going to do a little jig because they suck at self-sacrifice. YOU GUYS ARE MISSING THE POINT.

 

The entire chapter makes me cry, and not in the way Meadows wants it to. Christian is lying to the father who raised him and faking loyalty so he can disrupt his plans, while Erik is plotting everyone's deaths and Raoul apparently has no issue with letting Christine go off and bang Erik for another week or so while he stalks Erik with a gun (and Christine is perfectly happy to oblige). AND THEN, Madeleine's scuzzball father leaps in like a resurrected supervillain, suddenly appearing in the garden at the chateau in order to attack his pure, innocent, helpless daughter! What the hell? It doesn't even... it doesn't even make sense! The chateau's not even IN Paris! You told us that guy was dead! What on earth are you trying to do here?

 

Chapter 3:

 

Christian goes ahead and murders Madeleine's father (again) with his bare hands. It's not his fault, of course, because he HAD to break the man's neck to keep Madeleine from being killed. For fuck's sake, have these people never heard of nonlethal force? You couldn't have stopped strangling him when he passed out? It's always either Fun Happy Time or DEATH. Madeleine, after an initial deer-like startle in which she flees for a little while, manages somehow to simultaneously cower in fear and still blow little I LOVE YOUs to the guy she just saw murder her father (and, since his face "transforms" when he does violent things, she has now realized was also the man she saw murder the muggers). She’s somehow totally fine with all this, as we all would be if we suddenly realized that the guy we met a couple weeks ago who has become disturbingly attached to us and took us to his house while we were unconscious and helpless is also a serial killer.

 

"Suddenly a mound of black despair coursed through my veins." Everyone stop and try to picture a mound... coursing through veins... suddenly. I think that's called an embolism.

 

Raoul, meanwhile, decides that the thing to do here is start shooting people in the middle of an opera performance and starts taking potshots at Erik from his box while the audience turns into a screaming mob and Christine starts hurling herself at him again, prompting more distracted slapping which prompts more Erik-rage which prompts more shots of vodka on my coffee table.

 

Chapter 4:

 

Raoul threatens to shoot Christian for getting in his way here, which makes about zero sense to me since he was willing to do vastly illegal things to save his son from his own folly earlier in the book and has shown every indication of completely doting on the kid. It's all part of the painful drama, which includes Erik making "the cry that surely Satan made when God threw him out of heaven". Hyperbole and drama are fantastic, effective, time-honored literary devices that can be employed to great effect in a narrative, but when the book is nothing but, it becomes completely unreadable without bursting into laughter, which is basically what I ended up doing for about the last five chapters.

 

In a total shocker, Christine is indeed the winner of the Character Death Lottery, throwing herself into the path of the bullet when Raoul tries to shoot Erik and ending up bleeding all over the floor with a bullet lodged in her skull. Erik retaliates by beating Raoul's face into the wall until he passes out in a bloody mess, leaving the vicomte to spend the remainder of the book in a wheelchair with severe brain damage. Christian chooses to start crying dramatically to the ceiling, generally in the vein of, "Oh, Father, why couldn't you leave it alone," which illustrates that apparently no one in this book understands that monogamous nineteenth-century aristocracy who will put up with their beloved spouses cheating on them with dudes who keep trying to kill them are kind of on the rare side, and also that Raoul's actions are apparently exempt from all this soul-searching about love that we just went through. Apparently the “I was in love and very upset about it” excuse is only for Erik and his kid to use when they do violent and horrifying things.

 

Christine takes entirely too long to dramatically wither away from blood loss, but she finally does expire after swearing Erik and Christian to take care of one another (Raoul can apparently go to hell, despite her earlier on-and-off sisterly concern over his well-being). The following scene, including the weeping of further rivers of tormented tears and Erik's extremely half-assed suicide attempt, is intensely painful to read but for exactly the opposite reasons from the ones that would indicate that it was well-written. Christian somehow manages to convince Erik that he NEEDS him and then promptly moves back into Raoul's house and takes over as the vicomte-in-training. Raoul, wheelchair-bound, is confined to a small set of rooms and never spoken to by his adopted son again, and Madeleine marries her handsome young murderer and everyone lives happily ever after. There is a small dim spot here when a grief-crazed Erik tries to exhume Christine and take her home with him (gross, but in keeping with the original Erik's fascination with death, at least), but suddenly everyone remembers that they are Catholic and decides that it would be wrong to remove her from hallowed ground, so at least we don't have to hear about any corpse-cuddling and further oceanic volumes of tears.

 

Epilogue: Madeleine

 

BUT WAIT. THERE'S MORE.

 

I don't think Meadows actually knows what words she's using mean. When I ran up against "'Christ!' I shrieked, coining Christian's favorite phrase," I was out of alcohol. I hadn't budgeted for an epilogue.

 

In a bizarre Twilight Zone-esque twist, Christian's and Madeleine's baby is born horribly deformed, just like dear old grandpa (guess Meadows was too fond of that repetition of cycles idea to let the chance pass by). What's really bewildering about this is not that the kid is born with a deformity - that's plausible, since the original Erik’s condition is probably genetic - but that, rather than staying with the sympathetic, pitying tone that the rest of the book used for Erik's physical misfortune, the scene is played off like the end of a horror film, with Madeleine staring in horror and Raoul spinning around in his wheelchair, cackling in fiendish glee and demanding that the baby be named Erik. 

 

I'm not even angry at this point; I'm just perplexed. Is Meadows suggesting that similarly awful things are going to happen to this kid and result in another Phantom (his mother is named Madeleine, after all, and he does have at least one intolerant adult in the house)? To do so would be to suggest that this could possibly even have happened before, if Erik's grandfather had had a similar condition. But these characters are presented as being able to see past little things like facial deformities, what with Christian's teenage years here, so why would they choose to repeat history that way? Is Meadows suggesting that Christian's going to die before he gets home and that Madeleine will repeat her namesake's mistakes? It's all very confusing and the complete break from the tone of the rest of the book and the total failure to tie things together makes it more of a pain than a boon. 

 

But you know what IS a boon? After a short but stunningly badly-written About the Author note, THE BOOK IS OVER!

 

The single worst problem that this book has - beyond the theme assassinations, beyond the grammatical mistakes and homophone butchery, beyond the intensely overdone prose and beyond the throttle-worthy protagonists - is that it cannot show a moment of emotional content or character growth to save its life. Instead, every shift in emotion or nuance of motivation is told to us in excruciating detail, ad nauseum, constantly force-feeding the reader a steady diet of indisputable facts about the characters' inner workings that not only bogs down action but makes for spell-bindingly boring reading. The characters, for all their careful description, are flat as pancakes because they are never given any opportunity to act without constant, maddening analysis and explication.

 

This book is the only way to experience purgatory while still alive.

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