By Mary Gentle
Night Shade Books, $15.99, 550 pages
When young, I was part of a stage management team and, from time to time, our theater staged operas. That experience considerably enhanced my enjoyment of The Black Opera by Mary Gentle, which details the conception, writing, and staging of a classical opera. Imagine an alternate history for our world in which supernatural things happen and some magic works. Now suppose that when, as an experiment, dark operatic arias are sung to this world’s equivalent of Krakatoa, it erupts. It could be coincidence or it could be the first step to destroy European civilization by provoking all the major Italian volcanoes to spread ash everywhere and ruin agricultural production. The Black Opera is intended as the ultimate act of Satanic terrorism. So the Italian kings must stage a “white opera” to keep Etna and Stromboli quiet. Except there’s only six weeks to the critical date. And, of course, the black team sabotage and, if necessary, murder members of the white team to stop them from completing the work on time.
Mary Gentle has yet again produced a magnificent alternate history, cleverly exploiting ideas about the power of emotion through music to change the world. The result is wonderfully entertaining.
Reviewed by David Marshall