Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

One thing that enjoy in life is the opportunity to travel, see the world, meet the people, eat the food, and drink the beverages (not necessarily in that order). I’ve been lucky enough in life that I’ve gotten to experience a lot of travel in many parts of the world. While it would be difficult to ever pick a favorite place, or even a favorite type of place, I will say that Europe is high on that list. And the part of Europe I’ve spent the most time in is central and eastern Europe, specifically the Czech Republic and Romania. So, when I saw that the  urban fantasy thriller that’s earning a bit of buzz, City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), is set in Prague, I thought that it was a book I’d probably enjoy.
 
City of Dark Magic starts with its author – Magnus Flyte, whom the description makes out to be a rather mysterious rogue of man who took the publishing world by storm. In truth, Magnus Flyte is the pseudonym for writers Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, a much less interesting truth than tongue-in-cheek mystery of the description. And this is a telling framework for the book itself.
 
I could write up a description of what the book is about, but really I think the best thing to do is take a brief 2 minutes to watch the book trailer below. It sums up the plot of the book well enough and again, sets a framework from which to judge the book itself.
 
 
Did you watch it? Good. First, were you intrigued to read the book? Did you laugh out loud? Did you stop in disgust 20 seconds into it? I really can’t understand how anyone thought this book trailer was a good idea. It’s laughably bad and its tone does more to mock the book than I can possibly do in the course of this review. Maybe I’m just not the core audience they were trying to attract with this trailer, but the best reaction to this trailer I can imagine is that ‘it looks so terrible that it might be kind of good’. That may work for something like Dude Where’s My Car, but a book that isn’t a satirical joke but a legitimate attempt at a magical suspense thriller in the vein of urban fantasy and paranormal romance? Bad idea. [EDIT:  and if this book actually is supposed to be satirical joke, then it completely failed in my opinion]
 
I wasn’t expecting a SFF masterpiece with this book, but at worst I was hoping for a fun urban fantasy and travelogue of Prague that would have me fondly reminiscing about my times there. At best I was hoping for a suspenseful and scholarly feeling book with an immersive atmosphere – such as The Historian or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Unfortunately, it was far worse than my hopes. Instead of some minimally entertaining thriller in the darkly magical setting of Prague, City of Dark Magic is little more than a 'gritty' version of Disney’s Princess mythos – and that description makes it sound more interesting than it actually is. And by gritty I mean sex, often from behind, in public and involving religious monuments – truly you would think the author of this book really is a man rather than two women.
 
The set-up for the plot is a formulaic wreck that checks pretty much all of the boxes. An attractive young women with a checkered past who is extraordinarily brilliant [check], an eccentric and even more brilliant mentor [check], who is killed in mysterious circumstances [check], a rich benefactor emerges [check], an all expense paid trip with salary to boot to someplace darkly exotic [check], where she meets a prince [check], who was a drummer in a rock band before he was a prince [check], she uncovers an evil government conspiracy [check], and travels in time [check], … I refuse to go on, but could.
 
Somehow, I continued the book, though I very nearly stopped reading it many times. I’ll be honest, it does improve a bit once the plot gets rolling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good unless you’re a Hollywood blockbuster writer, but it’s at least tolerable (helped out by the setting).
 
As a travelogue for fond memories it unfortunately didn’t quite measure up – with Prague being such an interesting place, their descriptions come off as flat. Almost as if they haven’t ever been to Prague, walked its streets, or talked to any Czechs over half a dozen beers. But they at least had a good map and got it right with the cab driver.
 
The historical connection to Beethoven was also a relative failure of the novel. In the beginning I could have sworn the author was some Princeton graduate mentally masturbating bragging about all they learned about the real Beethoven. But even the authors got bored with that and very nearly forgot about it. City of Dark Magic could never decide if it wanted to be a magical/historical mystery or a contemporary government thriller – as a result, it’s neither and the result is an unfocussed mess.
 
In this review I go into detail on (un)reliability of blurbs and I find that a blurb is yet another telling truth about this book. The big blurb for City of Magic doesn’t come from an author or even a critic, but a pop culture icon.  
“This deliciously madcap novel has it all: murder in Prague, time travel, a misanthropic Beethoven, tantric sex, and a dwarf with an attitude.”
-Conan O’Brien
 
Really now. Combine O’Brien’s blurb with the book trailer above and you didn’t need to read this review to know that you shouldn’t waste your time with this book. Which is unfortunate, because I do love Prague. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I actually rather enjoyed it (the book, not the trailer) and thought it was fun holiday reading. How you felt about this book was how I felt about Justin cronin's the passage. Shitty, awful, overhyped mess. Why it's getting all this praise is beyond me.

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