Night of the Phantom by Anne Stuart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reread completed on Kindle Text to Speech between June 11th and June 29th, 2014.
I am working my way through the Anne Stuart's Out-of-Print Gems collection on my Kindle, and it's wonderful to spend time with my favorite author of all time. I already read The Soldier And The Baby and chose this one next. I remembered not loving it the first time I read it. I don't know why, it just didn't stick with me.
I think that listening to a book the second time adds to the experience. I would admit that the robotic voice of Kindle Text to Speech in itself isn't a dramatic aid, but hearing the words of an author spoken out loud employs the auditory senses. Anne Stuart's writing feels good to the ears. She is a spare writer, but she is a master at creating imagery with a minimum of words. And atmosphere. This book seethes with Gothic atmosphere, and it's a perfect fusion of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Phantom of the Opera." Except Megan is neither the unearthly beauty and pure-hearted goodness of Belle nor the sheltered innocent, and easily victimized Christine Daae. Regardless, this story still works. Megan is a mature woman in her twenties who is wearied from taking care of her immature father who had done something very bad with this construction company, involving the architectural designs of reclusive Ethan Winslow. He manipulates his daughter into going to plead with Winslow to save his skin. Megan knows her dad is manipulating her, but it's a set habit to take care of her dad. Ethan Winslow's world is a dark place with a shadow lover, and a small-minded, vicious town fed into a frenzy by a religious fanatic preacher. Megan knows Ethan is no good for her, in the end, but she is drawn to him in a way that she cannot deny. His lonely heart cries out to hers.
Readers who enjoy that vibe of Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera with a tortured, disfigured, lion with a thorn in his paw recluse will find themselves drawn to the story for that reason. However, Stuart adds her own stamp to the novel with the Gothic elements and the suspense and tension of Megan being initially imprisoned in Ethan's house and surrounded by strange phenomena and even stranger people.
Despite the short nature of this story, Stuart deals with serious themes of prejudice, the danger of intolerance and mob mentality and violence, and the misuse of religion (not faith or belief in God, which is a very different thing). Ethan is a very angry, vengeful man. He has reason to feel that way, but loving Megan opens a possibility for him to have a real life outside of the prison of the strange house he designed and the prison of his mind and past.
I hate prejudice and bigotry and my heart went out to Ethan for being despised for something that he had no control over. The small-minded meanness with its ugly results of the townspeople was infuriating and sad that they could see no other way to be, and that they felt justified in their hatred of Ethan for no reason (although he did taunt them some).
This story was very romantic. It touches on the fantasy of the shadow lover who is both dangerous and alluring, and the appeal of being in a world of their own making. Their sensual encounters are well-written and passionate, drawing me into the story as I listened, and I could vividly see the story unfolding in my mind.
The characters are sketches in some ways. You can assume more about their personalities than Stuart reveals. I don't mind though. I am easily able to fill in the blanks based on their descriptions, actions and mannerisms. I liked Megan more this time. I can appreciate her personality more now at my age. I respect her independence and her intrinsic sense of right and wrong, and that she's not an innocent girl. She knows what she wants and is mature enough to know what she's sacrificing to have it. And even though I stubbornly wanted Ethan to go after her, I think she showed a lot of bravery to go after the man she wanted, especially with the fact that he would never be the Prince Charming one expects in the fairy tales. He's her Dark Prince, and that's better, in my book.
While this won't ever be a favorite of mine by Ms. Stuart (too many contenders for that), rereading has upped my rating for this novel. I can appreciate it in a way that I didn't before. I think that it has a lot to say about society and the petty mean-spiritedness that people are capable of, and its costly effects to all involved. The atmosphere is fantastic, dark and sinister and Gothic. But also enticing and seductive. The dark can be both depending on the person, their frame of reference. I know for me it is definitely both. I love the night, the velvet of the dark sky, the cooler breeze, and the quiet and settled feel of the nighttime. I feel a sense of peace communing with nature in the dark. But sometimes, the dark inspires fears of the unknown. The things that go bump in the night. Both are evident in this novel. Ethan will always be a creature of the night, but Megan is fine with that. they can create their own world in the night, where their love is inviolate.
Worth a read, in my book.
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