Friday 19 October 2012

#FridayFlash - Phantom of the Opera

Cunard Queen Victoria Royal Court Theatre Boxes
By Gary Bembridge
Wishing I could hear your voice again, knowing that I never would, dreaming of you won't help me to do, all that you dreamed I could...

Edith sat in the box, gazing down at the stage. A young woman in taffeta stood near the footlights, her throat straining as she sought the higher notes of the piece. Edith searched her memory for the singer's name, but the amnesia of the passing years robbed her of the answer.

She folded her hands in her lap and risked a wan smile, although she knew no one could see her in the shadows of box five. The Phantom's box. Even after all these years, she could still appreciate irony. Henry kept the box free as a gimmick, but she knew it was because he still considered it to be "her" box, the place she'd sit to watch any performances in which she had no role.

Her mind flitted away from the empassioned singer on the stage, and skipped across thirty years. Her last performance on those very boards, her soul wrapped up in the tender arms of Mozart, her voice occupied by Voi che sapete. Henry, then just the son of the theatre's manager, watched from the wings. The success of Marriage of Figaro seemed to herald their own impending wedding.

Edith frowned at the memory - only days later, the illness had set in. Weeks later, a white-faced young woman with black hair and eyes of midnight arrived with promises of a better tomorrow, but Edith refused to leave. She returned to the theatre, reliving her romance as Henry mourned. Months turned into years, and even the rumour the theatre was haunted couldn't improve its fortunes. Henry became the manager, and took the difficult decision to forsake opera in favour of musicals.

"We need to bring in patrons, Edie. No one wants opera any more," Henry had told her as they sat in her box. The Phantom of the Opera was his compromise with the owners.

A high C several shades too flat brought Edith back to the present. The young singer continued to strangle the life out of the song, and Edith shook her head. She would have given her eye teeth for such a role, but instead the managers now cast teenage television stars instead of seasoned singers. Henry called them "attention seeking brats".

Edith looked down into the stalls, watching the audience below. Most were wrapped up in the drama unfolding onstage, but some hunched over their strange glowing tablets that they operated with their fingers. So rude, she thought.

The song ended to rapturous applause. Edith rose, allowing her outline to flicker in the shadows of box five. Several heads in the grand circle swivelled in her direction, and furious whispers broke out among the patrons, with fingers jabbed towards her.

Edith smiled; the rumours would live a little longer yet. She passed through the door and drifted down the stairs. The Phantom of the Opera would find her Henry, her maestro.

Monday 15 October 2012

[Book Review] Blood Skies

When I first saw a tweet about Blood Skies, it was something to do with vampires. Oh yay...MORE vampires. Just what the world needed, I thought. Well, I'd been talking to writer Steven Montano on Twitter and as I got on with him, I thought I'd ignore the vampire thing and read the synopsis anyway. Luckily, my attention was caught by talk of arcane storms, warlocks and a necropolis - all things that there just aren't enough of in the fiction I've read, and I can honestly say I am very glad I gave it a go!

Blood Skies tells the story of Eric Cross, a warlock seemingly out of his depth within a military squad, dedicated to protecting what is left of humanity by pursuing a traitor through a series of evil lands, each more treacherous than the last. Earth, ruined by a mysterious cataclysm known only as "The Black", comes across as a nightmarish blend of Azeroth, Middle Earth and all of those twisted places your mind goes when it's dark outside and you're all alone. The stakes are raised dramatically when Cross' younger sister, a witch named Snow, becomes involved, and the tension ratchets up to an almost unbearable level.

I'll admit, the first couple of chapters seemed a little tough going, but I liked the style of writing, so I persevered, and within a few pages I was hooked. This is a story with balls, and a story in which there is always something going on - and something to be resolved. Everything from the beginning becomes important by the end, and nothing is wasted.

What impressed me was both the vast scale of the world building on display, with lush, vivid description bringing the locations to life in all their horrific splendour, and the quality of the prose. This is a real page-turner that had me clicking like mad through the Kindle edition, genuinely worried for Cross as he stumbles further into the middle of a truly heinous plot. Montano blends his epic description with staccato action scenes that seem almost cinematic in their execution, and there's a dark poetry to the whole thing that made me deeply envious that I hadn't come up with this first.

I'd classify Blood Skies as dark fantasy, and I'll definitely be downloading the rest of the series!

You can buy Blood Skies for the Kindle, or in paperback.

Please note, I bought my copy myself, so this wasn't based on a complimentary review copy, and I'm giving him five blunt pencils out of five, not because I talk to Steven on Twitter, but because it's a damn good book.