Sing Me Forgotten
Jessica S. Olson’s well-written and impassioned Sing Me Forgotten will definitely amuse musical theater fans – if only because the book definitely reads like a gender-swapped, fantasy-tinged take on The Phantom of the Opera. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book – quite the contrary – but it’s a delightful twist.
Isda has spent her life in the shadows. She was born a gravoir, with scars upon her face, and a powerful voice that packs a wallop. With it she can manipulate and modify the memory of any individual who hears her, and can extract and see their memories as well. Gravoirs are to be killed at birth – her mother accordingly abandoned her at the bottom of a well at infanthood – where Cyril, owner and manager of the Channe Opera House discovered her and nursed her to health and maturity. Isda is now the Channe’s star attraction – singing behind a veil and screen, avoiding the other musicians, and filling the two thousand seats of the Channe every night with audience members whose memories of the show have been manipulated by her siren song.
It’s a bargain that keeps Cyril in business – and keeps Isda alive, for if anyone knew he’d saved her, they’d both be executed. Cyril relies on lies about the Opera Ghost – whose effect upon the house has lent it mystique instead of horrifying visitors – to keep things running smoothly, and to stop people from asking questions about Isda.
Then cheerful, introverted janitor Emeric Rodin shows up. After bumping into Isda by accident backstage, they develop a prickly friendship. She overhears his singing and his beautiful tenor enchants her, thus Isda takes him on as a mentoree in secret, and soon Emeric is a rising star in the opera. Isda begins to thrive in her role but also becomes obsessive. By reading Emeric’s mind, Isda is able to see his childhood and discover why the social caste system in which they live is extant. Through him, she discovers forbidden texts and learns to extract memories into an intoxicating potion. Will Isda find freedom from the smothering Cyril and learn how to treat Emeric with respect? Or will she give in to the temptation of power and mental peace via elixirs of memories that are not her own?
Sing Me Forgotten is a powerful story that has its moments of derivative ridiculousness contrasted with wholly original narrative notions that manages to beguile while making one wish for more.
Isda begins as a sweet, almost pathetic creature, but slowly takes on the obsessive shades of the Phantom, gradually coming into her strength. She is a complicated figure made of shadows and light, and the book does not shy away from that fact.
Her relationship with Cyril is more fascinating in all of its dark shades, but that doesn’t mean the Emeric/Isda love story is weak at all. There are homemade caramels to be shared, and memories held, and Emeric never fails to hold Isda’s feet to the fire when she messes up. His relationship with his sister – whose origin and fate hold mysterious truths – is especially heartening, but he sometimes feels too bland to truly work.
But the world-building here is only so-so, its caste system and magical properties weakly explained and sometimes confusing. Additionally, magical addiction and magical madwomen being shunned for their use of same feels like a plotline I’ve read about a million times. And yet Olson’s prose – drooling and rapacious with the glories of the drugs involved – manages to rise above the ordinary. It’s that writing that stays stunning and will keep the reader turning pages.
Sing Me Forgotten gives the reader a tragic romance and a complicated heroine, and – because of her – even its imperfections keep the reader engaged. The book is best read by anyone sixteen or above, though, due to its content.
Note: Obsessive behavior, bloody scenes of childbirth, parental abuse, attempted infanticide, drug addiction.