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Review: Prima Donna, Megan Chance

Sabine’s life hasn’t been easy since she fled from her career as a cushy opera star.  She’s gone as far as offering sex for food; she ends up in a saloon sleeping with the proprietor and hiring other prostitutes to dance and sell drinks as well as sell themselves.  When she was seventeen, however, her life was full of bright lights, scandal, and music she thought she couldn’t live without.  When a little bit of that music comes back into her life, Sabine has to choose between the life she thought she’d left behind, and all its complications, and shutting away that life forever, if she still can.

Sabine’s story is told through alternating viewpoints; her adult life serves as the current narrative, while her more youthful diary regularly fills us in on the backstory behind her career and her more youthful life.  At first, I had a really difficult time reconciling the two.  The older Sabine, known as Marguerite to hide her past, is cynical and has closed off much of her personality.  In vivid contrast, youthful Sabine is full of hope at the start, can’t imagine a life without music, and is almost unbearably teenage in her thoughts and emotions.  She’s ridiculously self-centred, almost certain that the stage has an empty slot just waiting for her voice to fill it, and is prone to vivid imagination and silly delusions of love.  I couldn’t help but like the older, more mature version better, even as I admired Chance’s skill in creating a teenager that recalled a little too clearly what it feels like to have everything be so brightly colored and full of drama.

The atmospheres of each location really drew me in.  Seattle feels damp and grim, full of people who are mainly at the end of their ropes.  It perfectly matches Sabine’s attitude at the same, where her own life has lot all of its former glitter.  As she begins to open up again to music, so does Seattle; the first musical lands in town and Sabine begins to make a friend who tries her best to lighten up her life, when Sabine isn’t busy lying about her past.  In vivid contrast is the soap opera-esque world of the stage, where Sabine is universally adored on stage but confused, in love, yet often very alone off stage.  Everyone is sleeping with everyone else and the diary entries from this period are as high strung as Sabine herself.  While I liked the back stage peek of the historical opera, I didn’t like the vast amounts of scandal that seemingly dripped from these pages; Sabine made choices I couldn’t condone and the entire world there was foreign and not particularly appealing to me.  When Sabine herself grew uncomfortable with it, I felt I had judged it all rightly and wasn’t surprised that eventually she was driven to flee as she does in the beginning of the book.

The last thing that I didn’t like about the book – I liked most of it, honest – was the ending.  I felt Sabine made the wrong choice.  I couldn’t understand the logic behind it and while I liked that she was human and thus fallible, I suppose I hoped she would have learned in the way that I would have.  But she didn’t, and so the whole book left me feeling a bit disappointed.  The writing was beautiful and the story was well done, but I just couldn’t connect in that essential way with the characters or even truly understand their decisions.  It’s wonderful for a backstage peek at opera houses of the period, and an atmospheric glimpse into a very youthful Seattle, but Prima Donna wasn’t the stand out historical fiction novel I hoped it would be.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from a publicist for review.

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