Queen of the Night barreled into a certain niche I was only sort of mildly aware I had in the first place pretty hard. I'm a relatively recent convert to opera, and absolutely no expert. I enjoy opera, and it's refined, elegant, crazy melodrama. How something that we push up as elegant and elite and mature tends to center around stories of "he doesn't love me, I guess I should go DIE." In a lot of ways Queen of the Night holds true to opera, something that the book doesn't hesitate to draw comparisons to, though the book is more intricate in its leanings.
I would say that Chee doesn't so much take a page out of epic classic novels a la Tolstoy, Dumas, and Hugo, but huge handfuls, and though I could see where people would hit exhaustion in the book, it hit a comfortable plod for me, pacing along with just enough intrigue and drama to keep me flipping pages. I had a hard time trying to figure out a way to describe this feeling without making it sound negative, because it isn't. I like all three authors, particularly Dumas, but I never necessarily felt like I was dragging my feet. Something interesting was always happening, something interesting was always being thought. I never felt like the bulk of the book felt excessive; we are beyond the days of the cent per word, and Chee doesn't linger too much on anything enough for me to faceplant into the pages.
I was thinking heavily Dumas for a good portion of the book, but in a familiar way, not an irritating wannabe way. The story-telling, the disguises, the little brush against real historical figures. But overall the book is entirely taken by its connections to opera, especially operatic tragedies.
I will admit in every way that I love this book for its devotions to tragedies, and in that way, it also excuses a lot of stupid, particularly toward the end, but what's an opera without a series of clusterfucks barreling to a finish? At first I was worried that I'd find Lilliet's inner monologue to be annoying, because there are times where she seems to emerge so untouched in such inexplicable circumstances that lightning would strike her everyday for the rest of her life, balancing out her luck, but in looking back, it was always a trade. Some of that luck is passed off as wit and quick thinking, and there are sections where it seems like she's a step ahead of everyone constantly, but especially in the culmination at the end of the book, we realize how imperfect her little machinations truly are, and how they can backfire. Every where the book reminds us how that's like opera tragedies, especially in her internal musings about Carmen
and Il Travatore
: the back and forth of victories and defeat.
Without getting too detailed, I will say I liked the ending. It's hard not to feel a little sad about it; if you can't tell it is something of a tragedy, as she is destined for as soon as she is deemed a Falcon, but oh, that last line. That last line where she knows herself like she finally understood Carmen.
I really really enjoyed this book, but it can't be said that I don't see where others would roll their eyes.