A review of City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

Reviewed by Sara Hodon

City of Dark Magic
by Magnus Flyte
Penguin Books
Paperback: 464 pages, November 27, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-0143122685

Prague—an old city with a vibrant history, beautiful architecture, and more than a few secrets. It inspired composer Ludwig van Beethoven and has been home to artists and alchemists, princes and corrupt politicians. It is also a city that keeps its history very much alive. All of these elements blend together in the truly unique novel City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte.

Music student Sarah Weston is eager to make her mark in her field, and when she receives a job offer to catalogue Beethoven’s manuscripts in the centuries-old Prague Castle for the summer, it sounds like the opportunity she has been looking for. She eagerly accepts the offer, but is a bit uneasy about her professional credentials—has there been some mistake? Can she handle such a prestigious position? Her confidence is shaken even further when she learns that her friend and mentor, Dr. Absalom Sherbatsky (who has also been working at Prague Castle) has died under mysterious circumstances. Although his death is ruled a suicide, Sarah isn’t so sure. She was hired thanks to her connection to Dr. Sherbatsky and isn’t completely certain she can carry out the work without him. Yet she bravely soldiers on, leaving her life behind in the States and traveling to Prague.

City of Dark Magic is could be described as a psychedelic time traveling adventure. From the first chapter, it’s clear that this is no ordinary novel and the colorful cast of characters have their own agendas. Sarah, the protagonist and arguably the most “stable” character in the book, is at first glance a bit of a naïve young girl who simply wants to make a good impression in her field. Read a few more chapters and it’s clear that while this is all true, she is not quite as wide-eyed as she first seemed. It’s just that the remaining characters are all so eccentric and plotting (to varying degrees), with so many mysteries and unanswered questions swirling around, it doesn’t seem as though Sarah would have been able to avoid some of the strange situations she gets herself into—often through no fault of her own. Sarah truly anchors the entire novel, although the story doesn’t focus on her entirely. There are just too many other interesting characters to learn about, including a 400-year old dwarf who is sent to Sarah’s doorstep to collect her for the trip to Prague and becomes her protector, confidante, and a bit of a seer for the rest of the group; a time-traveling prince, Maximilian Lobkowicz Anderson, whose family owns Prague Castle and is spearheading the cataloguing of his family’s various priceless heirlooms, and a seriously corrupt U.S. senator with a singular goal—to get what she wants, no matter the cost. Then there is the brilliant, blind child music prodigy who is a student of Sarah’s in the States and inadvertently gets herself tangled up in some shady dealings, and of course, Sarah’s fellow scholars, including a weapon-loving lesbian who is beautiful, stylish, and curses like a sailor.

The scope of the novel is incredibly ambitious, but with so many plots and subplots, it can be confusing at times. Initially, I thought Sarah was going to try to solve the mystery behind Professor Sherbatsky’s death, but is distracted by other strange goings-on in the castle. She learns about a strange psychedelic drug, Westonia (coincidence?) that derived from Beethoven’s fingernails. The drug has strange, magical properties—the user can not only travel back in time, but be an active participant in the scene they have traveled to, yet still somehow remain in the present. Sarah takes this drug on two different occasions with very different results. Besides the main action taking place in Prague Castle, there is the sinister presence of senator Charlotte Yates lurking over all, though it takes some time before her role in the chain of events is made clear. Yates is the mastermind behind the plot—the reader gets the sense that she is a Big Brother-like presence, doling out tasks to her minions. It is fascinating to discover how all of the various threads come untangled, although admittedly, the many twists and turns make it difficult to keep up at times.

The author, Magnus Flyte, has a story as colorful as any character in City of Dark Magic. He is, in fact, an illusion—the creation of his “literary executors”, authors Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch. I found it interesting that both writers could blend their individual styles and maintain the same voice throughout the novel—likely not an easy task.

I can honestly say that City of Dark Magic is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. If you are looking for a book that defies genre yet offers a little something for everyone—sex, mystery, intrigue, a bit of comedy—this might be the perfect choice for you.

About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com