What a heartbreakingly beautiful and enchanting debut from Jessica S. Olson! Sing Me Forgotten is a standalone, gender-swapped Phantom of the Opera retelling and it is absolutely pure magic. In full disclosure, I have never consumed ANY Phantom of the Opera story (yes that means the book, play, or movie), so this review is coming from the perspective of someone who only has a peripheral understanding of the story. Regardless of my lack of connection with the original story, I immensely enjoyed this book all on its own – no prior Phantom knowledge needed.
We meet our main character Isda, in the middle of an opera performance, although she’s not the one in the spotlight. She’s above in the rafters watching from afar and lost in the opera performer’s memories. See, Isda is a gravoir, a person who’s born with special powers connected to others’ songs. When a person sings in Isda’s presence, she can not only see their memories but manipulate them too. Her gravoir abilities mean her community views her as a monster, and she was condemned to death at birth. Thankfully, she was rescued by Cyril, the opera house’s owner who becomes a father figure to Isda.
Because of her status as a gravoir, Isda must spend her life masked, in hiding locked in the opera house, and away from anyone who would harm her. Because of her loyalty to Cyril, she helps keep the opera house popular, by improving the nightly performances in the patrons’ minds with her ability. But Isda longs for more. She wants the spotlight. She wants to be free, to be normal.
Enter from stage left: Emeric. Emeric is a dreamy boy who has been hired to clean the opera house, but Isda realizes there’s much more to him when he begins to sing. She sees a young girl, a gravoir, free from hiding and unmasked. Desperate and enchanted by his voice, Isda offers voice training to Emeric for a chance to see more and more of his memories.
While Isda fights against becoming the monster the community sees her as she’s torn between balancing her own desires with Emeric’s and Cyril’s. Her transformation leaves you transfixed, wondering if she will be the villain or the heroine of the story.
I fell quickly in love with the world and magic system that Jessica created for Sing Me Forgotten. Gravoirs are not the only ones with the magic tied to music. Also in this world are fendoirs, which are similar to gravoirs, but can pull memory elixir from unwilling vocalists. Fendoirs, however, are not treated with the same gravitas as gravoirs, and are allowed to live and operate within the memory elixir market.
Memory elixirs in this story act in the form of currency. While a person is only born with a finite amount of memory elixir, you can purchase more, or sell if you find yourself in a desperate situation. It’s inherently one of the most precious things in the world, as extracting too much elixir results in losing your ability to retain any memories and losing your core “self” in the process.
As you can imagine, Isda is an extremely sheltered character. Her only outside experiences are learned through others’ memories and the very limited exposure Cyril provides, such as the occasional pastry. She is an alluring mix of innocence and ruthlessness and is reminiscent of Jude Duarte. While she’s not always likable, you feel yourself rooting for her regardless.
On the other hand, we have Emeric, whose character feels like a warm hug. He’s sweet, caring, and never without caramels – making him a wonderful antithesis to Isda. While many love interests cannot stand on their own, Emeric brings his own motivations, manipulations, and backstory to the book, making him extremely compelling all on his own.
Jessica’s writing really resonated with me and I can see her becoming an author who is an auto-buy for me. I honestly had to stop myself from reading this book in one sitting as it was so captivating and well-written, almost lyrical. Something about her style was reminiscent of Stephanie Garber’s in Caraval, and it just really sucks you in from the start.
Next time you’re looking for a standalone fantasy that’s heartbreakingly beautiful, pick up Sing Me Forgotten.