by Pamela Keyes
Release Date: October 19, 2010
2010 Dial Books
Softcover Edition; 400 Pages
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
3.5 / 5 Stars
When Esti Legard starts theater school on Cariba, she's determined to step out of the shadow of her late father, a famous Shakespearean actor. But on an island rife with superstition, Esti can't escape the darkness. In the black of the theater, an alluring phantom voice - known only as Alan - becomes her brilliant drama tutor, while in the light of day Esti struggles to resist her magnetic attraction to Rafe, the local bad boy. Toppled sets, frightening rumors of jumbee ghosts, and brewing tropical storms culminate in a tantalizingly spooky finale where romance sizzles and truths are unmasked.
I am one of those people who is thoroughly and absolutely addicted and fascinated by The Phantom of the Opera. I actually first read the novel in French many years ago for a French Literature course (Le Fantome de l'Opera par Gaston Leroux) and then came the theatrical production, and of course, the film. So when I received The Jumbee to review, loosely based on the ideas of The Phantom of the Opera, I was more than happy to delve into another twisted love triangle.
The Jumbee is set on the beautiful tropical island of the West Indies, but still retains the flavour of the original work by having many of its scenes occurring in a theater. I'm not sure if anything can match the famous Opera de Paris (Palais Garnier), but with the theater being part of an old plantation house where slaves were tortured and beaten to death and is said to be haunted, definitely gave the setting that haunted feeling that is needed for a novel such as this. The many myths and legends surrounding the island also helped to give the novel its mystical allure. I just don't believe it was enough to carry off a novel that is going to be compared to The Phantom of the Opera, with its underground lake system, and double walls that allow for a series of mischiefs. In The Jumbee, we have hurricanes occurring out of season, ocean waters, downpours, poisonous trees, and other such nuissances that create problems for the protagonists.
Although I enjoyed the novel, and found the descriptions of the island and the theater to be fascinating, I just wasn't convinced of the ardour between Alan and Esti as I felt something was missing all of the time. I didn't feel the connection that she felt to Alan, although I did feel pity and sadness for him, and I couldn't relate to her feelings about him, so I felt distant from her a lot of the time. Although I understood her attraction to him when he spoke the Shakesperean texts to her, I didn't understand how that transferred into this all-consuming love for him so quickly and so suddenly, especially as how she didn't, and couldn't, touch him or see him. What I could relate to, however, was her feelings for Rafe Solomon, as he seemed more real and human. I adored Rafe, with his powerful emotions and all of his flaws. I also wished I learned more about Esti's father as it always seemed like we were given little tidbits of information but little else afterwards and I felt let down at the end as I don't think I really understood why Esti acted the way she did in the last year of his life. Perhaps if Esti's character had been developed a little more, her thoughts and actions would have made more sense to me.
The cast surrounding Esti and all of her friends were quite unique and I enjoyed them tremendously, even Ma, who wasn't exactly nice to Esti. Alan's character was a lot of fun to read about, even if I didn't understand the love relationship, but he certainly gave the people of Cariba some interesting gossip and fed the tales of the jumbee, the ghosts that haunt the island. And although he wasn't always nice to people, he was the most interesting when it came to character development.
The Jumbee was an interesting read, with a definite Caribbean flavour. I always like reading books where I learn some of the history about the places in the novel, and it made me realize I am somewhat lacking in my knowledge of the slave trade in the West Indies and need a refresher course. And I couldn't help comparing it to The Phantom of the Opera, which was perhaps unfair as well as Ms. Keyes definitely weaves the superstitions of a Caribbean culture with an old tale into a unique story, with enough suspense and mystery to keep any reader interested.