Today is the publication day for Heather Webb’s latest novel, The Phantom’s Apprentice, a gorgeous reimagining of the Phantom of the Opera. I was extremely lucky and got to read it early, and I recommend it to everyone!
Atmospheric and immersive, The Phantom’s Apprentice kept me reading late into the night, luring me to dream of arias and elegant French theatres. I loved the gothic setting and luscious descriptions, and the powerful scenes between Christine Daaé and the Phantom shine particularly bright through the escalating tension weaving through the story. Whether you’re familiar with the Phantom of the Opera or new to the classic tale, Heather Webb’s fresh and entrancing take on the tale makes it sparkle.
Heather has kindly agreed to chat about the book, her writing process, and her opera recommendations. Welcome, Heather!
What was your inspiration for The Phantom’s Apprentice?
My new book is a re-imagining of The Phantom of the Opera from Christine Daaé’s point of view, featuring illusionists, spiritualism, mystery, and all of the Gothic, glittering darkness of the original.
It’s inspired by Gaston Leroux and Andrew Lloyd Webber, of course, but it’s also inspired by a book I love dearly—The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I wanted to transport readers to this lush and atmospheric world set in one of my favorite eras: Belle Époque France, complete with hackney cabs, gilded mirrors, crushed velvet, ghosts, and masquerade balls. Plus a dash of romance and self-discovery never hurt anything.
In your novel, readers will meet Christine Daaé with a fresh twist, and she’s also an illusionist (I love that). What three words would you use to describe Christine’s character?
Gentle, brave, clever
Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on this novel?
In writing The Phantom’s Apprentice, I have to admit, I felt quite a bit of trepidation. The original novel by Gaston Leroux is one of the most widely read in history, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage version has amassed over one billion views. (In fact, it’s the longest running show on Broadway, and just hit its thirtieth year last week.) The Gothic setting of the story, the unrequited love, the tormented characters, have engendered serious “phans”, and many of them are quite vocal about their opinions. Could I take on a project like this, reshape such a famous character and make her my own without burning down the opera?
Every step of the way I questioned myself. But the Muse insisted, so I gave Christine Daaé a voice, a more modern sense of agency, and, therefore, more relevance to today’s reader. Balancing canon of not one version, but two—the novel and play, which differ—as well as my own ideas, proved to be no easy feat. How much of the original do you incorporate? How do you balance your own creation with another that is so well loved? You could call this a major pitfall. You could also call it a wonderful challenge. It was one I knew I had to take.
Unexpected pleasant surprises: I really, really, really love opera and had so much fun learning about it! I also had a ball learning about illusions and magicians and spiritualism, séances…. I’m such a nerd!
What was your favourite scene to write?
My favorite scenes to write were when Christine sees Raoul for the first time at Carlotta’s salon, when she confronts Carlotta near the end, and also the masquerade ball when she discovers a few unsavory details about all those she has cared for and trusted.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?
I aim to write 1,000 words per day, and about 5,000 words per week. With young kids in sports and activities, as well as my freelance editing and speaking engagements, this can be very challenging, but I do my best. Sometimes you have to be kind to yourself and take a break or just get the house clean! I write at home at my desk, or at Starbucks in town for a change of pace. I’m freshest in the morning, but I’ve learned to be more flexible about work times. With my schedule, that might mean I’m sitting down at my computer once the kids are in bed around 9 p.m. This is my least favorite time to work, but alas, a writer must write.
If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you recommend?
I’d recommend a full-bodied red wine and dark chocolate-covered almonds, or perhaps boeuf bourguignon with a red wine.
Did you listen to opera music while writing? If yes, what would you recommend for us to listen to?
Absolutely. I cranked the Giacomo Puccini opera station on Pandora like every day. Ha!
How can we stay updated on your book news?
From the book jacket:
In this re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera, meet a Christine Daaé you’ve never seen before…
Christine Daaé sings with her violinist Papa in salons all over Paris, but she longs to practice her favorite pastime—illusions. When her beloved Papa dies during a conjurer’s show, she abandons her magic and surrenders to grief and guilt. Life as a female illusionist seems too dangerous, and she must honor her father’s memory.
Concerned for her welfare, family friend Professor Delacroix secures an audition for her at the Nouvel Opéra—the most illustrious stage in Europe. Yet Christine soon discovers the darker side of Paris opera. Rumors of murder float through the halls, and she is quickly trapped between a scheming diva and a mysterious phantom. The Angel of Music.
But is the Angel truly a spirit, or a man obsessed, stalking Christine for mysterious reasons tangled in her past?
As Christine’s fears mount, she returns to her magical arts with the encouragement of her childhood friend, Raoul. Newfound hope and romance abounds…until one fateful night at the masquerade ball. Those she cares for—Delacroix, the Angel, and even Raoul—aren’t as they seem. Now she must decide whom she trusts and which is her rightful path: singer or illusionist.
To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all.
Heather Webb is the international bestselling author of historical novels Becoming Josephine, Rodin’s Lover, and Last Christmas in Paris, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, France Magazine and more, as well as received national starred reviews. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was selected as a Goodreads Top Pick. To date, Heather’s novels have sold in multiple countries worldwide. She is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty rabbit.