Surprisingly, there are very few Phantom of the Opera retellings that I can name. Well, very few good ones. The one I have reviewed, RoseBlood, was a disaster of Parisian proportions and it still stands as one of the worst books in recent history. Of course, that might be because that book staked its entire identity on Gaston Leroux’s classic book, with so many forced references and awful story choices. Sing Me Forgotten, on the other hand, allows its story and characters to spring to life on their own. How well, though?
In the city of Channe, memories are a form of currency. People have the power to extract and store memories as a powerful golden elixir, but those people are feared and often hated by others. Isda is a gravoir, someone who can manipulate people’s memories when they sing, and she uses her power to help a struggling opera house stay afloat. She soon meets Emeric, a janitor with a promising voice, and she trains him in secret to learn more about her past through his memories. But even the best-laid plans go awry, especially when dealing with something as tender and important as memory.
It took me a while to realize the parallels between this book and The Phantom of the Opera, but I liked what I saw. It made sense for Isda to hide away because her powers are dangerous, as well as that she has a scarred, ugly face that anyone would recognize as a gravoir’s. She does not necessarily hold the opera house in the palm of her hand, but it is thanks to her that profits come in.
Isda feels like a combination of the Phantom and Quasimodo. She lives in secret, hiding both her powers and her ugly face, performing special duties under her guardian’s watchful eye. Her guardian, Cyril, tells her stories and feeds her candies…but only if she does what he asks and nothing else. The emotional manipulation is clear long before Isda realizes what is going on, and you feel sorry that she thought she had a father, when in fact, she only had a prison ward.
What I like best about this book is Isda’s relationship with Emeric. It starts out as a heartless manipulation so Isda can learn more about gravoirs from his memories. While it inevitably slips into love, it does not zap any of Isda’s cunning. She is a cunning girl who enjoys using her power to exert control over people, and I enjoy her deviousness. She calls herself a monster from the beginning and learns to revel in it, even when Emeric tries to assure she is not one.
Their relationship is one of the more grounded, mature ones I’ve read recently. While they care for one another, they do not waste story time waxing romantic about the other, and the decisions they make regarding their relationship are agreeable.
It is a little unclear, though, how memory currency works in this world. I get that gravoirs can manipulate memories through singing, but fendoirs (the people who can turn memories into a magical golden elixir) have similar powers. In what ways? Have gravoirs and fendoirs been around since time began, or did they come out of hiding and laws were created to accommodate them? I suppose those are just worldbuilding details I was curious about that are not entirely relevant to the book, but they might have made it feel clearer and more real.
I will not spoil the ending, but it is effectively sad. I admit that one of my biggest fears is possibly losing some important memories, be it from accident or illness. Watching that happen to one of the characters didn’t break my heart contextually, but it did make me sad. At the end of the day, our memories make us who we are, and the idea of not remembering someone important to you is a terrifying, heartbreaking thought. Still, it felt like an appropriate ending for a Gothic, Phantom-inspired story like this one.
In short, there are some authors who could learn how to do a proper Phantom of the Opera retelling from this book, even if some worldbuilding details are not entirely clear and therefore hinder the story’s emotional impact. I’m not naming any names, but those Phantom amateurs are out there.