My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Strange Sweet Song came to me in February’s BookCase.Club subscription box. I picked it up, skimmed the synopsis, and found myself eager to sit down and dive right into it. Classical music has been one of my most favored things in life since I was a child. I grew up watching a prodigy take my breath away and I even play an array of instruments myself. So the notion that there was a book out there with a setting that basked in it, positively had my attention upon first sight.
In this book, you have our female leading lady named Sing. She is the daughter of a celebrity Italian composer as well as a very famous opera singer. Her mother passed away during the performance of her life in an opera that is Sing’s absolute favorite; it’s called Angelique. Because of what this piece ends up representing, it becomes a stigma with her father, which plays to plot events throughout the novel. Sing attends a prestigious school for young aspiring musicians where the pressures of her influential familial background weigh heavily upon her shoulders. When she arrives she learns of a legend that connects the school to classical opera. As she struggles to find herself amongst expectation and desire, Sing discovers that the legend may not be as mythical as everyone speculates.
The book itself was decent. Like I mentioned above, the musical motif and backdrop of the academy were things that swept me up into the story as soon as I began reading it. The characters weren’t dry and boring, albeit some of them were shallow to say the least. Due to their inherit trifling attitudes, they came off as rather unoriginal, a trope that is supremely overused in a story about a girl with famous parents and obligations to said heritage. The protagonist herself does have moments where her ego overwhelms her ability to make good judgments, but her overly contemplative nature actually made her rather interesting. At times I found it curious to try and understand her position from a first person point of view. Nonetheless, like most stories that revolve around the offspring of a celebrity from a particular profession, her plight was cliché and predictable.
The story is heavily based on the mysterious history of the woods behind the school as well as for the opera, which is essentially a “golden ticket” for whomever gets the starring role. The fantasy that is laced in the lore has a giant kitty at its center, which for my cat-obsessed mind was a big treat. These things redeemed the piece quite a bit for me. Although the dark air of suspense that the author was trying to create with these facets, were terribly lacking as Rule reveals what is to come when she provides the reader with the play by play of the opera’s synopsis; a big hit to the quality. I don’t mind predictability in a book, but if it’s going to slap me in the face in multiple ways, I will be far less accepting of it.
Generic flaws aside, I will outright admit that Adi Rule does have a talent for writing. She has delightful penmanship in how she depicts emotions and scenery. I thoroughly enjoyed her style of writing. I have read an array of books that like to season their stories with classical music but most of them fail to capture the air of sophistication that emanates from the world of classical music. Simplicity is not how that genre of music works. It is far too pretentious yet elegant and entitled to be labeled as simple. It is exhausting and sweeping, engaging your emotions and your heart in a wonderful flow of excitement or frustration. Rule captures this wonderfully, and in a way that makes it easy for the young adult audiences to comprehend, especially if they have a passion for music. While she doesn’t “dumb down” the work by using smaller, less complicated words, she isn’t afraid to paint a word portrait; a damn bloody difficult task (when it really shouldn’t be that tough). I felt giddy and fully captivated periodically throughout the novel. The format could have been executed a lot better as it contributed heavily to the expected nature of the work.
The theme of self-identity is vastly apparent as we see Sing battle the demons set forth from her late mother. Some of these demons consist of the air of confidence that comes with being a supremely successful and indisputable diva of opera, while others are about her father trying to hold on to his wife by molding his daughter into what Barbara (her mother) used to be. She’s also in a place where she is finally able to be social outside of her father’s contacts and her one best friend. When you’ve never been exposed to social circles before, it can be a bit jarring. There is also an underlying theme of grief and loss with Sing, her father, and a couple of other characters that adds a slight solemn atmosphere to the whole novel.
Overall, Strange Sweet Song isn’t the greatest written book. Repetitive, foreseeable, and poorly executed, it can be a frustration to get through. All the while, I do see a story there that isn’t such a terrible waste of time. I relished the lore, the symphonic ambience, and ADORED the scenes with the kitty (but I have three of them and I’m a ridiculously obsessed). If you’re simply looking for something to pass the time, then don’t hesitate to pick it up, but don’t go out of your way to put it at the top of your to-read list either. It’s not that special. Three arias outta five.