Every now and then I find myself reading/listening to a mainstream bestseller, and enjoying it. Alexander Chee has written just such a novel, in The Queen of the Night.
This novel has one of the best openings since Patrick Rothfuss’s brilliant opening lines in The Name of the Wind.
Quote from The Queen of the Night: When it began, it began as an opera would begin, in a palace, at a ball, in an encounter with a stranger who, you discover, has your fate in his hands. He is perhaps a demon or a god in disguise, offering you a chance at either the fulfillment of a dream or a trap for the soul. A comic element—the soprano arrives in the wrong dress—and it decides her fate.
These lines presage an immersive, sumptuous reading experience.
But first, THE BLURB:
Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.
As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.
Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation — or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.
The book so far:
From those intiguing opening lines forward it is filled with every kind of emotion, every human tragedy and triumph imaginable. It resounds with the pomp and grandeur of the most thrilling opera–as it should since it details the life of a Parisian opera star of outstanding brilliance–a true diva in the operatic sense.
Rumors abound regarding Lilliet–she is the topic of many conversations, but rumors barely touch on the truth of her life. Even she is not truly sure of who or what she is. Despite having achieved everything and more, she lacks something and is waiting for a “meeting with destiny” which she hopes will transform her life into the paradise she wants it to be. That moment comes in chapter one, but the transformation….
You will have to read it to see.
This book is not cheap–the Kindle edition is $14.99. I bought it as an Audible download ($17.95) because I am heavily involved in editing right now for a Myrddin author and am also making revisions on my own work under an editor’s guidance. Then I bought the hardcover edition.
I am unable to read for pleasure until I am done with these two tasks. And because of some interesting style choices on the part of the author, such as not enclosing dialogue in quotes, I especially dare not attempt to read this particular book just now.
But I can listen to audio books, and what I am hearing in this book captivates me. When I am once again able to read for pleasure, this book will the first I crack open.
To purchase a book published by the large traditional publishers is a hefty financial commitment. To make your decision a little easier, Longreads posted the first chapter here: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee. Please go out to their wonderful site and if you like what you see, consider becoming a member.