Redemption (1997)

     by Annee Cartier

I should have foreseen what this was going to be like from the glowing recommendations on the front and back of the book from none other than Madeline Baker (a.k.a. Amanda Ashley), the vampire Phantom queen of 1990s literature. There's a certain 1990s vampire zeitgeist that these books really play into, mostly brought on by the popularity of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire novel series and other similar vampire romances, and this book is probably the most prime example of it you'll ever see outside of self-aware ironic parody.

But even having read Ashley's story can't prepare you for this, because it is hysterical. This is the book that all articles making fun of the 1990s vampire romance craze are making fun of. This is the book that represents the culmination of the identical trends to sanitize and romanticize vampires and sanitize and romanticize the Phantom story and combines them in a new flaky pastry of dramatics.

There's quite a bit of love for Davis Gaines, the Los Angeles stage Phantom in Lloyd Webber's musical in the 1990s, in the dedication, although even without that obvious call-out it's very clear that this version of the Phantom is based on Lloyd Webber's. Baker/Ashley, who as mentioned above provided a lot of quotage for the book cover, is also thanked.  

 

By the way, later in the afterword Cartier confirms that the novel is based on Lloyd Webber's stage musical, and that it was intended to make Marcus' "mate a beauty much like the Phantom's Christine, only this time, the story would have a happy ending!" (Unless you're Raoul. There is never any joy for Raoul.)

 

Chapter 1:

No amount of foreboding could have prepared me for what is actually going on here: a systematic and unstoppably hilarious destruction of the English language. The story is set in Victorian England instead of in France, which means the language won't sound exactly modern, but our charming protagonist, the darkly brooding Marcus, comes out swinging with terrible botched period lingo and he will never stop, ever. Not only is there the beauteous excitement of a narrative voice that is fairly modern most of the time and yet occasionally feels the need to tell us that someone "cared naught", but Marcus himself does not appear to understand what the word "nay" means, or has ever meant, in the history of the English language.

Just in case you aren't up on deprecated English - although I assume most of us are at least vaguely just based on osmosis - "nay" is basically an archaic form of the modern word "no"; it's still used in this form occasionally in formal political proceedings, where votes of yea (archaic yes) versus nay are tabulated. You can use it whenever someone is saying the word "no", as in, "Nay, thank you"; you can also use it to refer to a negative vote ("The nays have it!") or as an injunctive addition to emphasize something ("She was lovely - nay, stunning!"). If you want to get into really archaic usage, it can also be a verb meaning to refuse something, as in "She asked him to help her, but he nayed," or if you go all the way back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it actually meant yes and was used as the opposite of no - that is, if someone asked if you wanted a mug of ale, you could say "nay" if you did or "no" if you didn't. You can do all of these things with the word "nay", and some of them are even interesting choices for actually working with an ancient vampire who is still stuck in the Early Modern English period.

What you cannot do with the word "nay" is use it to replace every negative word in the English language. It means "no". It has always meant "no" (except when it meant "yes"). It does not mean "not", "never", "nary", "none", or any other variation starting with the letter N. So every time Marcus (and Cartier, who is unstoppable in the narrative voice as well as the characters') says things like, "He nay blinked," "You nay want to know," or "I nay thought I would ever see you again," things have gone terribly awry. It's literally hard to understand what he's saying sometimes because the reader has to guess which negative word is being transformed, which is the real cardinal sin when you're trying to write dialectal dialogue, and even when the meaning of the subject is clear, the obvious intent to make Marcus sound like he's old-timey and hasn't caught up to modern speech patterns doesn't really work out since instead he sounds like a gigantic doofus.

If you want to write characters with a period speech pattern or dialect, you have to research it. You really do. I beg of you, writers. And before anyone wonders if she might be thinking of the homophonic Scottish form of no ("nae"), she is not; nobody in the story is Scottish, there are no other bits of brogue scattered around to lend it credence, and SHE WOULDN'T EVEN BE USING "NAE" CORRECTLY MOST OF THE TIME.

This is only the first page. I'm moving on because there are a lot of period dialogue sins and I only have so much time in my life.

So anyway, Marcus. It is in no way a secret, from the back of the book to the obvious "lo, I am dark and shadowy and evil!" declarations hitting us from page one, that Marcus is a vampire, though he will not reveal this until a shocking cliffhanger at the end of the first chapter. This, presumably, is why he talks like a refugee from a bad Renaissance faire that has no dialect coach. Various subtle things are already happening to let us know about his undead specialness, including the fact that his eyes (the stormy, silvery grey of a wind-tossed sea, of course) glow when he's excited. When we open, he's in the rafters of the Drury Lane Theatre (incidentally, a real place built in the seventeenth century and the oldest operating theater in London), busily stalking a young actress named Gabriela Rozina as she goes about her nightly business. Gabriela's surname means "rose", of course, and it sounded like a Spanish name and we've never seen a Spanish Christine before so I was briefly excited, but it turned out later that she was half British and half Italian. Don't worry, she'll explain her background to us later. At lenght.

Oh, and she sometimes thinks of and refers to herself as "Gaby", which basically only happens when it's convenient for the author to cutesy her up for a scene, because usually it's much more smolderingly sexy for everyone to keep calling her Gabriela.

Marcus has apparently been stalking Gabriela for some time, most of which he spends agonizing over how incredible she is, how raging his boner for her is, and how he could NEVER EVER EVER approach her EVER for reasons that are unclear (most of this book occurs for reasons that are unclear). Since even Cartier can only milk Marcus' tortured, sexy angst for so many pages, we switch over to Gabriela's point of view, where we learn that she secured a place in this theater's company thanks to the help of its producer, Augustus Harris, who acts as a mentor and patron for her. Augustus briefly seems like he might be taking on a Phantom role due to the mentoring and the controlling the theater and the fact that we seldom see him, which would have been neat and lined up with several "split" Phantoms in previous adaptations, but this was again a dead end; he's just a convenient device to explain how she can be both a tragic half-breed guttersnipe and still have gotten into one of the premiere performing companies in London.

Cartier's second literary sin, lagging behind the clear first place of Horribly Inaccurate Anachronistic Dialogue but by no means out of the race, is Terrifying Overuse of Bad Metaphors and Similes. An example from page nine:

So why now, of all times, did she feel like a sapped daisy, ready to be pressed and forgotten in a book? Why did this loneliness return each night, its gawky claws imprisoning her spirit, shredding the crumb of confidence in her soul?

The crumb of confidence, y'all.

Gabriela, it turns out, was orphaned at age 5 (again, a similarity to Leroux's orphaned Christine) and grew up in an orphanage, where she was tragically never adopted because it was apparently a very high-class orphanage and all the nice British people who came to look at the kids didn't want to adopt a half-Italian child, no matter lovely and charming she was (and of course she is both). It has eternally scarred her, of course, so that she can never truly believe in herself and she can never truly love in case someone leaves her for not being good enough! Woe! She's just TOO Italian! It is the curse to end all curses!

Now, obviously there is historical basis for this - there is a history in England of Italians being considered lower-class, often with elements of both racism (Italians were considered a lesser race than the English as well as in later pseudo-scientific disciplines in the nineteenth century "closer" to African races, which were also discriminated against) and classism (English perceptions of Italians were often that they were largely peasants or at best merchant-class, and therefore lesser). It might very well be that a visibly Italian child would have more trouble being adopted than a clearly English one, and Gabriela might definitely have experienced discrimination over her heritage.

