From its heroine’s first entrance, Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night grabbed me, sat me down in a plush red velvet seat, and kept me rapt as it writhed and contorted its way through 500 pages of love and murder, courtesans and empresses, fates and curses — and plenty of opera. A more impressive, richly imagined novel I have not read in many years.
You feel, as you read, that you are being swept away by this delicious plot and voice, and that the novel wants to be read slowly -- is actually smarter and deeper and more intricately constructed than can be appreciated at its decidedly propulsive pace.
That’s a lot of plot, and the unmasking of its 'secret architect,' who has been shaping Lilliet’s destiny since her brothel days, is regrettably anticlimactic. Chee’s novel will best please those who can enjoy its baroque complications without worrying unduly about plausibility, which is arguably a reasonable response to a text imbued with the extravagant ethos of opera.