Official Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: Hello, everyone! It’s been a while! I’m finally back from my week-long Vegas vacation and settled in back home. I’ll be telling you guys all about my fun trip soon, but first I have a few posts of my regular content to get through. I have to do my October Wrap-Up, my monthly music recommendations, and this week’s Top 5 Wednesday topic. So yeah, this week is going to be a busy one for this blogger.
But before we get into all that, I have a book review I need to post. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I have a rule that I only write reviews for books that were released in the current year. I’ve only broken this rule once, but the book was only a few months old so I felt justified. However, today I need to break that rule again. And this time it’s for a book that came out back in 2012. But I need to get the word out about this awful, terrible excuse for a novel. I need to warn the masses to avoid this book— and its author(s)— like the plague. Don’t make the mistake I made. Save yourselves before it’s too late.
It all started about a month ago, on an innocent trip to Barnes & Noble. I’ve been trying to get more into adult fantasy, so I was browsing that aisle looking for a title that caught my eye. Unfortunately, one of those books was City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte.
Upon reading the summary on the back, I was intrigued by a few things: it takes place in Prague (the same city in which one of my favorite series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, also takes place), it combines music and magic, and it sounds weird as hell. Weird was just what I needed. But alas, instead of being fun weird it turned out to be WTF weird.
I have very little positive to say about this book, so I’ll get that out of the way now. Flyte makes the interesting choice of attributing scientific explanations to the seemingly fantastical things that happen in this novel. The problem is that this gets muddled when two characters can see the future and it is revealed objects from mythology are actually real.
Let’s talk about my favorite character (the only character I actually like), Charlotte Yates. Senator Yates is the antagonist of the story, but I love her. She’s the most complex character in this story and she has the most clear-cut motivation. She’s cunning and ambitious, an endlessly fascinating villain. It got to a point where I anticipated her point-of-view chapters and dreaded slogging through Sarah’s. I loved seeing how her mind works. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed Charlotte doesn’t come out on top in the end. She’s an awful person, but the best written character in this book.
I also really enjoyed the historical aspect of this book. It seems like this is the one area in which the author actually did research. I learned a lot I never knew about Beethoven and the history of Prague. Naturally some liberties are taken, but they don’t change the overall truth of the matter. It’s the best angle this story could’ve been told from, and I’m glad the author chose it.
Aside from the basic ideas and overall concept of the book, there’s nothing else to praise about this steaming trash heap. Magnus Flyte (an obvious pseudonym) includes baffling details and makes altogether strange choices in both characterization and plot development. Moreover, the way Sarah is written had me convinced Flyte was a man— a clueless straight man. Imagine my shock when I found out Magnus Flyte is the penname for writing duo Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey. That plot twist is better than every single twist in this novel.
However, the two women (neither of whom had much experience writing novels before releasing this collaboration) claim they are merely his handlers and wranglers. But, given Sarah’s bizarre preoccupation with sex and arousal, can you blame me for thinking a dude wrote this? I mean, she gets aroused by a statue. She’s constantly telling the reader about her “libido” and how she likes to sleep around. I don’t care if Sarah’s promiscuous, but we don’t need to hear about it 24/7. Most women don’t regard their sexuality like this. It’s a very male outlook on sex and arousal. Perhaps Lynch and Howrey were possessed by a male spirit and he wrote this novel? That sure would explain the shroud of mystery around “him.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just the way Sarah is written that is alarmingly out-of-touch and unrealistic. Take, for instance, the predatory way Flyte writes Suzi, a lesbian. Every time a new, attractive woman joins the Prague Castle staff, Suzi relentlessly pursues her (even after her advances have been rejected). Not only does this use the harmful Predatory Lesbian trope, but it’s not accurate to the lesbian experience. It sounds more like the entitled guy at a bar who won’t take no for an answer. Is this how Lynch and Howrey view lesbians? Given how poorly the rest of their LGBT+ representation is, I believe the answer is unfortunately yes.
Just look at how they’ve written Bernie, a gay man. He likes fashion and is easily pushed around. He’s flamboyant and foppish, dressing as a woman when given the chance. Yes, some gay men are like this. Drag is also perfectly legitimate. But the character feels like he was written based solely off of gay stereotypes, not as a character who happens to be gay. Newsflash: when we asked for representation, characters like Suzi and Bernie weren’t what we had in mind.
But it isn’t just in this sense that Flyte is woefully unskilled at writing characters. Every single one of “his” characters (with the sole exception of Charlotte Yates) is inconsistent and impossible to qualify. Sarah swings wildly between intelligent doctorate student and brainless sexpot. She is also a borderline Mary Sue. She’s a musical genius and all the boys love her. Sarah alone is the key to solving the mystery. Why is that? Because she’s special. How is she special? Yes.
