cover image Prima Donna

Prima Donna

Megan Chance, . . Three Rivers, $15 (418pp) ISBN 978-0-307-46101-8

At the start of Chance's heady if at times overheated Victorian historical, Sabine Conrad, an ambitious opera singer wounded in a violent encounter whose significance doesn't become clear until later, flees New York City with her jewels. Months later, in February 1878, the by now penniless Sabine reaches Seattle, Washington Territory, where she gets a job as a scrubwoman at the Palace, a whore house that provides musical entertainment in the frontier city's red-light district. Sabine, who's adopted the name Margie Olson, helps the Palace's proprietor, Johnny Langford, realize his dream of turning the place into a legitimate theater. Chance (The Spiritualist ) deftly explores the hardships the former prima donna endures overseeing Langford's entertainers, even as Sabine yearns to return to the stage herself. Melodramatic excerpts from Sabine's youthful journal chronicling her opera career provide counterpoint in an erotic thriller full of lively period detail. (Jan.)