Lilliet Berne has secrets, many secrets hidden in her past and layered upon each other through time and circumstance. Now, she is a successful opera singer but, during a ball one night, a man brings a libretto to her attention that seems to be based on her life. Only a few people know the truth behind the secrets, which one would have made that truth public? Lilliet is going to find out and, along the way, the reader gets to experience the 18th century world from the American Midwest to the Paris Opera to Napoleon’s Imperial Court and beyond.
The Queen of the Night is a glittering, epic historical fiction, reminiscent of Margaret George’s style in that Chee weaves actual historical figures throughout his story. So, you’re learning as you’re entertaining yourself- two birds with one stone. I absolutely loved it.
Who is Lilliet? According to rumor: “I was innocent or I was the devil unleashed, I had nearly caused wars, I had kept them from happening. I was never in love, I had never loved, I was always in love. Each performance could be my last, each performance had been my last, the voice was true, the voice was a fraud. The voice, at least, was true.” pg 7, ebook.
Though true, the voice was not free from rumor either: “There’s a story told of my voice that says it was bought from a witch, the result of an occult surgery. … I never corrected this. … The real answer to where my voice came from is as ordinary as all of life. … I wanted to eat so I learned to sing.” pgs 65-66, ebook. But, as a public figure, Lilliet profited from being a spectacle on and off the stage. She encourages the stories because her notoriety brought her opera parts, connections, and money. Her true background, on the other hand, could ruin her.
The complexity of life in Paris: “Paris, which, when I looked close, was a vast 0péra-bouffe-féerie (opera with elements of comedy and magic in it)- and you did not know your role, I think, until it was too late, and the crowd was laughing at the joke you had uttered in all innocence.” pg 99, ebook. Chee explores many closed societies and the unwritten rules that are followed by them in The Queen of the Night. Among the many scenes examined are: the circus tent, the courtesan’s house, the opera, the French court, the Bohemian music culture, and the couture dressmaker. My favorite parts of this story were the glimpses into these forbidden or, in some cases, defunct cultures and learning the expected behaviors, way of dress, even the preferred perfumes. The fun is in the details.
The Queen of the Night is also a love story: “When love comes this way, the first dream of it feels like a prophecy that has come true. I had never known this feeling until now- he was my first. And so I let myself dream of him again and believe it could be the future.” pg 186, ebook. Swoon… “My theme here is love. Love and the gifts of love, love kept secret, love lost, love become hatred, war, a curse. Love become music. Love and those who died for love. Love- and, especially, first love. My first love, the one I could not keep and could never, will never, lose.” pg 215, ebook. Do you think he could have fit more “love” in there? 🙂
At one point, Lilliet says she feels like she has gotten “Fate’s attention”: “It is a peculiar thing to reach this conclusion, that a god has taken your life in hand. The sensation is not what people might imagine; it is not magic, nor is it a haunting, nor is it a miracle- there’s no storm of roses, no whistle that can put a raging ocean to sleep, no figure in the mirror besides your own.” pg 240, ebook. When I read that, I thought that Chee was going to break down the fourth wall. But, he didn’t. He kept the story flowing but I felt like he winked at me. “Where am I going to take Lilliet now?”, he seemed to say. I didn’t have any idea, but I was definitely along for the ride.
Recommended for readers who want a detailed, slightly (sometimes very) scandalous romp and mystery throughout the 18th century. If you’re into classical music, then it will be an even better fit. Some reads that you may want to explore after this one: The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg (same time period, same country), In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant (different time period and country, some similar themes), The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (for the circus parts), and Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen (different time period, French court).
Thanks for reading!