There don’t seen to be great books for opera lovers. Sometimes they are too romantic, sometimes they are too dry. In The Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee has created a novel that sweeps through history the way an opera does, with romance and tragedy, giving honor to both.
The book opens with Lilliet Burne, a “falcon” soprano, at a ball where she is presented with the book to a new opera. Unbeknownst to the book’s writer, he has a created a work based on Lilliet’s own life. Thus, begins the telling of her tale, from a farm in the mid-western United States, to the stages of Paris. Through this novel, Mr. Chee takes us on a journey that intersects the lives of some of the most influential women in Paris during the era leading up to the Franco-Prussian War.
At over 500 pages, The Queen of the Night takes the reader on an in-depth trip through life in Paris during the 1860’s. Mr. Chee takes advantage of the fact that historical fiction can play with what is real and present a better story than reality. Lilliet falls from one situation to another, never really in control. She has no plan for her life, although she is really good at thinking on her feet.
What Lilliet has in her favor is an amazing voice. She is a “falcon” soprano, which is very rare. Her voice has a range from the lows of a mezzo-soprano to the fairly high sprint soprano. Time and again, it is her voice that saves her. It attracts “The Tenor,” the nameless antagonist of the story. His obsession with Lilliet drives much of this tale.
During her life, Lilliet crossed paths with some of the real-life figures in the history of Europe. This includes some amazing women including The Empress of France, and Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione , a spy for the Prussians, who became the lover of Emperor Napoleon III. Mr. Chee has done a good job of weaving key events and real people through the book.
If you are an opera fan, or someone who loves historical novels Queen of the Night is a fun read. If those are not your interests, this is probably not the book for you.