City of Dark Magic: Book Review

Book blurb for City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

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 cataloging 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.*

*This blurb I have quoted is not exactly the one that appeared on the paperback I read, or I probably wouldn’t have read it. I distinctly remember there being mention of a time-travelling prince (unnamed)–whether that was in the actual blurb or in some quote of a review–which does not appear in the blurb above, but that I reference in the review below.

My Review

I read this book 3 years ago, and below is my original review of it that I posted on Goodreads (with current editorial comments in square brackets). I kept it in my queue of old reviews to fill the gaps I knew would be cropping up in my weekly book reviews, whether that was because I got busy or struggled writing a particular review. I held off posting this one because honestly, just looking back at it, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I read it and even somewhat liked it. But, as the backlog of my current reads reviews grows, I feel I should just post it and get it over with. On to better things moving forward. I have a few recent reads I’m really excited to review, including a non-fiction one, so stay tuned!

City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

My rating: 3 of 5 stars [Seems a bit generous from what I recall, but whatever. I may have rounded up from a 2-point-something actual rating because Goodreads doesn’t let you do partial stars. *Insert ad for the Storygraph as an alternate book-tracking/review option here*]

I enjoyed this book once I got into it, however I consider the book blurb [which, as mentioned, was not the same as the one I quoted above] on the back to have been misinformation. What I was expecting was more dark magic (per the book’s title) and less pseudo-science; more time-travel and less drug-induced time manipulation; more mystery and less transparent CIA coverups.

The main voice of the narrative is amusing and informative, but has a distinct tendency to drag. And in a 450 page book that spans an entire summer of at least two months and frequently does time lapses of undisclosed amounts between chapters, not to mention aspiring to be fast paced and suspenseful, “dragging” is not a desired descriptor. [It was also, I recall, very difficult to identify markers that would tell exactly how much time had passed in the skips so it was hard to gauge where characters were in their knowledge, development, relationship dynamics, etc.] I slogged through the last 2/3 of this book hoping something would develop, and when it finally did? Underwhelming. That being said, I did enjoy some of the ride I was taken on, even if the destination was less than stellar. [Part of the story that I appreciated was the musical academic aspect: Beethoven’s manuscripts, musical history, and even the nitty gritty of cataloguing and categorizing musical paraphernalia that Sarah was obliged to do as a research assistant type. It’s not that frequent in fiction to get some quality musical terminology and elements, so my Music-Arts-minor-self was loving it.]

I do take issue with the contrived “romance” between Sarah and Max (who, disappointingly, is not really a time-travelling prince except in the loosest possible interpretation of time-travel). [Also, their “romance” begins in a way which I would say warrants a content warning. Think along the lines of “The Reeve’s Tale” from Chaucer, Lancelot and Elaine in Arthurian legend, or even Tamar and Judah in Genesis. Consent? We don’t know her.] Establishing Sarah from page 12 as wanting and having sex but not relationships, the fact that she thinks Max the best sexual partner she’s ever had does not equate developing the desire for a monogamous relationship; more likely, with no friendship or trust between them, as soon as Sarah gets tired of banging Max, she’ll bail. (I don’t consider their relationship to be a spoiler as I could see it coming the first moment Max flashed briefly across the pages–just from sexiness and prince status, not any actual interaction or chemistry between the two characters. Heaven forbid!) [All this just to say, I found it really hard to root for them as a couple, or even much care, by the end. There was no tension or conflict for them besides a very spurious lip service to the fact that he was a prince and so people wouldn’t approve, blah-blah, on to the next scene of extreme PDA with no regard for public appearance whatsoever. It was so easy, taken for granted, and shallow emotionally that I definitely did not see it going anywhere good or developing depth.]

While I wouldn’t be opposed to continuing reading about Sarah and Max’s quest for magical objects in this honestly well-imagined atmosphere of loosely defined time travel and ancient cities, it’s not compelling or character-developing enough to make me read through another meaningless sex scene. Though this book is billed as magical, time-travelling fantasy, it exhibits little of what I came for; instead, it manages to be an amusing, smutty dive into academia and high-society with sprinklings of ESP-calibre spookiness and very clumsy assassins.

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