Recommend by: Riley
From the first chapter of the new steampunk novel Light Fantastique, I could not help but think of the classic story of The Phantom of the Opera. A spirit haunts the passages of the theatre and takes an interest in Marie St. Jean, understudy to the lead actress in the current production. After a frightened lead actress leaves the show, Marie reluctantly assumes the starring role. If you are familiar with the story of the Phantom of the Opera, you may recognize these parallels, and a few more, when you read Light Fantastique. This story embraces the classic tale but maintains its own identity with a new storyline.
The second book in the Aether Psychics series starts out with a scream in Theatre Boheme. It takes off from there and does not allow the reader a chance to relax overmuch during the events that take place between December 1 and December 6 in 1870. There is a spirit in the theatre, more than one unexplained death, a mysterious very old manuscript, secret organizations, and Parnaby Cobb.
If you have read Eros Element, the first book in the Aether Psychics series, perhaps you remember the mysterious American investor Parnaby Cobb. In both books, his role is small, but vital. He is a man of mystery. Is he a villain or is he good? After both books, I was left with the feeling that he is leaning toward the evil side, but it is certainly not definitive.
But enough about a minor, maybe-villainous character. Let’s get to the main characters. Marie St. Jean and the virtuoso violinist Johann Bledsoe. Both have pasts that continue to trouble them. Which may be what draws them to each other. But I believe what keeps them together is that both the Marie and Johann are artists that put their heart and soul into their art.
In Marie’s case, her talent turns her into Fantastique, the actress who mesmerizes her audience with her ability to become the role. Marie uses her talent both on and off stage, so much so that she wonders who she really is. She also wonders if other people really know her.
In the book, Johann’s talent isn’t addressed as much as Marie’s but there is one lovely scene that gives you insight into his inspiration. Marie comes upon Johann playing a beautiful plaintive song. To both of them it evokes feelings of home. The composer – Maestro Johann himself. I am always fascinated by the creative process of artists, musicians, actors, composers and writers, so I really enjoyed the musical and dramatic aspects of this book.
I’d like to return to the ‘If you have read Eros Element‘ theme. You should know that Light Fantastique is a completely different story. Ms. Dominic did not set up a template with the first book only to be slightly modified for each book in the series. Yay! Most of the same characters are there and if you fell in love with Iris and Edward, don’t worry, they are still important figures in the new story. But where Eros Element is about solving a mystery from the ancient past, Light Fantastique’s mysteries are occurring in the current 1870 setting. And while the heroine and hero of Eros Element are both intellectuals that learn to loosen up a little, in Light Fantastique, you have two emotional people that seek to control and understand their feelings. The setting is also different. In Eros Element, the characters visit many places during their search. Light Fantastique is situated solely in Paris. And since it is 1870, there are the Prussians – not in view, but ever present. Paris is under siege, adding tension to an uneasy state of affairs.
What ties the books together is the Eros element. The struggle to understand aether continues with Edward and the Irishman playing the roles of scientist and engineer. The Clockwork Guild and the Pythagoreans are still there and are very much interested in the aether research that Edward is conducting. Why? The theme of using this new technology for evil rises gain, although we still don’t know why or what kind of evil. And there seems to be some unforeseen side affects from using the aether.
Both books feature the same remarkable ensemble cast of characters that, in addition to the romantic couples, includes the Doctor, the Irishman, Marie’s mother, the aforementioned Parnaby Cobb and Inspector Davidson, who keeps showing up when murders occur around our favorite characters. Mmm.
Did I mention this is steampunk? There is a steam-powered, camera-eyed, spying raven. It is creepy and awesome all at the same time! And airships, constantly flying over Paris. The trouble is, you never know if they are bringing supplies or bringing war.
Before the Phantom of the Opera novel was published in 1911, the author Gaston Leroux worked as a theatre critic and investigative reporter. I think Monsieur Leroux would appreciate the many enigmas of Light Fantastique – both the solved and unsolved mysteries. Perhaps there is a bit of Leroux in Inspector Davidson.
Light Fantastique gets a ‘highly recommended’ from me! It is complex and magical, mysterious and romantic. If you like steampunk that is powered by romance and mystery, you too will appreciate Light Fantastique.
Light Fantastique releases on December 15th . The author provided an ARC so I could bring you this post.
Aether Psychics series
Other Book Links for Light Fantastique:
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – original novel.
The Phantom of the Opera silent movied starring Lon Chaney, released in 1925. I had the opportunity to see this in an old theatre with live organ music. What fun! I think that was when I fell in love with the story. Andrew Lloyd Webber only made it better!
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, stage, screen or just the music.
Just as I started reading Light Fantastique, a Facebook friend posted a video of the a cappella group VoicePlay singing, you guessed it, The Phantom of the Opera. Check out the Youtube video. (And if the song is preceded by a political announcement – it does not necessarily represent the opinions of Smart Girls Love Sci Fi.)