I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. I don’t know if it’s the paranormal haze that overtakes the story or if it’s the ridiculous quality that some stories take on when fantasy and paranormal mix, but in this book, it’s the latter. That ridiculous quality is the draw for me.
Sarah Weston is a talented music student in Boston but a student with few lucrative prospects in her path. When she’s offered a very profitable summer job in Prague cataloguing Beethoven’s manuscripts for a new museum, she jumps at the opportunity. Sarah arrives in Prague and is immediately hit with bad news — her mentor, the man who most likely recommended her for the position, is dead of an apparent suicide. She has trouble believing the story which gets even stranger when odd things begin happening to her. Weird symbols start appearing in unlikely places, she accidently stumbles on a Cold War conspiracy involving a very prominent U.S. Senator, and then there’s the time travel inducing drug she takes without knowing what it does. Throw in a romance with a prince and you’ve got a very busy summer that also includes putting together an exhibit on Beethoven.
A standard rule I have when reading a book such as this — remove all sense of reality then enjoy at will. City of Dark Magic is a fast read, silly, yet entertaining. It’s campy and you want to keep reading because it’s compelling in its strange way. I wanted to know what else could be thrown in the mix. This book is a huge mashup of genres: paranormal, mystery, thriller, time travel, and romance. Prague, with its long and sometimes dark history, is a good setting for it all but I do wish the city itself had played a larger role in the story. It’s a location and not much more.
Sarah’s the center of everything weird going on but she’s not the most interesting character for me. There are two others: Pollina, a blind musical prodigy who keeps warning Sarah with cryptic references about Prague, and Nicolas, a little person with a penchant for stealing valuable objects and who hints at being alive for close to 400 years. Pollina and Nicholas play scant parts in the story but they also made it for me. You don’t know much about either but each time one of them shows up, something interesting happens. I like characters like that.
Then we have the romance, which is more like sex in weird places rather than a straight forward romance. Sarah falls for Max, the heir apparent of the Prague royal family and also heir to an enormous fortune. Frankly, I had no idea what Sarah saw in him. He gets slightly more interesting as the story goes on but he’s sort like a light bulb — on one second, off the next but the two work as a couple.
I gravitate toward books with any time travel element. Here, it’s a bit different, less actual travel to the past and more watching the past thanks to a drug that allows users to see the remnants of history but not interact with it. Think of it as watching a movie. The concept is cool. In fact, it works extremely well and is one of the best parts of the book. Points for creativity need to be awarded for this.
Sometimes you want a book that simply entertains and City of Dark Magic does that. There’s a bit of everything and when one scene seems impossible, know that the next will top it. Go with it. It’s a good ride and a great way to escape reality for a bit.
City of Dark Magic