Magnus Flyte’s City of Dark Magic transported me to another place, if not another world. Prague, the featured city, sets a beautiful backdrop for a tale of Beethoven, espionage and nobility. Though the book tells of a fantasy unlike the one I imagined at first glance, I was soon transfixed on the thrilling journey.
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.
The heart and soul of City of Dark Magic is Ludwig van Beethoven or as the protagonist refers to him LVB. The entire book is filled with a beautiful mental score of Beethoven’s masterpieces; oftentimes painting a picture that, like his work, is dark and moody, harmonious and discordant. Since Beethoven is my favorite composer, I may be biased. However, my bias toward Beethoven would not be out of place in City of Dark Magic. Sarah, the Beethoven expert, shows the same glee and respect for his work as any musicologist I know. The moment she makes a breakthrough, the conflict she internally faces on whether to share this breakthrough with the world, is truly spot on. As Sarah was describing her feelings when she heard or played a piece, I remembered each time I felt the same.
The relationship and feelings between a character and their passion are quite prevalent throughout City of Dark Magic. These feelings are written beautifully. Oftentimes writing is labored and soulless when it speaks of the relationship a musician has with their favorite composer. The nuances involved are many– the ability to feel the pulse of the composer in the music, the intention and the inspiration and perhaps most importantly the moment when you ask to feel more. City of Dark Magic seemed to capture this perfectly and I couldn’t be happier when I realized this. The illustrations of character’s passions extend past music. A supporting character, Charlotte Yates speaks of how baffled she is by the love of music and immersion in the auditory. However, she goes on to describe a passion for words which rival many authors I know. The insight into what drives a character is a testament to how much feeling and emotion was poured into the writing.
City of Dark Magic may at times feel like a suspense novel but don’t be mistaken. While several suspense elements are used and there is an espionage subplot, there is not nearly enough action to truly feel suspenseful. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the subplot and espionage nods to the history of Prague.
If you enjoy history, there are occasional gems of historical reference. I jumped from one historical clue to another before any character had dared ponder if there was a mystery. Though heavy history may be a deterrent, I did not find it to be distracting nor did I find myself needing to use reference sources every ten seconds. City of Dark Magic draws you into the story so that whether you know every reference or not, you stick along for the trip.
Full of intriguing plot twists, City of Dark Magic cannot be categorized by genre. Simply put, it is a book of music of the ages and one woman’s journey following her passion. The writing enhances a harmonious and discordant soundtrack to the trip of a lifetime. Every element within City of Dark Magic, be it a character or a book, join together for a climactic finish that is poignantly poetic. Though perhaps not a book for the ages, City of Dark Magic is certainly a book for now.