Category Archives: fantasy

City of Dark Magic

Ah yes. The last book I read in 2016: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte. I picked this one up at Barnes & Noble because it was $6. As good a reason as any to pick up a book, right?

I have a couple of issues with it, although I didn’t hate it.

Basically, music doctorate candidate Sarah Weston, who helps support herself by giving music lessons to/nannying the precocious only child of a wealthy Boston family ends up in Prague for the summer when her doctoral adviser, who was already in Prague, mysteriously dies. He was cataloging and chronicling possessions of one Prince Max, who has just regained possession of a castle from the Czech government after the Nazis took possession and occupied it during World War II. Sarah and a number of other experts in their fields are staying at the castle to do this research so Prince Max can open a family history museum.

Sarah’s adviser, and later Sarah, end up looking for evidence of Beethoven’s ‘Immortal Beloved,’ which is apparently a real academic mystery, where nobody knows who the addressee of this famous love letter that Beethoven wrote actually is. There are several theories, which the book delves into for the sake of fiction.

After her arrival in Prague, Sarah begins to suspect her adviser was murdered. That theory is later confirmed when someone else close to the project is murdered, and so Sarah finds herself at the center of an escalating mystery as a series of murders threatens this important summer project.

Now, this is clearly a fantasy book, so the alchemy, the ageless servant, the nearly clairvoyant precocious little girl, etc… I was ready for.

The detours into Sarah’s sex life, particularly early in the story, I was not only not ready for, I felt they added to almost nothing except the author’s word count.

I know that sex is part of life and having had it before, I like it as much as anyone. But I don’t really want to read about it in detail. I find the writing is generally cringeworthy (as this was) and I find that most of the time, it’s not relevant. In this case, Sarah gets horny on the plane and blah blah her sense of smell and blah blah blah ends up banging a guy who she thought was another guy in a closet or something at the castle during dinner.

To me, this is the least interesting “mystery” in the whole book, because I really don’t care. Sure, this ends up being somewhat relevant but you could have left it out entirely and I wouldn’t have had to roll my eyes and wonder if I should bother continuing. This happened maybe 50 pages into the book? I don’t read romance for a reason. I don’t find it interesting. I didn’t find this aspect of the story interesting. I found it rather annoying.

Sarah was something of a Mary Sue as well, but it wasn’t so unbearable I felt I had to put the book down. It was a little annoying sometimes.

The resolution of the story was a little strange, and I think I must have missed a part while skimming (I tend to do that). There’s a US Senator involved in this whole thing, who is a sociopath, but I don’t fully understand why she’s involved. Anyway, she gets sucked into a vortex of doom and that’s basically how her plot line is resolved. Not the greatest writing but also not the worst.

Actually, the whole book was not the best book, but also not the worst. One of the things it did have going for it is that it wasn’t very long, so it wasn’t so slow that I had to put it down, unfinished, a mistake thus far only reserved for the books I really find boring.

The premise of the story was interesting enough for me to keep reading even though a couple of things early on turned me off. I’m glad I did, because while some of the novel really fell flat, there were enough fun elements to make consider reading the sequel. I’m a sucker for historical mysteries – Shakespeare’s lost plays are some of my favorites.

I also liked the setting. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Europe, but I’d like to, so it was nice to spend a story in Prague. Prague is one of those cities everyone seems to visit and talk about in college. I never went, and I think this is the first book I read that was set there.

Oh. So yes, there’s a sequel. It’s called City of Lost Dreams. That takes place in Vienna. I may pick it up, but I’m in no rush.

This is a good – for lack of a better term – beach read. If you’re a huge fantasy nerd who wants something denser and more detailed, this isn’t for you. It’s pleasantly surprising, but it isn’t anything fantastic.

a few thoughts on Tolkien

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JRR Tolkien was born 125 years ago today, on January 3, 1892 (for the arithmatic-ly challenged).

My mother dragged me to see the Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. I was 13. She really did have to drag me, using the sound reasoning that she’d gone to every damn stupid god forsaken terrible film I’d ever want to go to as a kid, and I was going to come whether I liked it or not.

At the start I was outraged I was being dragged to a three hour film I knew nothing about and had no interest in.

By the end I was outraged I’d sat through a three hour film and they hadn’t answered any questions.

My mom wouldn’t tell me what happened next and said I’d have to read it or wait til the next film. I was outraged further.

But I started The Hobbit on December 21, 2001 and finished The Return of the King on August 22, 2002. I was a slow reader as a kid.

And man, those books and films changed my life.

Not in a “I’m a new person” kind of way, although I did adopt the “not all those who wander are lost” quote as a philosophy of life. I don’t think it changed my outlook on life. It did change my outlook on stories. I compare every epic saga to that of the Fellowship’s. I don’t even do it on purpose. But that’s the standard – from the personal, inner conflicts of the characters to the epic consequences of the struggle, other stories I’ve read lack the world building, the scope and the depth of Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson’s adaptations are also possibly the greatest films I’ve ever watched in terms of grandeur and scale and faithfulness to the source material.

I’m not so devoted I’ve done things like read The Simarillion or The Children of Hurin. Or The Appendices. DEAR GOD, THE APPENDICES. But I like that they’re there if I ever want to read them.

And I do recognize greatness when I read it, and Tolkien may be the greatest.

So happy birthday to an all time great and one of my all time favorites. Thanks for a story that has given me something to bond with my mom over. And my friends. And my teachers. And the rest of the world. It’s been the best gift.

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