The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is one of those books that I should have fell in love with from the opening pages. From the synopsis it sounded to me like most everything I love about historical fiction. Sadly, I was disappointed.
Lilliet Berne is a famous Paris opera singer with a checked past. She has survived untold hardships to arrive at the place she is today. There are only a few people who know the whole truth of who Lilliet really is, a sum total of four, and it seems one of them is out to expose her. She knows this because a new opera has been written just for her, the crowning glory for an opera singer, and her life is the story. All her secrets will be exposed to the world.
Who would do this? As Lilliet works to find the answer to who the perpetrator is, she narrates her life for the benefit of the reader starting as a young girl growing up on a farm in Minnesota. Then how she tragically becomes an orphan and ends up in New York where she is hired as an equestrian acrobat and tours Europe which leads to being a courtesan and a spy, among other things, before her career as an opera singer even began.
The story suffered from several problems. First, the plot felt a bit over worked for my tastes. I like complex plots, when they make sense, but here it felt like the author was trying too hard. I think less would have been more here. Second, I never got the sense that I really understood Lilliet. The reader was told why she did what she did, etc. Yet, I never felt a deep connect to her and I missed that, badly. Then there were times the pace was so slow I struggled to get through it. I lost count of the number of times I had to just quit reading and pick up something else.
On to the good things, the writing was noteworthy. I love thoughtful descriptive prose and I got that here. I also liked the character of Lilliet, even though I was not totally taken with her. The author did a superb job of intertwining the real historical facts with the fiction. The overworked plot aside, over all I liked the story. It is unfortunate that the bad over shadowed the good.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy in a giveaway.