The problem, unfortunately, is that actually having her heroine experience discrimination would require Cartier to both portray said discrimination, which would be serious and not romantic or sexy, and would also require research into how that discrimination would have played out in this historical time period. And since apparently she didn't want to do that, instead Gabriela wails about her difficult childhood here and then never experiences any discrimination over being Italian again ever for the rest of the book.

It's worth noticing, though, that Gabriela is a solo performer, not a member of the chorus; she has small roles in the company just as Leroux's original Christine did, and while she has plenty of ambition, she doesn't seem to be gunning for the visiting French headliner (who, I assume, is our one-line vague throwaway Carlotta, though she never really does anything or makes any appearance). The transition from opera house to playhouse is a little bit bumpy, but it's one of the areas in which Cartier does well at keeping things tied to the original story.

But we can't enjoy that moment of praise, because now Raoul has arrived... oh, how he has arrived.

 

He is now a young gentleman named Alfonso Renard, a name chosen, I presume, for its generally villainous sound and not because it has any cultural significance, since being Italian/French/Spanish doesn't seem to be causing him any particular social difficulty. A handsome dandy described by other girls in the cast as "Lancelot crossed with a bit o' the Black Irish" (lol what), he is a smooth operator in fancy clothes, patent-leather boots and fashionable hair, and he is here to continue to press his suit to Gabriela, who has apparently been putting him off. He's also completely and totally evil, of course - for one thing, he's a lecher, the Ultimate Sin in a romance novel from the nineties, and for another he totally just wants to sleep with Gabriela because he thinks she's beautiful and not because of True Love, which Cartier chooses to illustrate by using the word "black" to describe him so many times in such quick succession that he might as well be a negative hole in the landscape, outlined in the black, shimmering, foul blackness of his irredeemable black soul. (This is also not a good look when you want to talk about ethnic/racial discrimination in your book, too.)

Through conversation with Gabriela, it comes out that the two were once childhood friends, as were the original Raoul and Christine, but that apparently adulthood turned him into a roaring bastard and there is not even a shred of good left in him. Thank God he's got so many dimensions to make him a compelling villain or an interesting opposition for Mr. Sexypants Marcus, right? To further showcase his evil, he intentionally wishes Gabriela good luck in tonight's show, which of course is a Mortal Sin because according to theater superstition and tradition that's like wishing her bad luck. This is played completely straight as an illustration of how awful the character is, despite the fact that as far as we know he has no background in theatre and might not have any idea that's not usually how it's done. He wished her good luck. What an asshole.

Now, Alfonso clearly is an asshole - he doesn't like taking no for an answer and is pushy and demanding about his attempts to court a woman who is not interested in him. Gabriela mostly responds to this with hysteria, which lets us know that she's going to need a big strong hero to come help save her from him, which gets us to the completed setup for your Basic Romance Novel neatly.

Gabriela, by the way, has almond eyes with "gold flecks" in them. She's so glittery and pretty!

While Cartier does things like using the words "verily" and "hyperhuman" in the same sentence just to see if she can make readers experience a critical error, she also finds time to accidentally make Marcus look even more like a creepy stalker than Alfonso, an impressive feat since Alfonso is so mercilessly presented as an evil slimeball from the moment he arrives. Marcus stalking her on the sly and fantasizing about her while sitting above her dressing room so he can peep at her while she has no idea he even exists definitely manages it, though. Cartier is ready with finely-crafted prose to explain how it's okay in his case because they're meant to be:

Before she had even entered the room on that fateful night - was it only a day over eight weeks ago? - his preternatural psyche whirled into chaos, rejoicing in the kinship he immediately sensed in her lonely soul, but warring against the life she provoked him to feel again... the hope she dared him to believe in. A hope he had nay needed or wanted in a long, long time...

Well, I mean, if he's feeling kinship with her lonely soul, I guess we should forgive him the EIGHT WEEKS of CONSTANT, CREEPY STALKING. Also, do you see the nay? Do you see what I'm talking about here?

Also, here's our reveal that he's a vampire, which frankly is not the biggest reason that he should be avoided at this point.

Chapter 2:

I appreciate that Cartier mentions the popular perception of actresses as morally and sexually loose in Victorian society, but it's really only included to help drive home what an asshat Alfonso is and why he expects that she will eventually sleep with him if he showers her with enough gifts. Since there's no whimper of recognition of the fact that theater patrons were generally the lower classes in this time period, since the theater was considered a "low-class" entertainment and shunned by most of the British upper-crust, however, I'm not inclined to give her much credit for research; she appears to think that the audience is all sparklingly bejewelled ladies and dandies of the high society, including Alfonso.

Gabriela, by the way, swears like a fucking sailor. When she shouts "Bloody blast!" when she's peeved, it's hilarious. No one appears to think this is anything out of the ordinary, however, which is hilarious in a different way, as if the author found some examples of Victorian profanity to use but didn't realize that these would be considered way more severe than they sound to modern readers. (Which is too bad, because making "swears a blue streak that scandalizes vampire hero and causes people to faint" an actual character trait of a heroine would be a lot of fun.)

Alfonso continues to be so evil he might as well have horns and a tail. In fact, I kind of hoped that he was actually the Devil for a little while, both because it would bring in some of that Faustian goodness I love in my Phantom novels and because it would be the only thing that would justify the level of malevolence he's constantly projecting. Although honestly, the real Devil probably be a lot more subtle than Alfonso. Gabriela, who takes the direct approach to her problems no matter how stupid it might be, kicks her highly popular and respected suitor in the balls in front of the entire theater and then flounces off to her dressing room, so she's got way more badass cred than Marcus already.

Speaking of Marcus, if you aren't yet concerned that he might spontaneously combust, you apparently should be:

...he clenched his thighs against the agonizing, joyous arousal at their juncture. But the sensation, wondrous and exhilarating as it struck, was temporary.


When Gabriela appeared, his senses overflowed beyond desire. His mind detonated beyond thought. His body detached from his awareness and soared beyond his control. A tight, agonized groan escaped his throat, despite his attempt at restraint.


Dear god. This woman would burn him alive long ere he saw the sun again.

He's DETONATING, folks. FIRE IN THE HOLE. I can't decide what's more charming: the emergence of more pseudo-period English, the excitement over his boner, or the fact that said boner is occurring up in the rafters because this is still happening while he just SECRETLY FOLLOWS HER AROUND, STARING AT HER AND CARESSING HIS HARD-ON. PLEASE SEND HIM TO VAMPIRE JAIL.

It's cool, though, because Gabriela herself feels a heart-pounding sensation of excitement whenever he's around, even though she has not even the slightest inkling of his existence. Here's her half of this interaction:

But invisible fingers seemed to reach out and pull at her waist... and, for the first time in months, filling the empty core of her with a strange but stirring warmth...


Oh, this warmth...


This warmth!


Gabriela heard herself laugh again. Her eyes slid shut. Her head rocked back. Her whole body reveled in the magnificent, miraculous heat, flaring farther inside her, reaching straight for her soul. Flowing flames. Fantastical fires. Liquid lightning...

All this because he's just IN THE ROOM SOMEWHERE, which she DOESN'T EVEN KNOW. She's just having spontaneous orgasms because of his vague proximity. By the way, those herds of ellipses are not me cutting things out of that quote; those are all in the original text.

