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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another strange and wonderful alternate history
Mary Gentle's world must be very different from mine. She reports back from a glorious parallel universe where places have the same names and some of the history seems the same... but then... not quite - and the world turns on its head - and you find yourself drawn into her characters lives as if they were.. Real? Imaginary? Dreams? Nightmares?

I think I have...
Published 18 months ago by Mark Shackelford

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. Just disappointing.
I thought for a long time if I should read this book. The premise of the story appealed to me as I enjoy opera and sci-fi/fantasy books, but the reviews here on Amazon were not good. Oh, I should have trusted the reviews!
By the time I had read half the book, I was bored to death. The author has some good ideas but the writing is soooo boring.
The long...
Published 16 months ago by Sofia


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another strange and wonderful alternate history, 28 Jun 2013
By 
Mark Shackelford "mark shackelford" (Worthing, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Black Opera (Paperback)
Mary Gentle's world must be very different from mine. She reports back from a glorious parallel universe where places have the same names and some of the history seems the same... but then... not quite - and the world turns on its head - and you find yourself drawn into her characters lives as if they were.. Real? Imaginary? Dreams? Nightmares?

I think I have read everything she has written - and (of course) I think that Ashe was her master-work - probably the best mix of alternate history, science magic and just plain strangeness... so what have we here with "Black Opera"?

Set in a Napoleonic Sicily (which appears to own the south of Italy), we have a King Ferdinand who has a serious problem to solve - a group of (mad) revolutionaries wish to stop the world... using the power of Opera. So, obviously, he decides to have his own Opera to let the world continue as it is.

Mix this with the most glorious character building, amazingly detailed scenes in Naples and around, and (APOLOGY: I don't like Opera) loads of detail about how to write, score, arrange and organise an Opera (CONFESSION: After this book I am seriously considering giving Opera a second chance...).

Love it - the story zooms along (perhaps not as complex as Ashe [and no golems :-( ]) but we have all the trademarks of Mary gentle's writing - elegant prose, interesting characters, great action - and plenty of fun!

And you get a terrific ending which, I suspect, is Mary Gentle's philosophy - and a very splendid, thoughtful, humanistic one it is too.

BRILLIANT! Buy yourself a copy now!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hits nearly all the highest notes, 2 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Black Opera (Hardcover)
First and foremost this is a magnificent story if not quite a perfect novel Trends in fantasy fiction come and go ( I'm sure teeny-bopper vampires are well past their sell-by date ) but Mary Gentle for 30+ years has constantly produced a sucession of highly original SF and fantasy works An alternate 19th century history mainland Sicily (!!) is the setting of the tale and the basic premise is that the passion and power created by opera can produce large scale miracles Our hero Conrad Scalese is an atheist librettist , not the ideal person urgently required to produce such an opera at very short notice The major part of the book deals with every aspect of this and shows the depth of the author's research but although quite fascinating develops the plot at a very leisurely pace with little action But we do have a ghost ,an emerging romantic triangle and a host of characters to keep things going When the action does take off there is also all the passion and power anyone would want and 200 pages of volcanic excitement and some challenging thoughts on the existence of God !! M/s Gentle is kind to her characters ; the mens'roles especially are sympathetically written,though I found Conrad' transvestite young sister ,a throwback to an earlier novel , had little to do The ending is skilfully contrived I'm sure that as with almost every Gentle novel I will read this again and hope that the wait for the next one is considerably shorter
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Her best work, total genius, 16 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Black Opera (Paperback)
I'm a big fan of MG's work - really enjoyed Ash (even reading the weird "notes from the present" - the 2nd time of reading), Illario was pretty damn good, Grunts is excellent, her earlier work solid. I've been looking forward to Black Opera for a long time, and waited a while to get round to reading it because I didn't want to finish; it takes so long for the next book to arrive ;)

Black Opera is simply brilliant, it's a fantastic piece of writing, exciting, interesting and very moving. I'm not easily moved by fiction - explode whole worlds, kill characters in awful ways, feed innocent towns-people to monsters, whatever. The orcs of "Grunts" did horrid things for laughs, loved it. Throwing the children into the sea at the beginning didn't bother me. But by the end of this book the power of Opera was flowing through me, carrying me along as much as the characters were. The plot kept going, the characters were swept by events they had little control over, everything kept happening and I had to keep reading. As much as I wanted to "ration" the number of pages I read at time, it was almost impossible, the need to stay with them was unbelievable.

