Musing Musical Monsters

How’s that title for an alliterative Monday? I guess that’s what happens when you spend a weekend devouring a story about monstrous muses.

One of the best things about the writing community on Twitter, is interacting with all the writing people. Rebecca F. Kenney is one of those amazing people. She recently reached out to me, asking if I’d read her newest novel, The Monsters Of Music, a genderbent Phantom Of The Opera retelling, and basically I was compelled by dark forces to agree.

“Without the right outlet for their energy, Lianhan Sidhe were among the most vicious and deadly of the Fae races.”

I told you. Dark forces! In all the best ways, I assure you.

Okay, let’s start. First, I love how she mixed the supernatural with her phantom retelling. There are the ghostly elements, courtesy of the music house Resident Poltergeist, but wrapping Mel into an ancient Celtic muse is haunting and ethereal. Which gives this retelling all the vibes of the original while also boldly building an entirely new story over the bones.

Mel is the muse. She’s also the phantom. And while she’s struggling with her own demons and issues, I really liked how Kenney made her struggles very real and very relatable. She stayed consistent with the darker themes of the phantom, his struggles and obsessions, but by giving Mel the magical angle, she was able to turn those monstrous qualities into something more. Mel is not an angtsy, trope rich tragic villain. She is a girl, a supernatural girl yes, but a girl, dealing with self-esteem and insecurities and the question of who she is and more importantly, who she wants to be. I love that about her.

“She was passion and pain, fear and frenzy. She was music and beauty, darkness and softness and loneliness all at once.”

Kiyo is a singer in the competition, making him Mel’s chosen target. I liked Kiyo, but honestly, for me, Mel was by far the more compelling of the two. Yes, she is the one with the magic, but she’s also the one with the most growth. That’s not to say Kiyo didn’t have his own struggles, I just wasn’t as invested in him. I’m also not as familiar with the original to know if this is the point, but regardless, for me, Mel was the true MVP.

My other favorite thing is that this isn’t strictly about Mel’s obsession with Kiyo. It isn’t really even an obsession, Kenney manages to make the relationship between the two more genuine and organic, but this is also about what Mel wants out of her life. She doesn’t necessarily want to simply be the provider of magic, the muse in the shadows, so to speak. But with her own insecurities and the law of her clan, that’s exactly what’s expected of her. God, do I love a heroine who does not do what they’re expected to do.

“She could hear it in her mind, all the pieces of the orchestra singing together, and it was the story of her pain and Kiyo’s voice.”

The setting is so clever too! Fitting a believable opera house into the story would have been difficult. Enter, a reality TV singing contest. IT’S GENIUS!!! Let’s see. Other things I loved: the issue of magic and consent. So subtle yet thought-provoking and relevant to all things YA. The mean girl trope. Totally turned on its head in a completely unexpected way. BRILLIANT!

For all that I loved, I do wish Kenney had expanded more on the magic. More on the backstory, more on the laws, more on the consequences of Mel’s choices in magical terms. It felt like there were huge threats, but everything wrapped up a little too easily. I could have accepted that, but I needed more on why. To be fair, I’m not sure that it’s a nuance many will take issue with. I was definitely more here for the fantasy and magic than the romance, so take my opinion with a heavy circle of salt.

As far as retellings go, Kenney is able to take all the core elements of the original, making them relevant and current all while wrapping the characters into creations wholly her own. Fans of the original will fall head over heels with this retelling, and any lover of YA romance will devour the lush and haunting details.

Oh, one more detail lovers of musicals and music in general will adore: the playlist. The title of each chapter correlates with a specific song, which she lists in the beginning. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to immerse yourself in, Kenney has your back! I love that detail, not just for the nod to the musical, but anything that gives me a mood to read to, is forever a favorite for me.

If this book sings to you, go ahead and preorder this beauty. Oh, and give Kenney a follow. She’s super supportive and incredibly sweet!

I was gifted a copy of this book by the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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