As Gaston Leroux’s classic “Phantom of the Opera” ends, Laurie L. Bolanos’s debut book “Prince of Conjurers” begins. Erik (aka the Phantom) has faked his own death and has followed Christine and Raoul to New Orleans with the intent to make Christine belong to him forever. With the help of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, Erik devises a plan to summon Christine’s soul into another woman’s body. When the plan goes amiss and the soul of Juliana François, a troubled woman from the future, appears instead of Christine’s, it becomes increasingly clear that it is more than Voodoo controlling outcomes. In a story that jumps between the present, the past, and the future, and where there are incarnations and reincarnations, Laurie Bolanos takes readers on a wild ride to an even wilder conclusion.
Reading “Prince of Conjurers” is much like peeling an onion; there are layers upon layers of plots and sub-plots that finally reveal a central, shining core. What makes the complexity work is Bolanos’s strong characterization and the careful inclusion of details that make the seemingly unconnected, finally connect. Bolanos’s version of Erik is mystical, but also very human with a wide range of emotions and growth that will surprise hardcore Phantom fans. Also surprising to Phantom fans will be how Christine stays in the background of the story despite her being Erik’s obsession for much of the book. Instead, Juliana François becomes the primary focus of the book — and Erik’s life. Juliana’s experience of being a modern white female going back in time and into the body of a black woman in the 1800s provides painful reminders of the injustices towards women and anyone of color in that era. The elaborate descriptions of period dress and scenery also add a layer of authenticity to the story, making it sometimes feel like historical fiction.
The slow reveal of the main characters’ back-stories and various side-stories make it seem impossible that the author could possibly connect the dots for a cohesive ending — but Laurie Bolanos does it and even manages to pull in a completely unexpected shocker, showing impressive writing skill. Though the story is well-done, the book could be improved with another editing sweep to clean-up the various writing errors (including my pet peeve: punctuating decades). The errors are a bit of a distraction and often removed me from the story.
“Prince of Conjurers” explores a variety of concepts, from Biblical to mystical, that will leave readers with plenty to think about long after the covers are closed. Hopefully, readers can look forward to more stories from the creative mind of Laurie L. Bolanos.