I never knew a book could be really interesting and not at all exciting at the same time until I read Mozart’s Blood. A year ago I would have made a joke along the lines of the book being too much like the classical music it revolves around; technically good but safe and a little boring. Except that in the past year I’ve actually put some effort into listening to classical music and now I know there’s nothing safe or boring about it, so the metaphor kind of falls flat.
In any case, I’m fairly sure this new found appreciation for classical music is the reason that I found Mozart’s Blood to be such an interesting read, despite its faults. Octavia is a two hundred year old vampire who has devoted her life to opera (she performs as one singer for a natural lifespan, and then painstakingly builds up another identity when that ones “dies.”) The book shifts between her first (mostly human) performance, the first ever staging of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ and a current performance of the same.
I found all the backstage opera stuff to be really fascinating. The hierarchies and the vocal warm ups and the blocking, all of it. The author clearly knows what she’s talking about, her knowledge and confidence with the topic really shines through. I also liked that the other viewpoint character, the werewolf Ugo, explored another interesting world I knew nothing about; that of the castrati.
I think Marley did a really good job the characterization of both Octavia and Ugo. (Ugo especially was a delight, with a dry wit that appealed to me very much). There’s a real dearth of platonic relationships in fiction, so I’m always happy to see one done well. Their deep friendship is believable and established really quickly, considering the two only have a few brief scenes together before they are separated. And that’s the main plot of the book, Ugo and Octavia get separated, will they meet up before bad things happen?
The bad thing in question is Octavia feeding on a human. Ugo supplies blood for her intravenously, and all the suspense of the book is supposed to come from Octavia’s mounting hunger and wondering if Ugo will get back to her in time to feed her.
Except the suspense never really kicks in. For a start, why can’t Octavia just go out with a syringe and get her own blood? She acts as though it’s very difficult to do and she wouldn’t a clue where to start, as though only a very special type of blood can fill a syringe… And the issue is, even without this, there are too many vampire books out there for the reader to care if she feeds on a human. Vampires feed on humans, it’s the natural way of things, and Octavia’s angst about it rings hollow. I don’t want to tip into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that a lot of her reasons behind feeding on humans (or not) are illogical.
Marley’s lack of skill in crafting exciting scenes becomes painfully clear as the book builds to it’s “exciting” climax. The reveal of a twist is handled poorly, and the pacing is completely off. The “big bad” that Octavia and Ugo must ultimately face down is laughable, and even they act like really it’s little more than a minor annoyance that needs taking care of. They don’t even disrupt their schedule to do it.
But despite all of these faults I really did enjoy this book. It was, as I said, very interesting although it’s a safe bet that your opinion on that will vary by how boring you think opera/Mozart is. If you go into this book for the vampire/werewolf angle you’ll be disappointed, but if you go into it expecting a slightly supernatural historical novel I think you’ll have a much better time.
I bought this book