Concerned that people will give Gabriela bad reviews just to be mean to her, Marcus declares to himself that "I shall kill them all if they say naught." Unfortunately, "naught" means "nothing", so what DO you want them to say, Marcus, since saying nothing is apparently punishable by DEATH? PLEASE, AUTHORS. YOU HAVE GOT TO LEARN ANTIQUATED ENGLISH IF YOU WANT TO USE IT.

OH MY GOD


THE NAY


IT JUST KEEPS HAPPENING


WHAT


WHAT STOP IT

Chapter 3:

Theoretically, Marcus' "silver" eyes could be an attempt to take another spin on the golden eyes of Leroux's original Phantom. Every little bit helps when he's otherwise sometimes hard to relate to the skeletal misfit of Leroux's novel while he's busy running manfully about with his shirt open. Oh, but how nice - Gabriela's eyes are "copper", so they can be sure of their relative fiscal value to one another in one easy glance!

Marcus, despite his constant and insurmountable penile excitement, still can never approach Gabriela, remember; he is so dead set on this that he even spends a little while, here and there, vowing never to even look at her again and then totally breaking that vow, like, five minutes later. It should not, therefore, surprise anyone that he turns up in her dressing room talking to her (after giving away his position by creepily moaning in sexual excess... extremely classy) and then internally panics and tries to figure out how he got there, as if making poor choices is something he does only during blackouts. 

Three weeks ago, he had avowed to never look at her again. And tonight, merely the sight of her unhinged his fatal groan over the stage. Just the sound of her weeping froze every nerve in his body like January icicles. So he had come to her; he had come as swiftly as every extrahuman muscle in his body could manage...


To face the biggest terror he had ever known. The terror of staying with her. The terror of ever leaving again. The dread of shattering this moment in any way at all - this miracle of sitting here as the sole object of her shivering stare, beholding him as if he were a god and not the sickening opposite.

I feel kind of bad for making so much fun of Gabriel back in the Ashley review; true, he was overdramatic and whiny and annoying and a horrible creepy stalker, but this guy is in an entirely different league. He is the universal champion for gross and creepy stalkers who are also unable to stop angsting. He is actively painful to read about.

After he shows up in her dressing room, of course, and puts his hands on her and stuff, he then gets really pissed off because of all the longing to bang her that he is apparently not allowed to express and starts channeling that into screaming at her, which is of course the most productive choice. How dare she not respect his yearning by leaving him alone! How dare she want to know who this guy in her dressing room even is?! I'd like to respect Gabriela for getting mad and pushing right back against him, although I also want to yell at her because when a man is in your dressing room late at night when everyone in the theater is gone and he won't tell you who he is, you need to RUN, and you definitely don't need to have an internal monologue thinking about how he's right and maybe you should apologize to him. Kick him in the balls, too, Gabriela.

I can't even figure out what's going on in this scene past this point. Gabriela starts getting angry because Marcus "importuned to care" about her without really meaning it, which makes no sense because he literally turned up as a stranger in her dressing room mere minutes ago. Marcus continues getting angry because she doesn't understand the FLAMING PASSION emanating from his pants region. Everyone is emotionally wounded.

Marcus, by the way, is apparently known to be the "ghost" of the theater, but most of the cast doesn't believe in the legend of the ghost anyway, so while the attempt at a parallel is there, it doesn't much resemble Leroux's Erik and his somewhat impressive amount of both superstitious and concrete sway over the opera house.

After this fight has dragged on for far too long, Marcus finally gets fed up with it and uses vampiric mind-powers to dominate Gabriela's mind and make her go home and leave him alone, an act which is morally questionable but still had me waving a little flag of celebration to mark the end of this totally incomprehensible scene. But, lo! When she departed, she left her journal lying on the floor, and Marcus can't help but pick it up! Reading it nearly DESTROYS HIS SOUL instantly for some reason, but of course he CAN'T STOP.

Everyone's favorite swear in this book, by the way, is "Sweet Genesius", a reference to St. Genesius, the Catholic patron saint of actors. There is no good reason for this since Genesius' name was never actually used popularly for swearing and half the time it doesn't make any sense, but it's not like that's the first thing about this book that has no good reason behind it.

Oh, by the way, guys, Marcus totally, like, owns the entire theater as a silent partner of Augustus Harris. Fancy. Where his income (which is apparently enormous because he is totes rich and thus an acceptable romance novel mate) originates is not discussed.

Chapter 4:

He looked hewn of gold-swept granite under the gaslights, his hair swept off his high forehead like onyx turned to velvet.

What... what? What does that even mean? Gold-swept granite?

Upon realizing that she has lost her journal, Gabriela figures out eventually that Marcus must have taken it and somehow finds him to give him a piece of her mind about it (for a Phantom, he is ludicrously easy for her to find whenever she wants to have a conversation). The piece-of-mind-giving lasts approximately five seconds, after which point she acknowledges that it was okay for him to steal it; since she would have said no if he'd asked to see it, she has to concede, stealing it was his only reasonable recourse.

Hey, Gabriela. I feel like he could also have chosen to NOT STEAL AND READ IT, THUS INVADING YOUR PRIVACY AND SERIOUSLY UPSETTING YOU. I feel like that was also a reasonable option.

They have a fight about this for a few minutes until she randomly lights up with excitement and starts demanding that he run lines with her, because she's just realized he must be a totally amazing actor and this will be the best thing ever. Of course, he refuses, but not really, and then they go run lines. Okay, then.

Chapter 5:

Marcus and Gabriela randomly feel one anothers' emotions or hear one anothers' thoughts, usually without warning or apparent trigger, and literally for no reason whatsoever, continually throughout this book. The only nod to the complete weirdness of this is Marcus at one point thinking that yeah, it sure is weird that that's happening, since she's just a human and he hasn't done any kind of vampiric messing about in her mind to cause it to. Then everyone forgets about it and it just continues to be RANDOM, UNEXPLAINED TELEPATHY THAT EVERYONE IS OKAY WITH because as long as you lampshade a problem in your worldbuilding, you don't have to fix it, am I right, authors?

"The man didn't need Pasteur's genius to deduce where her ambitions lie"? No. One tense per sentence, please.

What you don't understand from the quotes, my friends, is that it's all like this. The whole book, seriously. I can repeatedly quote things like "Gabriela watched in growing amazement - and remorse - as Marcus's face twisted in something between a sob and a grimace. Pain beyond words. Sorrow beyond tears," but even that can't really communicate to you what 300+ pages of that does to your brain.

Of course, it turns out that Marcus is the most incredible actor ever, so their rehearsals are going well - at least in theory, but in practice Gabriela keeps lapsing into silence every few lines because she's too busy staring at Marcus to remember her lines. Some people confronted with an actress at the theater they own who couldn't get through more than five words without staring glassy-eyed and forgetting her lines might want to fire her, but luckily for Gabriela, Marcus' penis will be having none of that. 

When Marcus tries to mind-whammy Gabriela into going away again, she suddenly gains the ability to both recognize and resist his powers, apparently out of nowhere. How is a total mystery, as is the question of why she isn't more freaked out about the strange magical powers instead of just calmly telling him to stop and then pretending nothing has happened.

Then, bam - in two paragraphs, we gloss over several weeks of action, during which we are informed that there were a lot of rehearsals and that Marcus and Gabriela nurtured a "deepening connection", though what that means is completely nebulous since we see no actual time spent on their characters developing a connection at all. Character growth is hard, so why do it when you could instead just claim it happened offscreen? Just accept that their nonexistent impetus for striking up a relationship has turned into a totally undescribed but unfathomably strong bond, okay?

