Monday, March 04, 2013

Book 29: City of Dark Magic

When I read the description of this novel, I was both intrigued and worried.  It sounded like fun, but it also kind of sounded like A Discovery of Witches due to the mix of characters and European setting.  And I didn't like A Discovery of Witches very much, a novel which took a fun concept and dragged it out with too much description and a boring main character (in fact it was one of my more scathing reviews last year).  Still, this novel was set in Prague, so I was cautiously optimistic.  I love Prague!  Also, once I realized that Magnus Flyte is actually a pen name for two authors writing together, one of whom I like (at least I liked Meg Howrey's novel The Cranes Dance), it made me feel even more reassured.
Sarah, the main character, is a grad student focused on Beethoven and brain activity related to music.  She receives an invitation to assist with the creation of the Lobkowicz Museum in Prague now that the castle is back in the hand's of the heirs following confiscations by the Nazis and then the Communist government.  The seventh Lobkowicz was one of Beethoven's patrons, so she is excited about the opportunity though not quite sure why she was chosen.  She soon discovers that her mentor and thesis advisor is actually working on the project and the reason she was invited - unfortunately by the time she realizes this, he is already dead in Prague, an apparent suicide.  In addition to exploring the collection for letters and references to Beethoven, she now also wants to investigate the death.  She also gets caught up in intrigue and espionage dating back to the KGB's presence in Prague, and some secrets that a certain American senator would rather keep hidden.
The cast includes various eccentric and quirky academics, all of whom are working on various aspects of the collection, such as a woman who studies 17th century women artists, a Lesbian weapons expert from Texas, and various others.  Sarah's friend Pols, a blind child prodigy, manages to make herself a part of the intrigue through sheer force of will.  Prince Max, the current heir who is responsible for bringing them all together, also keeps showing up, and may have more knowledge about the professor's death.  Sarah finds herself drawn to him though she feels he may be keeping some things from him.  There is also Niccolas, a dwarf, who works for or with Max, and seems to know quite a bit abot various things.  Personally, I wouldn't have minded a whole novel just from Nicco's perspective.
Overall, it was an amusing story, though I wonder about the marketing.  It seems like many of the negative reviews are from people who were expecting another A Discovery of Witches.  This novel is far more humorous, though there were parts that were kind of gross (eating toe nails for their drug residue).  In fact, some parts of the humor reminded me more of Chris Moore than a romantic novel.  There is of course a love story - it has a prince after all, but even with that, some of the sex scenes seemed like something Chris Moore would describe.  I know some people didn't appreciate the sex or the fact that Sarah hooks up with a guy in a bathroom within the first few chapters, and while I wouldn't encourage that kind of behavior, I also found it very refreshing to have a heroine that was not only sexually active, but also sexually aggressive and not afraid to take or ask for what she wanted.  It just gets irritating sometimes when the characters are in their twenties or older, and are still virginal or have never had good sex.
The novel was far from perfect and the plot was a bit convoluted at some points with the two different plot angles (which converge a bit, but not completely).  The ending also clearly left the possibility of a sequel open.  Overall, I don't think I'd run around recommending this but I certainly preferred it to other novels, and it was entertaining enough.  I also think there is potential if these authors continue to write together because I would say the things I liked outweighed the things I didn't care for as much.

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