The other characters are equally as dull and contradictory. Their most interesting facets are spoiled in the official summary. Max is your typical Dreamboat with a Secret ™, but worse. He’s mercurial, though what causes his mood changes is anyone’s guess. He is abysmal when it comes to communication. He’ll make plans with Sarah and then suddenly be called away on business. This would be fine, except he doesn’t bother he tell her. He doesn’t even leave her a note. She always finds out from someone else. And these awful tendencies? Never addressed.
Nico’s two traits are being an immortal little person and being a thief. His immortality is treated as a plot twist, despite being included in the summary. Sometimes Nico is genuine and others he’s lecherous. Which one he is at any given moment depends on whatever the scene calls for. Sarah also constantly refers to him as the “little man.” First of all, he has a name and you know what it is. Use it. Secondly, that is bonkers insulting. Yes, the politically correct term for those of his stature is “little people,” but that’s really intended as a label. It’s not supposed to be the defining characteristic.
Pollina, or “Pols”, is only there to make Sarah seem caring and empathetic. She’s an eleven-year-old music prodigy and Sarah’s long-time pupil. She also spoke at a collegiate level at age four and can apparently see the future. She’s blind and also sometimes has a mysterious illness. Other times, that illness is inexplicably absent. Sure, illnesses can work this way, but Flyte never takes the time to really explain the nature of Pollina’s.
The other characters… are also there. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any one of them. They’re all interchangeable (except Suzi and Bernie, the two token gays). Well, there is Miles. He runs the soon-to-be museum. And that’s about it. I think he’s supposed to be a main character, but I have no idea what his purpose in this story is. That is, aside from being Charlotte’s lacky, but anyone could do that. So yeah, this book has some of the worst characterization I’ve ever read.
The plot is also an utter mess. In fact, a couple of the main plot points aren’t even revealed until the last 20% of the book. These plot points are also perhaps the only fantasy or paranormal aspects of the book. Even though it’s explicitly marketed as a fantasy. This book is the first in a duology, but this is still poor storytelling.
But the poor plotting doesn’t end there. Flyte has an annoying habit of placing a lot of the action off-page. Everything is just recapped to the protagonist after the fact. Flyte always uses the excuse that Nico, resident little person, is the only one who can get into these places. But that doesn’t cut it. After all, Flyte could just as easily have made them accessible to Sarah and Max so they could take part in the action. But nope, instead we have to read about how Sarah can smell feelings (something that is treated as normal and is never explained) and about how horny she is.
But none of this is my main problem with the novel. After all, this is all just your run-of-the-mill bad book nonsense. No, my biggest problem with this book is the rape scene. Well, it’s sort of a rape scene. It’s complicated and muddied, depending on how you consider the situation. Either way, I found the whole thing repulsive and horrifying. And I’m going to spoil the entire thing.
As such, if reading about sexual assault is a trigger for you or you’d simply rather not read it, skip the next four paragraphs.
Sarah goes to her first dinner with her new colleagues and she’s extremely aroused— for no reason. She meets one of her new colleagues named Douglas and says maybe two words to him. Suddenly, he puts his hand on her leg and she’s trying to determine the best way to get it off. And then he straight up starts fingering her and suddenly she’s okay with it. Before she orgasms (all of this is happening under the dinner table, surrounded by her brand new colleagues, by the way), she rushes to the bathroom to take care of it herself.
But it gets worse. Doug comes in behind her and she drags him into a stall and lets him take her from behind. He leaves and she waits a few minutes, so it’s not obvious what just went down between them. As she leaves, she runs into Doug who asks if he missed his chance. Then she realizes that the guy she just screwed in the bathroom wasn’t Doug.
Not only can I still not fathom how this is possible, but this is rape. She consented to sex with Doug, not the person she refers to as her “bathroom lover.” But instead of it being treated seriously, Sarah is just like, “Huh, wonder who that was.”
She later finds out it was Max, while she has (this time) consensual sex with him. But again, she didn’t consent to sex with Max in that bathroom. Now, maybe Max goes to that bathroom to use it and then a pretty woman propositions him, so he obliges his good fortune. He probably doesn’t know she’s waiting for someone else. But this is still an ugly gray area that’s treated as mere hijinks. Honestly, it didn’t need to be in the story at all.
The only reason I finished this book is because it was extremely readable. I just had to see what absolute fuckery was going to happen next. I didn’t even scratch the surface of how truly strange and awful this book is in this review. However, if you’d like to see some textual evidence of the utter madness that is City of Dark Magic, check out my live Tweet thread.
I absolutely will not be continuing the series. If you’re considering reading this book, I strongly urge you to look elsewhere. As for Magnus Flyte, he hasn’t been heard from since 2013. My only hope is that he was sucked into one of his own fictional hell portals and we never have to suffer the presence of one of “his” books ever again.
My Rating: 1.5