Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-329-4
Fantasy Romantic Suspense, 2015
The cover art and the premise lure me into picking up Cecilia Dominic’s Light Fantastique, despite not having read any previous title in this series. This turns out to be a mistake, as I end up with gaps in my knowledge that prevents me from fully appreciating this story. There are references to an incident in the past that affects our heroine Marie St Jean’s perception of our hero Johann Bledsoe, for example, but I have no idea what they can be. All the unanswered questions are a distraction – it’s like seeing a hideous naked hairy behind waving out a window from across the street; life cannot continue unless I know whose rear end that belongs to.
Marie was once a popular actress in the play that also lends its name to the title of this book. Acting, however, claims a part of her soul each time, and she settles for more behind-the-scenes kind of work these days. Johann Bledsoe is a violinist who fits the dissipated tormented hero profile: he has a past, and he sticks it to anything that moves because he’s so tortured and emo like that. These two don’t like one another much, although Johann’s testicles apparently tell his brain to paw and snog Marie each time he sees her. I think that is “telling” in a figurative manner – that is, his testicles are not sentient psychic creatures – but then again, this is a steampunk suspense story and I haven’t read the previous story, so who knows.
And then, the theater is apparently haunted, Johann’s past catches up with him, various secondary characters mull and ponder, and I’m still not really sure what has happened by the time I reach the last page. There is this Eros Element thing, which is also the title of the previous book. I think I really should have read the previous book first before tackling this one.
The author has a very noticeable style here: she often has her character’s often wry thought slip in between narrative, in italics. The thing is, she does this for every character, so after a while, these characters all start to feel like they share one single ‘voice’, if I am making sense here. ‘Wry’ is basically the personality of the hero and the heroine here – they often seem more focused on making sarcastic remarks rather than anything else, and as a result, I never get this impression that I am dealing with well-drawn folks here. Marie and Johann are characters in every sense of the word – they never feel real to me. Their wry attitude is distancing, and I am never compelled to care for them or their story.
And, at the end of the day, I find myself wondering why this one even needed to be a steampunk story in the first place. All those steampunk things are distracting, but the core story, which has some charming The Phantom of the Opera-like elements, seems like it could have functioned just as well as a straightforward historical mystery, without all that extraneous trappings. Still, as I’ve said, my views of Light Fantastique could be colored by the fact that I didn’t read the first book. If you do want to read this book, please don’t be like me – start with the previous book first!