New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice | An Indie Next Pick
A Best Book of the Year from NPR, Boston Globe, Buzzfeed, Esquire, San Francisco Chronicle,Time Out, Self, Jezebel, The Portland Mercury, Electric Literature, and Entropy Magazine
“It just sounds terrific. It sounds like opera.” —Joan Acocella, The New Yorker
“Sprawling, soaring, bawdy, and plotted like a fine embroidery.” —Scott Simon, NPR
“Dazzling.” —Wall Street Journal | “A brilliant performance.” —Washington Post
“Sweeping, richly detailed.” —People | “Masterful.” —Wired | “Spellbinding.” —BuzzFeed
A “wild opera of a novel,”* The Queen of the Night tells the mesmerizing story of Lilliet Berne, an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept into the glamour and terror of Second Empire France. She became a sensation of the Paris Opera, with every accolade but an original role—her chance at immortality. When one is offered to her, she finds the libretto is based on her deepest secret, something only four people have ever known. But who betrayed her? With “epic sweep, gorgeous language, and haunting details,”** Alexander Chee shares Lilliet’s cunning transformation from circus rider to courtesan to legendary soprano, retracing the path that led to the role that could secure her reputation—or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.
“If Lilliet Berne were a man, she might have been what nineteenth-century novels would call a swashbuckler: the kind of destiny-courting, death-defying character who finds intrigue and peril (and somehow, always, a fantastic pair of pantaloons) around every corner.” —Entertainment Weekly
Chee's lush and sweeping second novel uses a strikingly different setting from Edinburgh, his accomplished debut, but shares its musical themes and boldness. In 1882 Paris, the soprano known as Lilliet Berne is a celebrated opera star with an unforgettable but vulnerable voice. When a stranger offers her the chance to originate a new opera's leading role, she discovers that the work retells her scandalous hidden history. As she attempts to discover which of four individuals from her past revealed her secrets, she recalls the circus troupe in which she first performed, her days as a servant to France's Empress Eug nie, and her time as a prostitute. Chee memorably depicts the shifting fortunes of France and historical figures including Napoleon III whose wife, Eug nie, and her rival, the Countess di Castiglione, play pivotal roles in Lilliet's story and George Sand. But opera as much as history shapes the novel, with nods to The Magic Flute among other works. Though the momentum flags in the book's lengthy central sections, Chee's voice, at once dreamy and dramatic, never falters; Lilliet's cycle of reinventions is a moving meditation on the transformative power of fate, art, time, and sheer survival.
Customer ReviewsSee All
One of the most beautifully written books I've read in a very long time. The use of language to tell a captivating story pulled me in from the very beginning and left me wishing there were 500 more pages to read! I highly recommend this book and I hope Chee continues with more books to come.
Wish this was less fussy and convoluted
Good basic story but it goes from being intricate to overwrought. Would have benefitted from greater editing. Basic story is fascinating. Just tries to do too much.