I have to give Cartier props for Marcus' offhand mention of the Varney the Vampire serial, though; it was one of the first really influential fictional works about vampires published in English and had a heavy influence on Stoker's Dracula, among other things, and was a serial in much the same style as Leroux's novel's original publishing. It's fun to see Marcus mention the work that, as a character, he ultimately owes his existence to. Of course, Cartier is using a very modern version of vampirism that doesn't resemble old Varney very much at all (for one thing, Varney could run around in the sunlight without problems, which Marcus definitely cannot), but it's nice to see nonetheless.

Gabriela, of course, now that their connection has deepened to the point where she can totally feel Marcus' pain, wants nothing more than to find out what's wrong and soothe the pain of this growling violent outburster who is prone to stalking her, yelling at her, and trying to put her hand in his mouth whenever she pricks her finger.

Chapter 6:

In fact, once she pricks her finger and he starts acting all weird, she figures that now would be the perfect time to seduce him. Good idea, Gabriela. Let us know how that works out for you.

Little will be explained here, because Marcus is the most regal of drama queens and needs time to drag everything out, but essentially it is revealed that he was turned into a vampire by a vampire lady named Raquelle, who appears to have no traits whatsoever except being an evil jerkface without a shred of character depth (if she and Alfonso were to have children together, they would all emerge with the Mark of the Beast). It is blindingly obvious that she will show up as an antagonist at some point during this novel, but at least if she did there might be something approximating a plot instead of just interminable chapters about Marcus and Gabriela meditating on one anothers' hotness. This is one of many, many places that it's clear that Cartier is drawing inspiration from Ashley's work, which has a nearly identical plot and introduced the evil ex-girlfriend vampire Nina at almost the exact same point.

Apparently vampires can drink from humans and "reach into their minds and souls" to gain a special connection with them via a rite called initiation, usually resulting in the kind of telepathic nonsense Gabriela and Marcus are experiencing. Since he has not initiated Gabriela (or anyone else ever, because that would be wrong and Marcus must always struggle against his own evil nature while sobbing manfully), this does not at all explain what's going on here. Oh, wait, Cartier does have an explanation for us, after all:

But what if... what if Gabriela had already given him her soul?

Welp, glad we cleared that up in a satisfying manner. I will note that this bears a bit of resemblance to Christine's famous line to the Phantom in Leroux's novel ("Tonight I gave you my soul, and I am dead"), but it's too small a bone to content me considering the epic laziness of plotting behind it.

Marcus, it's interesting to note, is an oddly heights-oriented Phantom; while he has an underground lair with entrance cunningly hidden in a broom closet no one uses, he seems to spend most of his time in the rafters or up in a top-of-the-building apartment. There's very little lurking down in the sewers, which I suppose isn't very sexy and probably doesn't appeal much to the modern romance writer. He claims that he "claimed the top and bottom of the theater" as his own when he bought the place; this ownership is largely uncontested, again a difference from Leroux's novel, and it seems likely that Harris specifically keeps his silent partner unmolested, rather like Carriere in the Yeston/Kopit musical and subsequent film. There's no management switchover in this story, so Harris fills the role of a combined and obedient Debienne and Poligny.

After the two of them start having yet another pointless and confusing fight about how much they can't talk about their feelings with one another but are totally going to do it anyway, Marcus ends up picking Gabriela up, shaking her so hard her neck snaps back and forth, and making a "canine" growling sound into her face... but he can't scare her as much as THE POUNDING OF HER INFLAMED HEART. Do I worry more about how Gabriela needs to immediately run away to a foreign country and go into witness protection from her terrifying abusive boyfriend, or about how she's apparently going to spontaneously combust? Why does anyone think this guy was a good romantic option when he's going to literally kill her during the course of every relationship argument and doesn't even seem to register he shouldn't?

Chapter 7:

Oh, good, Gabriela's finally figured out that she's in love with Marcus for no discernible reason. Can we all go home now? Apparently not before we find out that her middle name is Angela. That's right, her name is The Angel Gabriel Rose. Very subtle. A deft and masterful touch.

Gabriela harps on her tragically orphaned past a lot, particularly when it comes to dwelling angstily on the fact that nobody ever adopted her because she was half-Italian. I realize that my heart is supposed to go out to her whenever she starts thinking about her pitiful attempts to be an "extra good girl" to get them to love her, but mostly I'm just tired of the constant whining about it and so disgusted by the general state of affairs in this book that I can't work up the energy. It's a shame, because if it had been just a little bit more subtle than a freight train, it might have been one of the truly poignant themes in the book.

But now, the moment we've all been waiting for: Gabriela has finally worn down Marcus' iron resolve (snort) and gotten sexytimes successfully initiated. Or so I assume; there's got to be some sex buried somewhere beneath all the heaps of burgeoning, flailing purple poetry-prose. Somewhere. At one point, while they're still just dry-humping and making out, we are informed verbatim that they have passed the Point of No Return.

When he throws her onto the bed, the sheets are "curling around them as seductively as Highland clouds flirting with morning birds." ...what?

Naturally, for those who wonder about these things, his euphemistically described penis is so huge that it "overflows her fingers" when she goes to check it out. At least, I assume she means that it's huge, although her wording is really suggesting other things that are frankly just not as appealing at all. Despite his massive massiveness, the pain of her virginity lost (of COURSE she's a virgin, because otherwise she would be a Bad Person in this book) is a mere pinprick and instantly forgotten in the avalanche of super-awesome happytimes.

I'll just let you share in the glory here:

His outcry shattered the silver silence with primitive passion. The last syllable of her name continued on his lips like an animal's roar of possession, raw and dominating, volume rippling in time to the pulse of his release inside her. Gabriela accepted his dominion with complete acquiescence, lips curving in a joyous smile...

I sometimes forget how truly terrifying a lot of 1990s romance novels were about dangerous abusive "heroes" who literally own and dominate their partners in a Dangerous Alpha Male sense rather than a consensual BDSM sense. This book is here to remind us.

The next morning, Marcus is gone when Gabriela wakes up, but he's left behind an incredibly expensive dress and a card that just says, "Thank you." I really want to point out that this looks a whole hell of a lot like he's running off on her now that he's gotten what he wanted (I mean, it's a little nicer than a few dollars on the dresser, but wow), but of course she knows that it's nothing of the sort - even though that would make way more sense given the world and social structure she lives in - and that it's a sign of how very much he loves her after their first night of passion. I hate this book.

Then she spends a little time pouting because he has no mirrors in his place (AHA, A CLUE!) so she can't try on her fancy dress and see how pretty it is.

 

Chapter 8:

I especially hate this book when it's narrating from Marcus' point of view, because the incidence of horribly misused nays goes up by about 80% when he's in charge of telling the story. The majority of this chapter is devoted to him wailing soliloquies to the skies about how much he loves Gabriela but must make her go away and never see him again because he's a monster, a monster! Graaaah! He grunts and growls and screams a lot. It's not particularly endearing, especially because he's calling himself a monster because he's a vampire and not because he's a horrifying stalking sexual harasser who abuses his girlfriend whenever he gets angry.

