The Prince of Conjurers by Laurie L. Bolanos is a unique interpretation of the next series of events in the life of Erik in Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. That alone is a sufficient hook to get a reader's attention, but the novel delivers a compelling narrative that retains Leroux's basic characterization of Erik while bringing him forward in time in a believable story of what might have happened after the last page of Phantom. What if Erik didn't die?
The narrative pacing is very brisk. The novel uses a short-chapter format that allows the author to provide narrative points of view for the two main characters, Erik and Juliana. The alternating POV allows Bolanos to keep tight control of the narrative and an abundance of colorful characters.
This is probably the most creative take on Phantom that I have ever read, and in the hands of a lesser author, such an endeavor might well be foolish to even attempt, but Bolanos writes skilfully on a very broad canvas that uses numerous subplots and plot twists. I thought I knew where the narrative was headed in several places, but in every case the narrative veered in a direction I hadn't anticipated. For me, this is the hallmark of good fiction since readers love to be continually surprised. It's what keeps the pages turning. In this respect, The Prince of Conjurers does not disappoint.
There are potions and magic spells throughout, and yet the novel is, as all good novels must be, character-driven. The characters of Erik and Juliana were finely drawn and believable, with solid dialogue in every chapter. The interaction between the two was especially interesting since both are headstrong individuals. Both exhibit strengths and vulnerabilities, but both are extremely determined people, and I was constantly curious to see whose will would prevail in the end.
The novel has strong cross-genre appeal. It has elements of history, suspense, metaphysics, and fantasy. In the end, however, the novel is a love story. Bolanos takes the themes of undying love and a passion that demands satisfaction--mere clichés in modern romance novels--and elevates them though her prose style and the themes' placement within a narrative that meshes so well with Leroux's plot in Phantom. I also found the love story to be engaging and well executed because I cared about the characters. The fact that I literally found it impossible to predict the ending made me sit up late at night to complete the final pages of the book.
The book is character rich--there are appearances by Marie Laveau and other historical figures that readers will recognize--and the narrative touches on many locations and time periods. Working so many angles is a difficult task for any author--a literary high wire act, so to speak--but the narrative works from first page to last. I got the impression that Bolanos is an acute observer of the culture of her home town and, more importantly, of the human spirit and its many desires, contradictions, and triumphs. The book portrays very accurately the details and old world charm of New Orleans, but it also takes the reader to many other exotic locations. The book is an epic journey that starts where Phantom of the Opera left off. What happens after that will amaze readers in a thoughtful excursion into what might have happened to Erik and Christine.