In 1910, French writer Gaston Leroux released The Phantom of the Opera, a pulp-style murder mystery he had first published as a serialization in the newspaper Le Gaulois.
Leroux was inspired by the story of a freak accident that happened at the Palais Garnier in Paris years before, wherein a counterweight to the opera house's lavish chandelier crashed through the ceiling and killed a concierge.
In his classic novel, Leroux imagined the opera house in thrall of a mysterious ghost-like figure who wreaks havoc and longs for music. The book was a solid hit upon release, but it wasn't a ground-breaking title in the manner of fellow French authors like Victor Hugo. It did, however, end up having one hell of a legacy.
The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted into countless movies, TV series, stages hows, novels, and much more over the decades, from Universal's pioneering silent horror movie to Andrew Lloyd Webber's record-breaking and still-running Broadway musical.
While the source material has elements of gothic romance, many writers have found their inspiration in the central dynamic between the naive ingenue Christine Daaé and the enigmatic but deeply tortured phantom, Erik.
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It's more common nowadays for people to see The Phantom of the Opera as an old-school romance. Authors over the decades have had a ball playing with those familiar tropes in exciting or subversive new ways, and the romance community is no exception.
For anyone who’s ever wanted Christine to dump that spoiled drip Raoul in favor of Erik, or for those who have wondered if there’s a way to make this tragedy a joyous tale, we have some Phantom of the Opera-inspired romance novels for you.
Master of the Opera, Act 1: Passionate Overture
Jeffe Kennedy is no stranger to writing across various genres, so it's a fascinating surprise to see that her take on Phantom is a cross between a contemporary, erotica, and paranormal!
Initially published in serial form (much like Leroux!), Master of the Opera brings Christine to Santa Fe and throws her into the chaos of the opera house, from a bitchy diva to her zealous childhood friend turned sort-of boyfriend to the mysterious ghostly voice who promises her passion beyond her wildest dreams.
Master of the Opera takes many unexpected twists and you will definitely not be able to predict how it ends!
A Phantom Enchantment
Eve Marie Mont's Unbound series reimagines classic literature with a modern YA-focused bent. A Phantom Enchantment takes on, you guessed it, everyone's favorite basement-dwelling composer.
Emma Townsend is wrapping up her senior year in Paris and reading Gaston Leroux's famous novel when she begins to see flickering images in the antique mirror that sits in her bedroom.
After her coast guard boyfriend Gray goes missing, Emma sees him in her dreams, guiding her to a strange underworld beyond her mirror. Her friends think she's losing it —but what's actually happening?
Of Metal and Wishes
Sarah Fine's take on Phantom transports readers to a steampunk-inspired version of industrial China.
16-year-old Wen works with her father at a brutal slaughterhouse as they and countless other workers try to pay mounting debts and make the scantest of livings. Everyone makes offerings to the ghost who supposedly haunts the factory floor, but Wen doesn't believe in the spirit until an impulsively-made wish comes terribly true.
As she finds herself allied with the Noor, an ethnic group brought to the factory as cheap labor, Wen also discovers that the ghost is very real and has been watching her for a long time.
This young adulr romance retelling transports the tale from Paris to the Caribbean and utilizes the jumbee folklore to add a unique dimension to a familiar tale.
The jumbee of the title is a malevolent spirit that is said to haunt the isle of Cariba, where Esti Legard has moved to attend theater school following the death of her father, a legendary Shakespearean actor.
An intriguing voice from the shadows becomes her drama tutor, determined to make her the star of the island, but his own past gets in the way.
The Stars May Rise and Fall
LGBTQ+ takes on the Phantom story are disappointingly rare, but Estella Mirai’s contemporary reimagining, The Stars May Rise and Fall, is a welcome exception.
Set in Tokyo in the early 2000s, her novel brings Erik (named Rei here) into the world of Japanese glam rock. Teru plays in a small-time band hoping to make it big in the glam-metal visual kei scene.
But they're sadly going nowhere, until a mysterious composer with a tragic past offers his money and skills to help catapult them to the top, but only if Teru is the lead singer. This is a well-told modern-day Phantom story that dives deep into the trauma of its tortured protagonist and the long-lasting after-effects of his disability.
The Phantom's Apprentice
Some Phantom rewrites imagine Erik as a straight-up villain. Heather Webb's take on this concept, The Phantom's Apprentice, is one of the most intriguing.
Here, Christine is a trainee opera singer but she's also an aspiring illusionist, and that is where her interest in the Phantom lies. He, however, is unhinged, manipulative, and a danger to all around him, especially Christine.
The book is an atmospheric read that is worth your time if only to see how Webb repositions the most commonly romanticized aspects of Erik as unashamedly villainous. This is one for Team Raoul.
Desired by the Phantom
If you’ve read any kind of Phantom fanfiction, the chances are you’ve come across myriad takes on the concept of Erik finding love with someone new after the events of the novel. Hey, we’re a sucker for the tale of how the Phantom got his groove back, OK?
In Jennifer Deschanel's Desired by the Phantom (the first title in a trilogy), Erik is brought out of his post-Christine fugue state by Anna, a good Samaritan working at the opera house who harbors her own dark secrets.
Here it is, the crowning jewel of literary Phantom re-imaginings. Susan Kay’s Phantom may be as influential as Leroux’s book, if not more for modern audiences.
Equally as inspired by Lloyd Webber’s musical as the original source material, Phantom is some old-school late-80s/early-90s high romance madness.
Kay fully fleshes out the origin story of Erik, from his birth to the events of Leroux’s book, and follows him as he becomes a master musician who can never overcome the shame of his deformity.
It’s a heightened read, one that zips along at an unexpectedly speedy pace, and is practically required reading for any Phantom fan. A warning: It’s a highly dated book with some extremely problematic depictions of 1800s Persia.
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Featured still from "Phantom of the Opera" via Warner Bros. Pictures