Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is a historical fiction novel set in 1800’s Europe telling the life of an opera singer and her journey to high society. Leslie Rating: 3/5
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
Originally, I heard about this novel via a book podcast that I no longer subscribe to. Including this one, their recommendations have been duds for me, personally. The plot was described as something far more interesting than it actually is. However, I did not know that when I picked this up from the library.
The day I began The Queen of the Night, I was reading it outside on my lunch break. A man walked by and in passing said, I just read that book and I really recommend it. It was rather long but a good book. I thanked him for his recommendation. Skipping to the end of the book, I took notice of the 550 page count but didn’t think anything particularly lengthy about it. After finishing the story, I now realize he meant ‘long’ figuratively. Because the story definitely went on for about 100-pages too many.
The first 300 pages were rather captivating. The story begins at the end, where we learn a very popular opera singer is asked to play a role in an opera being written specifically for her. I know nothing about opera but apparently this is a really big deal. As the story is being described to her, she realizes it is based on her own life, which was supposed to be a mystery.
Then the book goes back in time and we learn about her life history. This is a typical rags-to-riches story except interwoven with a historical timeline. The middle of the story is when the Franco-Prussian war hits. In what should be interesting, these parts were definitely a slog. Chee’s writing style is exceptional when writing a character-driven story. When writing a scene-based story, he struggles. Writing about the streets of Paris when there are bombings, dead bodies, and rivers of blood had never felt so boring and forced. Chee’s method of writing is “tell” rather than “show”. There was little emotion when describing these war scenes. And they did little to drive the plot or add depth to the main character. You can easily skim through the middle and not miss anything.
Once that part is over, we are brought back to the Soprano’s life story and Chee finds his writing niche again. The story moves rather suddenly at the end but does wrap up nicely. I found the story overall enjoyable. It probably would be more enjoyable if I knew anything about Opera. Or about that period in history.
This is very much a character-driven historical fiction story. Chee’s writing is on point for most of the book. I am interested to see where he goes from here. I did not (and probably will not) read his previous work. Overall, I did enjoy Queen of the Night and am giving it a 3 out of 5 rating.