An interesting side character is introduced here, however: Joseph (probably no relation to Buquet) is a local assistant that Marcus employs to bring him fresh bodies from a hospital morgue, so he can feed without having to go out and kill people (in case you were insufficiently convinced that he was a good guy by his refusal to eat living people, he also makes sure that even the dead people have no family so they can't be upset by the corpse's disappearance, which officially makes him care more about offscreen strangers than the woman whose neck he nearly snapped for arguing with him). Joseph is a ball of cliched Cockney accent and grimy face, but he's primarily interesting in that he's another example of the semi-frequent idea of an assistant for the Phantom, starting with Ivan and Lajos from the the 1962 and 1983 films and continuing through such modern versions as the Stuart and Vale Allen novels. As in those versions, he serves a double purpose of providing a point of human contact to illustrate that the Phantom is not totally inhuman and of taking over doing all the dirty work so that Marcus doesn't have to be tarnished by anything too unsavory.

Oh, good... we're back to Alfonso, still busily being the Antichrist. Like many other throwaway Raouls, he has no respect for art (despite being a producer and patron of the arts himself), another shorthand way of again reminding us of what a soulless bastard he is along with every other line or so the mention of how much cologne he's wearing when he goes to hit on Gabriela (you mean men wear cologne when they go a'courtin'? The scandal!).

Alfonso is just one of the most bizarre characters ever. Cartier harps on the fact that he's so smooth he has the rest of the company fooled, so oily and manipulative that he's impossible to get around, and yet whenever he turns up he always ends up doing decidedly un-smooth things, in this case physically assaulting Gabriela and then banging impotently on her dressing room door after she locks him out. If nothing else, just the fact that he has a reputation to maintain would seem to preclude that kind of behavior in public while surrounded by members of the company, but apparently he's only a smooth operator when not dealing with Gabriela specifically. He even goes so far as to find the wardrobe mistress and demand a key to Gabriela's dressing room from her during this little spat, which is a believable thing he could do, but... what is happening here?

A lot of abusive men are very manipulative and capable of convincing everyone that they're good people or beyond reproach but then become abusive behind closed doors; it's not that you couldn't have a character who illustrates this, but this book is putting in no effort whatsoever to characterize anyone, least of all Alfonso, which leaves us with a bunch of caricatures lurching around taking actions completely without motivation just to get the plot moving and generate conflict.

Whatever weird decisions Alfonso is making, we don't have to care about them because there is a hidden compartment in Gabriela's dressing room wall that Marcus used to use to stare at her from hiding (like most Christines in bad sequels, somehow this idea does not bother her in the slightest), so she gets in there and hides, causing Alfonso to execute the classic Raoul scene wherein he enters her locked dressing room and finds her vanished into thin air.

Like every vampire romance hero ever, Marcus must get rid of Gabriela! For her own good! Because he's evil and will taint her innocence! But not before boning her, of course, thus ruining any chance she might have had of a decent marriage in the society he's about to abandon her in. Truly, he is an altruist.

God, I am so tired of hearing about Gabriela's childhood abandonment complex, which flares into massive, dramatic life whenever Marcus so much as hints at going into the next room to make a sandwich. It's been harped on and harped on and harped on and now it's just irritating, especially since Gabriela's response to it is exactly the same every time, almost verbatim. It finally kicks into really high gear when he actually gets around to dumping her:

The words struck with unearthly force; a psychic attack - a tactile blow. Gabriela reeled and fell to the floor, but his mental fingers gave chase, curling around her soul, constricting like vengeful talons. Her throat gasped for air as her soul fought for life.

FOR LIFE.

After refusing to let him dump her for a few minutes, things devolve into a fight again (because if there's one thing these kids know how to do, it's start screaming at one another five sentences into a discussion as soon as they realize they're frustrated) and Marcus starts bodily dragging Gabriela around, roaring about how they're going to Hell. Gabriela, I know you're brainwashed at this point and he's used who knows how much vampire garbage on your brain, but let him go. Run away and be free from this horrifying monstrosity of a dude.

We also discover here that she can see right into Marcus' soul with her penetrating copper gaze! Yes! This takes the functional place of the unmasking, while his evil, evil vampirism takes the place of the deformity (since god knows we couldn't have Marcus looking like anything other than the ultimate in man-meat). You can palpably feel the tortured pathos and once again how the real flaw here is clearly the fact that he's a vampire and not, you know, the fact that he's currently dragging her around the room by her frigging hair.

Chapter 9:

Marcus refers frequently to the "beast" as a euphemism for his bloodlust and animalistic vampire nature, which basically follows in the same mold as every other piece of vampire fiction created in the nineties. It's especially possibly a reference to the popular 1990s roleplaying game Vampire: the Masquerade, in which the Beast is a literal game mechanic.

On page 130, "Marcus' groin actually leapt for her." Good god, get that thing under control, man! Down, boy! Down!

I'm probably unnecessarily entertained by the fact that Marcus' full name is Marcus James Danewell, both because the first half is the name of the cheap Brazilian malbec in my cupboard and because the second half is a classic example of a made-up British-sounding mashup surname. Stay classy, period romances.

Having decided to go completely off the rails due to this argument, Marcus decides that revealing that he is a vampire to Gabriela will probably be the quickest way to get rid of her and drags her down to his underground lair, where he lets her read the dedication in the Bible he has that mentions his birth in the sixteenth century. Hilariously, after she complains that she can't read it (and she probably can't, considering that not only is it a miracle that she can read AT ALL after coming from an orphaned background, but sixteenth-century script commonly looked like this), he tells her to try harder and then she is magically able to decipher it. Oddly enough, reading that a kid named Marcus was born in 1585 does not instantly make her realize that she's sitting next to the ancient undead, possibly because there are a few logic-bearing cells still remaining in her skull; Marcus is confused by her inability to automatically grasp what he is spectacularly failing to tell her, and can't understand why she's mad at him for not explaining himself better.

Alas, Marcus stopped hanging out in Italy because he couldn't take the opera, it turns out. The emotion of the arias was such "unendurable agony" for him that he had to move away to staid old England! I feel like the original Phantom would be possibly most offended by this specific facet of this dude based on him.

Once Marcus manages to get his head out of his ass enough to explain what's going on, Gabriela can't believe how stupid she was not to have figured out that he was a vampire for herself, since that is clearly a conclusion people should come to for some reason. She is so shocked and overcome by the revelation of his evil, evil nature that she flees, promptly gets pneumonia, and nearly dies of fever at home while he broods angstily and the theater wonders where the hell she went (unlike Leroux's novel, which had a kidnapping at this point to cause Christine to disappear for a few days, Cartier's just has Gabriela go home and apparently no one tries to look for her there).

Chapter 10:

Marcus is here compared to a "vulture of Ares come to life". I'm not sure why it was a dead vulture in the first place, but customary props for bringing classical myth into play, however briefly.

At that she looked up at him - and doused the silver intensity of his confusion with the copper flames of her own. Like forest fires at midnight, those gold blazes raged against dark and unreadable horizons, neither denying nor confirming his contention - perhaps burning a message of both.

Seriously. What does that even mean? Even if you strip out as many of the layers of hilarious metaphor and simile as possible, it still doesn't make any sense.

 

There is a lot of very half-assed worldbuilding while Marcus discusses initiation and how he doesn't want to do it to Gabriela, but without any pertinent details or rich fleshing-out that might actually impede his progress. She really wants him to initiate her, believing it would bring them closer together, but he refuses on the grounds that he would have complete control over her mind and body. Because she is apparently against being the kind of plucky heroine who kicks people when they're being abusive, she is very sad about this.

Now that they've had a lot more sex and decided they're cool with the whole vampire thing, Marcus can feel free to pour out the sob story of his being turned undead by Raquelle, who speaks with many French words in order to let us know that she is la eville femme fatale. The flashback to him meeting and being courted by her at Whitehall is pretty standard stuff, until she takes him off into the wilderness... to her giant vagina cave. 

