Friday February 15, 2013
Music, mysteries and spies
Review by TAN SHIOW CHIN
In a young adult story that defies classification, readers are taken on a mad journey through Prague that involves Beethoven, time travel, alchemy and the Cold War.
City of Dark Magic
Author: Magnus Flyte
Publisher: Penguin, 448 pages
I PICKED up the City Of Dark Magic for review under the impression that it was some sort of young adult (YA) fantasy book. What else was I supposed to think when the front blurb from Conan O’Brien read: “This deliciously madcap novel has it all: murder in Prague, time travel, a misanthropic Beethoven, tantric sex and a dwarf with attitude.”
OK, maybe the tantric sex should have warned me ... Don’t worry though (or perhaps, be disappointed), there’s only one scene involving aforementioned sex, and the couple appropriately gets arrested for their lewd public display under a statue of St George and a dragon.
This is one crazy novel, indeed, with so many disparate parts and characters that it’s a wonder everything connects and links up as well as it does.
That is definitely due to author Magnus Flyte’s good storytelling skills – or rather, his “representatives” Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, especially as this is their debut effort under the Flyte pseudonym.
The main protagonist of this book is not the obvious one, music student Sarah Weston – although she does an excellent job of carrying us along on her unexpected summer adventure – but rather, the city of Prague. As Weston is warned before she leaves for the Czech republic capital, Prague is an ancient city steeped in blood, a threshold between this world and others, built over one or more hell portals.
A specialist in Beethoven, PhD student Weston is offered a job sorting through and cataloguing the musical effects of the aristocratic Lobkowicz family, in preparation for a museum they are opening. Before she even leaves, she is warned about Prague by her 11-year-old rich, blind, music prodigy student Pollina; is visited by a mysterious dwarf who gives her a nose-shaped copper pillbox containing something shaped like a toenail; and learns that her musical mentor, Prof Absalom Sherbatsky, has apparently just committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window at Lobkowicz Palace.
The mysteries only continue when she arrives in the city proper, where a whole new cast of characters are introduced.
These include the rather sullen and withdrawn Prince Maximilian “Max” Lobkowicz and the diverse group of academics in charge of sorting through the various historical artifacts of the Lobkowicz family – one of whom gives her a hand job on their first meeting, which she follows up with bathroom sex.
And let’s not forget US senator Charlotte Yates, a one-time CIA operative assigned to Prague who had a torrid love affair with her KGB counterpart there, and Max’s rival for the family title, the Italian Marchesa Elisa Lobkowicz DeBenedetti.
Weston’s attempts at trying to find out what really happened to Sherbatsky lead her down totally unexpected pathways, which seemingly include a way to time-travel, and a startling link to Beethoven himself.
Are you confused yet?
Don’t worry, the various threads in the story do come together to make sense and complete the narrative well.
Although the authors seem a tad confused about some of their concepts, eg the time-travel aspect is neither clearly science-fiction nor fantasy, this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.
It is not, however, easy to classify, as there are so many elements thrown into the plot – the aforementioned confused science fiction-or-fantasy bits, historical personalities who have resided in Prague – including Beethoven, leftover parts from the Cold War, modern-day intrigue, and a bit of a romantic comedy affair as well.
I personally found this book an unexpected pleasure, and unexpected only because I thought it was going to be a YA fantasy novel.
Although I read it in several sittings, the numerous characters and their respective subplots were clear enough for me to remember, and follow, each time I picked up the book. However, those who do not like convoluted plots and stories that are not clearly in one genre or another should avoid reading this.
Give this a try if you want something a bit more quirky, not too heavy-going, yet detailed enough to provide a satisfying read. Adult readers of YA fiction who want something that is both real-world and contemporary yet with a fantastical element might enjoy this best.
Oh, and there is a loose end at the end of the tale, which leads on to a sequel the authors are currently working on now. But don’t worry, it doesn’t really affect this novel at all.