Cosmically fast-paced and wildly imaginative, this debut novel is a perfect potion of magic and suspense
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.
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.
This book includes mature subject matter that may not be appropriate for readers under the age of 18.
This book…I don’t know where to start. See if you can follow along.
It starts out with a mass suicide at a Save Venice fundraiser. No one can understand why these healthy, seemingly happy people, would want to jump out a window, at the same time. Let’s call this Mystery #1.
Switch to Sarah Weston; she’s a doctorate candidate at Thoreau College in Boston, and she’s also a Beethoven expert. Sarah has been invited to the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague to sort, catalogue, and restore historical collections for the opening of a Lobkowicz family museum. Soon after she excepts the job offer a dwarf (Mystery #2) shows up at her door and gives her a box that contains what looks like a toenail (Mystery #3).
She also learns that her beloved mentor, a Dr. Sherbatsky (also a Beethoven expert) committed suicide while at the same Palace. Sarah does not believe that her mentor would ever commit suicide, so she makes it her mission to discover what really happened (Mystery #4).
The book also switches to the POV of Charlotte Yates (Mystery #5. You still with me?), a former CIA operative, turned Senator with an eye in the Presidency. It’s not clear at first exactly what she wants or why. The lengths she goes to get what she wants are…extreme.
I was unsure how I felt about the characters at first, specifically Sarah. She was pretty strong and independent; however she’s totally obsessed with sex. It’s casually mentioned that she got her best score on a practice SAT test while masturbating (umm…ok…), on her first night in the Palace, she lets a colleague finger her at the dinner table (mind you these are all scholars) and then later that night she has sex with a random stranger in the bathroom. I’m all for women having sexual freedom and all but there is such a thing as crossing the line. Also, it’s constantly mentioned that Sarah makes decisions based on her keen sense of smell, which was weird, if you aren’t an animal, I don’t know how a good sense of smell will keep you out of trouble.
Once at the Palace, Sarah is determined to discover the real reason Sherbatsky died. She believes it to be a murder and decides to do a little sleuthing (why regular people think they can just suddenly become detectives, I’ll never know but I guess if they didn’t we’d have a lot less novels to read, right?) That leads her to another mystery, which leads to another, and another, and another and another and so on until the end where some things still aren’t answered and there looks to be a possibility of a sequel. A lot happens in this book and it’s a bit hard to follow and exhausting.
The summary gives away a few mysteries, such as the dwarf and the time traveling Prince Max Lobkowicz. There’s also a disgusting bit about Beethoven’s toenails (I gagged. No, really I did), references to a portal to hell, and a LOT of History. (The book is similar to Discovery of Witches and Shadow of the Night but without the vampires). Despite the title, there is very little about magic but it’s heavy on alchemy (though some consider that magic, so idk).
At first, I really disliked this book. There is too much going on and it’s too long for the story it’s trying to tell and some of the mysteries are solved with a simple explanation. The characters are a bit lackluster (especially Max. He kind of just occasionally pops up and gets Sarah in trouble) But the book did grow on me and the hope of a sequel (according to the Magnus Flyte twitter there will be one) gained it a few more points.