My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“If I am the phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so. If I am to be saved it is because your love redeems me.” (Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera)
I can’t talk about this book without first touching on The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. As you’re likely aware, Of Metal and Wishes is a YA-homage to Leroux’s gothic romance, but moved to a meat factory in a kind of China-inspired steampunk world. There is therefore, alas, no opera, but still plenty of theatricality in the novel’s own way.
Despite the fact I did not discover Leroux until I was around 14 years old, I had always known the crashing descending-chromatic that is the theme of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom; I just never realized that awareness. My music teacher in elementary school would use that same theme to clue the class that she thought we were becoming to rowdy; we learned to fear those notes or risk facing the wrath of the “Dragon Lady.” She was pretty awesome, and we loved her. But, when I was 14, I discovered a DVD entitled The Phantom of the Opera starring three actors whom I did not know, though its titular star would later become famous throughout the world for playing the Greek king, Leonidas. Yup, the 2004 film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical was my induction into the world of Phantom, and I’ll spare you the long story to just say that I became more than a little obsessed. I sought out all that I could related to that story, including Leroux’s original novel.
The Leroux novel is, frankly, a little confused as to what kind of novel it wants to be: gotcha horror? romance? police procedural? thriller? — it, in my opinion, doesn’t have a clear idea. But it’s still a fantastic story with a wonderfully lush and theatrical setting that only enhances the inherent bombastic elements that exist in anything involving opera. It’s probably important to note that I love opera, so that likely explains the appeal of Phantom.
And I truly do love Leroux’s story of a disfigured murderous psychopath who lives in the (real-life) lake beneath the Palais Garnier, terrorizing people who cross him and stalking the young, naive orphan, Christine, to whom he takes a(n unhealthy) fancy. I know, I know — my morals should likely be called total into question. But that level of love to a story means that I go into books like Of Metal and Wishes with a great deal of trepidation; I fear it will devolve into a romance that makes me physically cringe.
I was genuinely surprised. I actually really enjoyed this book — especially the romantic dynamic between our Christine (Wen) and our Raoul (Melik). Fine adds a new dynamic by including racism to her world, making the blossoming romance between her two characters all the more tense and interesting because it starts getting them both in a heap of trouble. But what about our Factory Ghost — her version of Leroux’s Opera Ghost? You’ll find the similarities, both in the physical disfigurement of the character and his penchant for macabre, vicious theatricality, and you will also find echoes of the familiar story in the novel’s ending. If there’s anything that I appreciated, it’s that Fine doesn’t play the “Guess who Wen ends up with?”-card and make her an insipid, “Oh, I can’t decide” kind of romantic heroine. It’s fairly clear for the entirety of the novel to whom Wen has a romantic attachment as opposed to, say, a kind of sisterly/motherly attachment. This distinction adds to the drama and tragedy of the characters, because you can see the heartbreak coming from a mile off without feeling encumbered by it.
There were enough elements used for this to be a very well-written homage, and just enough left open that I am more than prepared for the sequel. I’m excited to conclude the journey and see more the world, while hopefully getting some more Phantom homages in the concluding novel. If you’re a fan of Phantom of the Opera, I say give this novel a go.