The premise of Angels of Music is cool: the Phantom of the Opera runs a secret detective service and employs ladies of the opera house as “Angels”. The set up reminiscent of Charlie’s Angels is pretty deliberate. There are several actual characters from the original novella by Gaston Leroux but in different forms. Christine Daee is one of the original Angels, and there is also a Raoul, but no Philippe, and a Count de Chagny. Where things get a little weird is that mix of other stories that characters come from. Other Angels include Irene Adler, La Marmoset, Mrs Freddy Eynsford Hill, Trilby O’Ferral, Thi Minh, Lady Yuki, and there are plenty of others. You really need a strong knowledge of nineteenth century European popular fiction to catch it all, and I totally missed several. There a few characters from history and historical popular culture involved in everything as well including Spallanzani, Franz Liszt, Anatole Garron, Guignol, and some others.
The unusual mix of characters does not help the fragmented plot. Basically the novel follows 3 sets/generations of Angels through one major case. This really isn’t enough time to get to know anyone very well. Some characters reappear throughout, including Irene, the Persian, and Erik himself, but even they don’t’ get a lot of background of characterization. The mysteries themselves don’t really connect very well either, even though the first and last involve the same villainess.
It might have worked out better if we got to see how the generations of Angels evolved, but each time a case ends, suddenly a few pages later, there’s a whole new group to consider. The other thing that bothered me was that even though they groups are called Angels, near the end they suddenly have individual designations that were not present before, including Angel of Truth, Angel of Larceny, Angel of Love, Angel of Light, etc.
I appreciated all the literary allusions, particularly Kate Reed’s connection to the Diogenes Club, but none of it was developed the way it could have been. This novel is like the author tried to smash as many allusions and references as possible together. The mysteries themselves are mostly of the Holmesian variety, but there are also some hints of steam punk. One of the Angels, Olympia, is clockwork, the villainess Josephine Balsamo and Erik the Phantom don’t age, Unorna, a second generation Angel, and a few other characters have arcane abilities.
Even the novel as whole is structured after something else. There are five Acts, or main story arcs. Once everything is over, there come the credits, including Acknowledgements and About the Author. If you keep going though, there’s an After the Curtain, which is about a page and a half of Epilogue focusing on a character supposedly killed in the climactic struggle at the end.
I really want to like this, and yet I’m not sure I do. I just don’t know.