Yes, he calls it a "dark, warm grotto", and specifically says that the walls "pulse" like the "convulsion of a climax" as he goes deeper into it. It is 100% on purpose and also totally gratuitous since he's actually going to go on to bang Raquelle in the depths of the vagina cave, so there's no need for a symbolic sex act since an actual one is happening here already. Mostly, I think, it's illustrating how Raquelle devoured him with her evil ladyparts, which is another triumph for positive feminine imagery in the modern era.

In his subsequent quest to find a cure for vampirism, Marcus discusses traveling to many places that Cartier obviously has no firm idea of, including one episode in which he "crossed a jungle" to get to a "voodoo shaman". It's like a cannon full of loose racist cliche words was aimed at the page and just let fly.

Credit where credit is due, however: I love the mention of the secret passages beneath the theater, supposedly constructed in the seventeenth century to help King Charles II sneak in to visit Nell Gwyn, an actress of ill-repute who was his favored lover for years. Not only is it a lovely tidbit of interesting history, but it's vaguely parallel to the story; if only it had developed into something more than a brief mention to explain Marcus' underground warren!

I'm back to trying to decide if it's more exhausting that Marcus is strewing his room with rose petals in preparation for Gabriela's visit like the most cliched boyfriend in history, or that, when she's late to arrive, he starts moping the MOST HARDCORE MOPE IN THE UNIVERSE in his room, assuming that she's LEAVING HIM FOREVER, instead of, I don't know, assuming someone started talking to her on her way here or if he's really so concerned LOOKING FOR HER TO SEE IF SHE'S OKAY. Christ, he knows Alfonso is in this theater, but logic can't hope to navigate the raging waters of his self-inflicted, obnoxious and largely pointless angst.

Chapter 12:

In case anyone was wondering, Marcus totally still has manly semen in his manly testicular area, for use in manly sexing. At least, I assume he does, since Gabriela can "feel his release", and I feel like it would probably have been addressed if she was finding a lot of blood in her vagina after the fact (it's not like it disappears afterward). Of course, why he still has semen is a matter of complete conjecture, considering how much time he spends telling us that he's dead and evil and demonic and incapable of siring children. Why is he still producing semen, and what's the point if it doesn't work? Is it like... evil demonic semen? If so, I feel like these people need to be practicing safer sex.

A quick rule of thumb, for those planning to use old forms of speech: "ye" is a second-person plural, roughly equivalent to "y'all", and is used when addressing more than one person (i.e., "Hear ye, people"). The singular form is "thou" or "thee" depending on the case, which is equivalent to "you" as a singular form (i.e., "thou art my desire," or "I beg thee"). If Marcus is calling Gabriela "ye", he's either hallucinating more than one of her, making a very sneaky sixteenth-century fat joke, or an impostor who is not actually from the sixteenth century, since if he were he would know HOW TO FUCKING TALK.

(Oh, there was a brief window of time in the sixteenth century when "ye" was sometimes used in the singular as a formal form to denote respect and politeness, but since Marcus is using it to be more familiar with her, not less, no dice, Cartier. No dice. Tell him to put his rogueish smirk away and pick a time period to speak in. "So ye want to know of Elizabeth's fine court, do ye" my ass.)

He was passion barely reined. Animal barely tamed. Darkness barely dimmed.

Darkness barely... dimmed? I'm serious when I say that I have no idea if Cartier reread any of these lines after writing them, or if any editor ever touched them. I feel like someone, somewhere would have had to realize that half of them make no sense whatsoever. Later on the same page, Marcus complains that when Sir Walter Raleigh made speeches, "by the time he had finished, the bloody wine had become another vintage". Seriously, do you not understand the words you are saying, Marcus? Do you even know what vintage means? It refers to the year the wine was made! Wine getting older does not change the year it came into existence!

Blah blah blah, after a rousing reenactment of courtly dance at Whitehall, Gabriela and Marcus start having sex on the sward outside, because that's just how they roll in Victorian England. I really feel like Gabriela must have sustained injury; when a freaking vampire is telling you not to do something lest he "lose control", the safe response is not, "But I want you to lose control!" HE IS PROBABLY TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING OTHER THAN YOUR ENDLESS COPULATING, HON. PLEASE STOP ENCOURAGING HIM TO EAT YOU.

If you are feeling like there wasn't enough plot to justify this story still going on, you are correct. Cartier apparently agrees, because she steps up to the plate with the fresh, exciting, original new idea of letting them get into a Big Misunderstanding situation like every other poorly-written romance ever conceived of (in this case, Gabriela asked him to initiate her during sex, he immediately decided that she was only using him to get vampiric powers, and everyone is all woefully hurt for no reason). The problem with the Big Misunderstanding (aside from it being a lazy convention I want to kill with the flaming sword of Eden) is that it only works when the protagonists are actually capable of misunderstanding one another; when they have CONSTANT, EMOTIVE TELEPATHY with one another, it becomes harder to swallow the idea that they DON'T KNOW WHAT THE OTHER PERSON MEANT.

Gabriela (who only asked because she loves him so much, although at this point he kind of has a point, she really is pushing him hard to do a thing he doesn't want to do) asks the nearby ducks on the pond to back her up in her argument. I know it's meant to be a cute aside, but holy shit, what is consistent tone. When Marcus protests, "You'll be a mortal slave to a monster!", her feisty response is, "That's for me to decide!" How charming. Thank god for strong heroines like you in literature, Gabriela. Remind me to have this book buried in a strongbox if I ever have girls under twenty in my house.

You know, you could use vampires and mind control to do a lot of neat exploration things with dominance/submission romantic and sexual subcultures where there actually would be interesting consent questions and so on. But that would require writing and discussion instead of yelling and descriptions of boners, so we're not going to see it here.

I'm vaguely, dully interested to see how many times Marcus can compare Gabriela to Aphrodite in this chapter. So far he's done it three times, twice in the same sentence. This is some polished descriptive prose, y'all.

Chapter 13:

Gabriela decides for some reason to go all Freudian on Marcus in the middle of their rehearsal and start analyzing his relationship with his father. He is confused, which is totally understandable since he has three hundred years of character development without his father's presence behind him, and anyway Gabriela is from an entirely different time period and has no fucking clue what she's talking about. Somehow, she nevertheless manages brilliant and pithy insights. Sigh.

Marcus, of course, retaliates by comparing her unfavorably to Raquelle, and Gabriela, of course, immediately slaps him and flounces out, and both of them, of course, vow histrionically never to love again. I am never going to be allowed to escape from this book. Its interminable pseudo-plot is going to swallow all hope of ever being allowed to read anything else.

Finding real reasons for your protagonists to make up after fights is hard (especially since there was no reason for the fight in the first place, and also no reason for them to even have a relationship), so, in a move that exactly all of us saw coming, Alfonso appears out of nowhere, oozing with Eau de Malice, and assaults Gabriela. After seeing her kissing Marcus despite always giving him the cold shoulder, he makes a full-blown transformation into a screaming monster who starts punching her into unconsciousness before throwing her down on the dressing room floor to have his way with her.