This is Mary Gentle's finest work, well worth waiting for. I cannot imagine how she will top this but I look forward to finding out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. Just disappointing., 24 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Black Opera (Kindle Edition)
I thought for a long time if I should read this book. The premise of the story appealed to me as I enjoy opera and sci-fi/fantasy books, but the reviews here on Amazon were not good. Oh, I should have trusted the reviews!
By the time I had read half the book, I was bored to death. The author has some good ideas but the writing is soooo boring.
The long descriptions of places and buildings are mostly unnecessary. The main protagonist keeps repeating the same ideas/sentences/words - maybe in an attempt to established his character but it simply doesn't work. The most important people of his life keep appearing every so often, although before their appearance they are never mentioned (how can they be so important at the first place then?). It's a cheap trick to move the action forward and nothing more than that. The same goes for all the plot twists. When the author decides to write a couple of pages on actual opera workings the book becomes interesting enough. Apart from that it's just a long slow description of things and appearances through the monotone of the protagonist.
The ending was a let down as well. All in all, don't make the same mistake as me, find another book to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome story, 27 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Black Opera (Kindle Edition)
This book is wonderful, full of excitement and feeling. Not knowing much about opera to start with, I wasn't sure how I'd take to it - but that was no problem!

It's a story about love and trust and art, and it's brutal about them all. I love it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars preposterous fun, 20 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Black Opera (Kindle Edition)
Mary Gentle is nearly as good here as she was with Ashe. The whole premise of the novel - that two opera companies are competing by writing and performing opera, one side to raise a deity from the depths of Vesuvius and the other to stop it by doing the same and all of this set in the early 19th century - well enough said. Gentle takes into Naples in the early 19th century, Napoleon is still on well it is supposed to be Elba. The hero has just triumphed with an opera libretto is suffering from a horrible migraine and is arrested by the inquisition for the horrible crime of being an Enlightenment Man, a rationalist and an athiest and as a result obviously the cause of a lightning strike that burned to the ground the very opera house where his most recent opera triumphed..... Conrad is a very likeable protagonist, and a man of heroic self control in trying times. How many novels put a librettist at the centre of the action. And action there is. Conrad is rescued by the king of the two sicilies and set to write and produce a completely new opera within 6 weeks because this is needed to quench the effects of a black opera being produced by a group of powerful conspirators. Conrad is always playing catch up.

As with any of Gentle's better novels, Ashe, Ilario, her characters are engagingly flawed. Mostly I have to say the central characters are if anything a shade too understanding of each other in their hearts of hearts. I won't say more, about them as you need to read the book to find out who they are and how they all knit together. Overseeing the whole 'opera' is Ferdinand, King of the two Sicilies, who is doing his best to save his kingdom from natural and supernatural catastrophe. He is remarkably phlegmatic in the face of adversity, and thoroughly likeable to boot. Rather too good for a politician.

The action is fast and furious, there is plenty of fun, a lot of it utterly preposterous, but the read gallops along, with loads of interesting little snippets of detail, like how Napoleon survived the battle of Borodino, I loved that bit. On the way, and very much at the centre of the action is the working collaboration between a composer and his librettist as they battle to overcome all the practical and creative problems - including a crucial bit of writer's block - producing an opera in 6 weeks flat induces. And all the time they cordially loathe each other. They have good cause, yet their relationship moves through a dance of damage and reconciliation of a sort and then more damage to a kind of denoument of sorts.

There is a fittingly catastrophic final event, and Gentle is quite even-handed in the way she resolves things - both sides are left with nearly insoluble problems. She has here rediscovered her touch I think. I enjoyed every minute of it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars black opera, 8 Nov 2012
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One of the best book of 2012,once in a while a book comes along and grab you and does not let go until the last page black opera is one of those book ,it is an invitation to subversion .
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning and thoughtful historical fantasy, 14 Mar 2013
This review is from: Black Opera (Paperback)
Mary Gentle, so the webbernet says, is a really big deal - with Ash praised as one of the Greatest Of All Time novels. So why isn't Gentle's first novel in six years getting more attention? There's a weird sense that this book just slipped through the cracks, which is unfair, as it is one of the year's best.

Black Opera is stunning - a gorgeous alternate history featuring two opera companies bidding for control of the world. It is slow and lavishly-described, punctuated by episodes of rapid-fire movement and battling philosophical arguments. The plot twists are melodramatic and surprisingly familiar. All like, well, an actual opera (except with all the boring bits removed). That structure is wonderful, and the result is a gutsy fusion of genres and styles, history and fantasy. The closest comparison would be Tim Powers at his most rhythmic; a combination of history and fantasy, all presented in a novel (that is, operatic) way.

An amazing book that, despite its size, reads like a, well... song.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 24 July 2012
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This review is from: The Black Opera (Paperback)
I loved Gentle's Ash. Thought it was great, and ever since I've looked out for her work and read it, but was disappointed with this one. The idea was good. And I enjoyed the narrator, but it just felt overlong.
And maybe because I don't know enough about opera, but the music never really came to life for me.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More history, 4 Jan 2013
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I loved Mary Gentle when she produced science fiction books, I even liked Ash, she writes solidly and makes places and times come alive. I dislike this offering, and feel cheated
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Black Opera
Black Opera by Mary Gentle (Paperback - 18 Oct 2012)
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