by Colette Gale, historical (2007)
Signet, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-451-22137-7
Unmasqued makes no pretense about being an erotic retelling of The Phantom Of The Opera, as if popular media hadn't flogged Gaston Leroux's story to death already. Me, I'm not going to go up in arms about the sex or anything. You must have confused me with reviewers of some other sites if that is what you are thinking, heh. I don't mind the sex scenes, although a part of me thinks that they are actually quite ho-hum for a book that has a subtitle screaming at me about how this is one sexy book.
My problem with this book is that Colette Gale has offered no new interpretation of the familiar story. She has pretty much followed the original storyline very closely until the part where heroine Christine Daaé is supposed to run off with Raoul, only adding sex scenes here and there and everywhere where opportunity arises. The main characters are the same. The story is very much the same. The author even follows Mr Leroux's shtick about how she has pieced this story from documented evidence. All this story offers are a new ending where Christine chooses Erik to be her forever after and plenty of sex scenes. I'm expecting a little more than that for $14.00, I'm afraid.
You still need me to give the story? Well, it's about this control freak Erik, who wears a half-mask thing that covers the disfigured half of his face. He has eventually settled down to haunt the shadows of the Paris House Opera. He sneers and generally blackmails the previous management into paying him protection money and front row seats. One day, his fancy is caught by Christine, a young chorus girl whose voice enraptures him. He trains her to sing before blackmailing and sabotaging the theatre until Christine ends up in the starring role. Christine then catches the eye of Raoul, a nobleman who had a thing for her since they last met (and in this story, she was nine at the last time they met so yes, I can believe that we are really talking about true love here). In the original story, the faithless Christine runs off with Raoul while Erik flails around like an epic melodrama of colossal proportions. In Unmasqued, Raoul is still a shallow and superficial dweeb, but he is under the control of Philippe, his sadistic older brother who has lecherous designs on Christine.
Like their previous incarnations in other stories, Christine here is still a silly childish bore who is all about the angels and puppies even when she's opening her legs for her, er, music of the night. She is especially irritating as the damsel-in-distress and I would love to personally kill her myself when she stops Erik from finishing off Philippe so that Philippe can come up and sneak attack Erik from behind. I also dislike the implication that Erik will "lower" himself to Philippe's level if he kills Philippe but a fun and lusty secondary character can do the honors because she's not the woobie like Erik or some bizarre "slutty angel whom you are not supposed to call a slut because she only acts like one with her true love" moron like Christine. Erik is still the nutcase who treats Christine like a possession rather than human being, although given his history, it's understandable that he's a whackjob. Raoul is still the bland and colorless dweeb. Frankly, all three bore me silly and I won't mind seeing a giant chandelier crash down on all three of them, in the original story, in the musical, or in this book. The only characters that get to shine here are Carlotta, who turns out to be less one-dimensional and more of my type of kickass bitch/seductress kind of gal, and Madame Maude Giry, the lusty MILF. If these two are the main characters of this book, I'd probably be more entertained by the story.
The sex scenes will probably shock those who must have misread "erotic" on the cover for, oh, "ebonic" or something. In fact, Unmasqued is in that zone somewhere between erotica and erotic romance. The sex scenes here are actually tame compared to some of the things found in erotica, and this book also unfortunately plays to the stereotype that only demented whackjobs enjoy BDSM (Philippe likes BDSM, and he is over-the-top insane here). At the same time, readers who don't make it a point to read erotic romances will lay an egg in their dismay at how "amoral"/"immoral" the heroine is for daring to have sex with more than one man in this story.
But ultimately, my biggest objection to this story is how lacking Unmasqued is when it comes to innovation. The author offers no new insight into the characterization of Christine or Erik. The over-the-top "everyone's coming to save Christine" last few chapters are more appropriate for a bad Wagnerian melodrama, so those "new" interpretations don't count where I am concerned. Therefore, since to me this book is merely a regurgitation of a familiar story with plenty of sex scenes added here and there, I can't say I enjoy this book too much. I can only hope the author adds a little bit more of her own take on a story when she sets her sight on the next overexposed public domain work to apply her riding crop to.
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