Chapter 14:

Despite their telepathic link, Marcus somehow takes a few minutes to figure out what's going on and rush to the rescue, probably in order to let Gabriela get beaten up for a bit first to allow the pathos to really come through (apparently we have not watched this poor woman be abused enough yet in this book). He transforms into a wolf (a big, black, manful wolf) to do this; while the hackneyed tropes are getting so heavy you could sail to the end of this story on a raft of them, I do like that Cartier portrays him as having difficulty thinking human thoughts while in a wolf's body, struggling to hang onto higher brain functions in an animal's mind. It's not represented particularly well - execution is inconsistent as hell - but the idea is a good one.

Again demonstrating that Alfonso only exists to provide antagonism and cannot possibly have any thoughts in his head that do not revolve around money and rape, he somehow DECIDES THE WOLF IS NO BIG DEAL AND GOES BACK TO WHAT HE WAS DOING. Let's pause and picture this: a giant wolf (clearly a wolf, my friends, not a dog) bursts through the dressing room door, totally destroying it, and rips off his pants leg while tearing up his leg. He assumes that it must be a pet belonging to the woman he is currently attempting to rape slash beat to death. So his response is to... laugh, grope her, and then go to punch her again?

Just... I don't understand. He's already attempted to rape the heroine (repeatedly and gratuitously, so thanks for that). We already know he's evil. Move on.

While it's nice of Gabriela to try to keep Marcus from eating Alfonso, her justification to him that she doesn't want the police looking for him for being a murderer is just stupid. He's a wolf right now. Are you suggesting that he can't manage not to be a wolf when the police come ask about this? Or that the police are unable to distinguish an animal attack from a human one? I mean, she has gotten punched in the face a lot a minute ago, and he is using a wolf's brain, so I guess I can cut them a little slack for not being at their most logical right now, but doing so is just ignoring the total lack of logic they operate on consistently when under normal conditions.

Seriously, Alfonso is an alien. The wolf bites off some of his fingers, and his response, after screaming and clutching his maimed hand, is to leer at Gabriela some more and tell her not to threaten him before going in for the rape YET AGAIN? Forget the rest of this book; I want to know what the hell is going on with Alfonso. This is completely unreal. Is he actually a horrifying android rapist and he doesn't feel pain? Does he have a masochism fetish and this is the best high of his life? What is going on here?

Marcus is apparently not very good at being a wolf, since instead of actually killing Alfonso (the jugular is a very popular destination for murder, I hear, or the soft, exposed guts?) he starts trying to dig his way through layers of clothing and ribs to tear his heart out, which is way less efficient. Luckily for the now-unconscious Alfonso (though not for the reader), he has to stop because Gabriela has passed out and is INSTANTLY RUNNING AN ENORMOUS FEVER due to punches. Naturally, because he is totally a doctor (OH WAIT, NO HE'S NOT), he immediately turns back into a naked dude, grabs her, and sprints up to his tower room so he can put her in the bed and commence staring anxiously at her in case she dies. No particular attempt is made to do anything about her bleeding head wound or any of her other major ills, other than to mop the blood off of her. No, no, I'm sure just staring at her in concern will do the trick.

Of course, he couldn't have taken her to the hospital, he explains in his internal monologue. There might be sick people there. That's a risk he just couldn't take! That is the real and actual explanation for why he doesn't get her medical aid, because other people might also be getting medical aid so it's safer to let her bleed out from head trauma than risk her catching the flu.

So instead he goes ahead and initiates her as we've all known he was going to for approximately 100% of the book thus far, and it magically saves her life (BUT AT WHAT COST, READERS?).

Chapter 15:

When she wakes up, feeling like a million bucks due to all the sweet vampire powers, Gabriela tells Marcus that she believes he's beautiful. I'm afraid that the reeling, overjoyed shock of this revelation really doesn't have the punch you were looking for, Cartier, on account of the fact that Marcus looks like an Adonis and the entire book has been harping endlessly on the tragic beauty of his soul. I recognize the parallel from Leroux's novel, but we've strayed too far. There's nothing left. The most merciful thing left to do for this story involves a shotgun and a hole in the backyard.

Marcus' voice is here described as a "spellbinding mix of baritone and tenor". So... you're saying he's a baritone, then? Gabriela, do you even speak Victorian English? And how can there be a "mix" of baritone and tenor - is he speaking in scales?

Now that Gabriela is healed and there is some celebratory banging, she is free to pitch an enormous fit at the idea of going down to the theater to actually perform in the play she has the lead role in (in front of the talent scouts from the royal acting company she's trying to get into, yet). The idea of being separated from him is just too painful, you see - for true love, she will totally toss the dreams she's nurtured her entire life out the window so she can stay in bed with him for four more hours! As all women who have just been given fabulous powers will clearly do!

Marcus makes her go anyway, because he knows what's good for her better than she does (this is the most progressive novel EVER, you guys), and then we can also enjoy the excellent fact that, while Gabriela gives the most superlative, amazing performance of her career, she only does so because Marcus is in her head, prodding her supernaturally and giving her cues. This, at least, is appropriate to the Phantom story, in which Erik's supernatural tutoring elevated Christine's voice from mediocrity to sublimity, but in light of the way Cartier keeps trying to sell us on Gabriela as a spunky, strong, independent heroine, it mostly makes me want to vomit.

But now: A TWIST. During her performance, the guy playing Hamlet jumps backstage for a quickchange; he's gone for a few ominous seconds too long, and who should step back out but Alfonso, missing some fingers but still bent on unfathomable, completely poorly thought-out vengeance! Yes, we've gone and turned the impersonation from Lloyd Webber's "Point of No Return" scene so that Raoul is the impersonator (though, handily, since he's now the villain there's no confusion over what's going on).

I'd also like to know how Gabriela got punched in the head and this was so traumatic she needed to be initiated immediately to save her life, but Alfonso here has had several fingers bitten off, a wild animal tried to chew its way through his ribcage, and he wasn't even conscious last time we saw him, but he's in good enough shape for not only violence but also subterfuge. Maybe he actually went to the hospital.

Chapter 16:

Seriously, what is Alfonso planning to accomplish here, other than the final, irrevocable destruction of his reputation and a very probable arrest? Is he planning to jump her onstage in front of the entire audience? I suppose the main goal is to ruin her "audition" for the talent scouts in the audience, though seriously, that does not seem worth it for him; he doesn't know about her initiation into vampiric sexytimes, so he'd already have to be assuming that she was battered and probably traumatized. I guess he could have decided to step in while watching her succeed from the audience, but why he's taking in Hamlet instead of having people deal with his hand, find the wolf and otherwise harass her I have no idea. In addition to all the not making sense, he's just tragically bad at being a villain, too.

Luckily for Gabriela, who has instantly frozen onstage, Marcus can save her! With MIND BULLETS! Yes, he just mind-controls Alfonso from across the theatre and puppeteers him back offstage, leaving her to spend some more time looking stupid because Hamlet still hasn't come on and there's only so much time Ophelia can spend looking winsome and disturbed. Marcus also teleports backstage by turning into mist, a vampire power he has just discovered after three hundred years, due, no doubt, to the power of love.

Apparently Marcus can puppeteer people so easily that he can break their necks from a distance, though why he has never done this to Alfonso is anyone's guess. (The answer is because he's the hero, so he has too much of a conscience to kill people, even when he's a vampire/wolf monster whose M.O. is specifically killing people.) He just wants us to know he could, if he wanted to. He's very manly.

