Book Review: City of Dark Magic

Title: City of Dark Magic
Author: Magnus Flyte, with an assist from Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch
Genre: Urban Fantasy, historic fiction, spy (sort of?)
Published: 2012, by Penguin

What I liked/ will be drawing inspiration from: For a book that I picked up entirely based on the cover and without knowing anything about what was inside (other than it would be fiction, since it was in that library section), the City of Dark Magic was an enjoyable read. Although it dealt with some potentially dark topics, i.e. murder, drug use/abuse, government conspiracies, the story remained a light and easy read. I tackled this book around the same time as The Night Circus, which I think helped me better enjoy both. What TNC lacked in fast pacing, City of Dark Magic more than made up for. Most of the story focused on unveiling the action, unlike TNC which spent a lot of time on setting the scene.

The story centers around Sarah Weston, a graduate student in musicology (points for focusing on a grad student!), who goes to Prague to investigate the mysterious suicide of her mentor under the guise of preparing a Czech prince’s Beethoven collection for a future museum.The author(s…) clearly knows his stuff about Prague and Beethoven, which helped me appreciate the story more so than if it had just been a more straightforward mystery/thriller that just happened to be set in a very old city.

As the story goes, the plot gradually becomes more complicated and the happenings more surreal. I really enjoyed how things unfolded. The plot stayed on the more realistic side of the fantasy/paranormal/surreal (or what have you) line until the very end. With all of the detail (and there is a lot of detail) about Prague and Beethoven’s life, I think it would have been strange if the author(s) embraced heavy fantasy elements throughout.

What I might’ve written differently: So the points I liked above are one side of a coin. The other side: things that maybe I would have done differently, not just if I were writing the story but also if I were to re-read it. Let’s start with the biggest force in the book: Beethoven.

I’m not a fan of Beethoven. His music’s great and I have his channel all set up on my Pandora account. As for Beethoven the man, which the book spends a lot of time on, meh. He was kind of a poop head. Fans of Beethoven will probably enjoy the book more than people who are simply familiar with him. I felt similarly when I read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fjord, a story which revolves around saving Jane Eyre (the book and the character) from biblio-terrorists. I liked everything about Jane Eyre except for the plot, so The Eyre Affair definitely did not hook me as much as it could have had I been interested in seeing Jane Eyre saved.

Back to Beethoven. Many of his songs as well as the symphonies of other composers are mentioned. I realized after the fact that I should have looked up the music as I was reading to get a feel for what characters were hearing. One scene in particular has a song playing during a bad drug trip, so I can only imagine what that would have sounded like to a Beethoven soundtrack.

My final critique is actually similar to my comment about The Night Circus not having as much character development as I would have wanted because time was spent elsewhere. Because City of Dark Magic is pretty fast paced, there isn’t as much time to devote to developing greater depth of plot or characters. Once the mystery is unfolded, it’s more or less straight forward. But I suppose every writer has to sacrifice something.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and will be reading it’s sequel, City  of Lost Dreams. If I had to give it stars, I’d bestow 3 out of 5, but my stars are worth about as much as points on Whose Line is it Anyway.


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