Saturday, November 22, 2014
Blood and Roses: "Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran" by Marion Grace Woolley
"No one knows better than he how to throw the Punjab lasso, for he is the king of stranglers even as he is the prince of conjurors. When he had finished making the little sultana laugh, at the time of the "rosy hours of Mazandaran," she herself used to ask him to amuse her by giving her a thrill. It was then that he introduced the sport of the Punjab lasso.
He had lived in India and acquired an incredible skill in the art of strangulation. He would make them lock him into a courtyard to which they brought a warrior--usually, a man condemned to death-- armed with a long pike and broadsword. Erik had only his lasso; and it was always just when the warrior thought that he was going to fell Erik with a tremendous blow that we heard the lasso whistle through the air. With a turn of the wrist, Erik tightened the noose round his adversary's neck and, in this fashion, dragged him before the little sultana and her women, who sat looking from a window and applauding. The little sultana herself learned to wield the Punjab lasso and killed several of her women and even of the friends who visited her. But I prefer to drop this terrible subject of the rosy hours of Mazandaran. "
Taking this snippet of information, dark and descriptive as it is, and turning it into a full length life story of the little Sultana, or, in this case Shahzadi, and her relationship with Erik, or Eirik as he becomes known to her, is quite a daunting task and Ms. Woolley wholly succeeds in bringing this mysterious world of the Phantom's past to vivid, magical life.
The author pulls us into this world, the mid 1800s world of life and culture under the Shah and his harem and the infighting that goes on among the wives to be chosen as his favorite, and the life of the Shah's first and favorite daughter, Afsar (which means Crown), who at 10 years of age, as the story begins, is beautiful and already feared, because, as she says, "They understood me for what I was, Death disguised as Grace".
One morning she is called to her father who has her listen to tales of an incredible circus told by a traveling fur trader. In particular, he spoke of a man, a magician so skilled he could make his voice travel and could sing like the angels, and yet he was so ugly, he had to wear a mask. The Shah promises to bring the circus to Mazandaran for her birthday. When, eventually, the circus does make its way there, Afsar will find her life irrevocably changed by her meeting with the masked conjuror, who, is there any doubt? is, of course, the future Opera Ghost. Here, at 19, he has already traveled the world and acquired a variety of skills through his travels... some of them deadly.
If you are a fan of the Phantom you will see where some of that baggage he's hauled around with him came from. Don't miss this fascinating trip into his past and that of a minor character in Leroux's classic who finally has her starring role.
(This title will be released Feb. 14, 2015. Thank you to NetGalley for the DRC!)
And a song that has nothing to do with the book but has an apt title and a fitting mood: