2 stars,  time travel,  urban fantasy

Review: ‘City of Dark Magic’ by Magnus Flyte

Rating:  2 out of 5 stars

Once a city of enormous wealth and culture, Prague was home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it’s whispered, hell portals. When music student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloguing Beethoven’s manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Prague is a threshold, Sarah is warned, and it is steeped in blood.

Soon after Sarah arrives, strange things begin to happen. She learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide after all. Could his cryptic notes be warnings? As Sarah parses his clues about Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” she manages to get arrested, to have tantric sex in a public fountain, and to discover a time-warping drug. She also catches the attention of a four-hundred-year-old dwarf, the handsome Prince Max, and a powerful U.S. senator with secrets she will do anything to hide.
City of Dark Magic could be called a rom-com paranormal suspense novel—or it could simply be called one of the most entertaining novels of the year.

Review [Warning: this is quite a rant – if you are of an excessively polite disposition, please look away now]

The problem with marketing a book as “one of the most entertaining novels of the year” is that you have to work very hard very quickly to convince people that you are either quite droll or an extremely gifted author.  “Magnus Flyte” (a pseudonym for the writing duo of Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch) is neither.  I’m sorry but City of Dark Magic is ridiculous.  I’ll end on a positive-ish note but before that there will be much derision.  If you would like to skip ahead to the smile-y bit or skip the rant, please do – I’ll meet you there in a few moments.

Sarah Weston is perhaps one of the most irritating and…weird main characters that I have ever read about.  I know that having a “good nose” for things is an actual saying but it should not be extended to including smelling emotions. It is not possible to smell envy, no matter what drugs you’re taking.  Maybe it was intended to be quirky or maybe it was just to make sure the reader understands just how good Ms Weston’s intuition really was but I was one comment about her flipping nose away from throwing my eReader a long way away from me.  You might think I’m getting a little over-excited about one bad analogy but really this is just one example of the bizarre writing style.  Quirky I like, daft and erratic I do not.

Not only does Sarah have an unnaturally sensitive nose, she also seems to have a dangerous libido.  On arriving in Prague, Sarah manages to inadvertently have sex with someone whose identity remains a mystery for quite a number of pages.  I would hate to disrespect women generally by using any offensive or derogatory terms and I am all for liberty but…no.  And then Sarah falls in love with the “handsome Prince Max”.  He is rude, uncommunicative, seemingly a bit loopy, aggressive and anti-social.  Every girl’s dream, I’m sure.  Not a fan of InstaLove?  Sarah and Max’s relationship is about as “Insta” as it gets.  One minute he’s slamming doors in her face and ignoring her, the next he’s swearing to protect her and getting arrested because of their irrepressible…connection.  Why?  I still don’t know.

Not all of the characters are annoying – Pollina, a young musical prodigy, is intriguing and Nico, a four-hundred year old dwarf, is cynical and managed to illicit a couple of smiles.  I would also have been happy to read more about some of Sarah’s fellow academics.  There is very little character development, though, and my enthusiasm about the cast is pretty lacklustre.

So that’s the main character and her love interest, what else can I criticise?  Ah, yes.  The plot.  It was actually the plot that drew me to the novel in the first place.  I *loved* the idea of a scholar of the works of Beethoven travelling to Prague to sort through sheet music in search of revelations and prepare a museum exhibit.  Despite a strong start in this regard, it was disappointing when Sarah got so caught up with her “romance” that she all but abandoned her research in favour of gallivanting about with Max.  The plot was scatty, at best.  There were times when I was sure that I was now settled into the substantive plot and that the story would gain some traction, only to find in a few chapters that I was settling into a tangent that would abruptly be abandoned.  APPARENTLY there is some link between a historic Czech family and the Golden Fleece (yes, THAT Golden Fleece) but we were too busy being dragged about town seeing the past but not being in it to really get into that particular thread.  There are some attempts at rationalising and explaining the more fantastic aspects of the story but they didn’t really make any sense and involved the eating of Beethoven’s toenails so I remain unconvinced.  It read a bit like a plan made under the influence of alcohol: pretty ludicrous when viewed in the light of day but seems amazing at the time of inception.  I would also mention the political “intrigue” but there is only so much vitriol that I feel as though I can direct toward any one work of fiction.

I suspect that the array of loose ends are to lure me back to the series for the second “adventure”.  You might have gathered that that is one release that I am by no means clamouring for.

Let’s end on a high: Prague is one of the most beautiful and mysterious cities that I have been to and is a fabulous setting for a paranormal novel with some historical twists.  Even a few pages describing the historical capital will pull me in and go a good way to helping me forgive a book’s faults.  If I wasn’t in my positive paragraph, I might have pointed out that there were far too few such pages and that most of the book could have been set in any large European historical building for all of the advantage the authors took of Prague’s magic.  Thank goodness I’m in my positive paragraph, right?  Right.

Overall:  I can’t in all good conscience recommend this to anyone. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that I felt compelled to say that about.  You have to go some way to make a story that includes time travel, Beethoven, Prague, guns and castles so annoying that I will unhesitatingly warn you away.  Remember that before you decide whether or not you want to pick up City of Dark Magic.

Date finished:  07 April 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thank you, Penguin Books!
Genre:  Urban fantasy/paranormal fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Penguin Books in November 2012