Can you guess where this is going, friends? Yes! Lloyd Webber's scene, in which the Phantom crashes the opera and plays the lead role himself (the original actor was knocked out by Alfonso, a la Lloyd Webber's Piangi but with less fatality), now continues apace, with Marcus stepping in as the most amazing Hamlet ever and helping Gabriela achieve true dramatic greatness by finishing the play out with her. I'm not actually sure how that works, since Ophelia dies at the end of Act IV and there's another entire act left to go after that - does he just finish the play himself while she sits around backstage? Does he get bored and swap back in the original actor? Why do we have to constantly be reassured that Gabriela isn't actually a good enough actress on her own and she needs this dude to feed her everything to make her successful, and why are we supposed to be touched by that?

 

Everyone, including the talent scouts, is so amazed that her dressing room is mobbed and she's offered the coveted position on the spot. Augustus, with whom she currently has a contract and who should be totally excited about what a huge box office draw she is, somehow thinks this is wonderful and wants her to go there immediately. I guess he likes her as little as I do.

Gabriela's pretty happy about the whole thing. So happy, in fact, that "her skin emanated an inferno of real exhilaration". We're on fire again.

You might think this book is over, but oh, no, my friends. Don't you remember the other depressingly obvious throwaway antagonist that was slated to turn up for no good reason other than to provide yet MORE reasons for Gabriela and Marcus to angst over one another? It's okay if you don't; this book has been a long journey.

Yes, Raquelle turns up down in Marcus' underground haven, where he was busily packing so he could move out and find a nice little bungalow with Gabriela or something. She is, of course, epically evil and, at the moment, in horrible shape, looking like a rotting corpse on account of not having eaten recently. Why? Who knows? Apparently she can't find anyone to eat in all of London, because otherwise we would be letting the evil non-heroine vagina dentata go unpunished, and we can't have that.

Chapter 17:

Raquelle calls Marcus "crabapple", which is now my new favorite endearment and probably the most period-accurate one in the entire book.

Even though he hates her and wants her to die, Marcus goes ahead and finds her a corpse to eat anyway so she won't starve, despite spending the entire time he is doing so railing against her existence and despising himself for ever having had sex with her or failing to commit suicide after being turned into a vampire. Somehow, all of this convinces him to leave Gabriela due to his monsterhood... again. The angst is waist-deep and so, so tiring.

Chapter 18:

Lots of people, by the way, are calling one another "angel" throughout these two chapters (Gabriela to Marcus, Raquelle to Marcus, Marcus to Gabriela, etc.), just in case there were insufficient quantites of insufferable Phantom-based cliches to go along with the insufferable romance-novel cliches. Gabriela's is the best because she says it with her heart, y'all, but Marcus is having none of it because he has to go hide in a sewer and have emo time now.

I am so. Tired. Of this abandonment complex. SO TIRED OF IT. I'm also tired of watching Gabriela repeatedly abase herself and beg for Marcus' love, although I'm pretty maliciously amused by how angry she is when he uses total mind-control to get her off of him. Should have listened when he wanted to not give himself that option, dear.

On page 282, there's that accidental opposite-English again:

 

She scratched away from him like a cat about to be tossed into the Thames - not certain she'd prefer such an ordeal to this drowning torment."

 

I know Cartier is trying to say that Gabriela isn't sure she wouldn't prefer such treatment... but I am basically just flailing to remember what coherent English looks like at this point. Are we done yet? 

Marcus, not to be outdone in the silliness department, is roaring so loudly that the mere sound is knocking priceless vases to the floor. He also starts throwing things, and apparently becoming immune to the laws of physics as he hurls cushions through walls (and destroys a Rubens original, by the way, in case you wanted some "so rich don't care about stuff" vibes here). Great to see that gaining complete and utter control over Gabriela in a way he was worried about abusing has not at all stopped him from being a violent asshat to her.

My god. I have to share with you the climax of this fight, because it might be the best possible encapsulating example of this book's prose style:

And then, in a sudden and strange silence, they both watched the storm expend itself. Raindrops of pigment and flurries of feathers first whirled like flotsam in a demoniac blizzard, only to stop, turn, and float back to earth like angel's tears.


Demon's fears.


Angel's tears.


A North Sea gale could not have reflected its creator's soul more powerfully.

She's talking, of course, about Marcus' pillow-throwing tantrum.

Someone save me from the rest of this book, please.

Chapter 19:

After Marcus walks out on her, Gabriela decides that the only sensible course of action is to start spelunking in the sewers underneath London every night, marching through the sewage shouting his name and repeatedly declaring her love while she wanders aimlessly in the dark. This goes on for weeks during which time she somehow does not get mugged, raped, killed, or afflicted by any number of diseases that she is determinedly exposing herself to. I suppose she's trading on the fact that if something bad happens he'll know via their telepathic bond and come rescue her, which is clever, but only if you are willing to be assaulted in a sewer to get your way.

When this brilliant course of action fails to work (Marcus just spends all his time sitting in a tiny cubicle in said sewers, listening to her slosh around and weeping manfully onto his towering thighs), she decides to take a leaf from Leroux's Erik's book (alas, poor Erik! We knew you well. Run from this version of yourself) and start dramatically dying of love in her bedroom, mostly via refusing to eat and sighing out the window (I really would have assumed she'd picked up something horrible from wallowing in the filth of nineteenth-century London, but apparently she's immune to disease). Marcus tries to ignore this, too, but after a while gets tired of not hearing her fruitlessly searching the underground muck for him and runs back to the theater, where he finds everyone holding a sort of vigil because she isn't expected to live through the night. Bizarrely, Alfonso is at this vigil, though why he is out of jail, being allowed to be here, or even interested is completely unaddressed.

Oh, well, actually the reason he's here is to be evil and hurt poor, noble Kryptonited Marcus after he's weakened by the sun coming up. Naturally, Marcus makes short work of him yet again and presumably runs him off forever. More page-space, incidentally, is devoted to describing how awful Alfonso is by demonizing his positive aspects, such as his "disgustingly perfect" lips. Remember, kids, perfection is only sexy when pulled off by vampires, who are also allowed to be as abusive as they want.

Once he gets into her room and finds Gabriela passed out and deathly ill, Marcus is at a loss as to what to do. He goes with his old standby, roaring impotently in the hopes that something will change. I really can't describe the drama of his screaming, speeches and manful burying of his face in his hands, so instead I will just try to power through to the end of this party.

Now, if you've read the Ashley short story, and you know that Ashley was thanked in this book's acknowledgements as well as providing cover quotes, this final plot twist probably will not surprise you. Deciding that she's going to die and that there's nothing he can do about it, Marcus determines to die with her and takes a seat on a chair by the bed so he can go up in flames when the sun finishes rising. HOWEVER, when it does come up and he starts to feel the searing pain and call out to Gabriela in tearful farewell, the POWER OF HIS LOVE tears the dark, tortured vampirism away from his soul, and the sunlight CLEANSES HIM, PRAISE DAYLIGHT! HE IS CURED!

Him being cured also appears to spontaneously cure Gabriela, who pops up full of excitement and heartfelt love, and then everyone lives happily ever after in perfect love (for those who were concerned about the loss of vampiric awesomeness, don't worry! - since they had spontaneous, totally inexplicable soul telepathy in the first place, they get to keep that power even though he's not a vampire anymore! Yay!). Here's a capstone:

And she did dare to believe.


Just as she knew Marcus had dared - at the risk of everything he was or ever would be.


Dared to believe in the power of love.


Dared to believe in its beautiful, magical redemption.

He didn't believe in shit, Gabriela, he was trying to commit suicide and was given a deus ex machina by the author instead. We just read that.

Thankfully, there is no falling action, so we can now escape this book and its awful, awful plot and characters forever.

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