Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Music, Magic and Intrigue: A Book Review on City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

Sarah Weston has decided to work a summer job at Prague Castle cataloging music manuscripts. After her mentor was reported to have committed suicide while working the same job, Sarah decides to work on determining whether the suicide was the truth or if something else happened to the professor. As the mystery starts to unravel, Sarah is left in the middle of the turmoil, working on who to trust and what her professor was working on before his death. Working with time-travel, music and centuries of secrets, Sarah has to figure out the truth behind the work at the museum and live to tell about it.

I've spent a few days working through my thoughts on this book. I was hoping for a lot of time-travel, magic and mystery. That's not necessarily what I encountered in this book. Instead, I got a book that seemed part mystery and part romance, with a little bit of magic thrown-in. The time-travel could have been an incredible aspect to this story but in the end I got the feeling that it was meant more for fun, like when the characters get to see Beethoven's interactions in the past at Prague Castle, which is enjoyed more for the fact that the characters can SEE Beethoven as opposed to the clues they are meant to find by encountering Beethoven. It's also determined to be caused by a drug, created from a formula that has disappeared over the centuries. Eventually the "time travel" is used as a means of finding the formula to make more of the drug that enables the time travel in the first place and if the main characters manage to find the clues that focus on the "mystery", its more of an afterthought than anything else.

In terms of writing, the plot felt a bit....disjointed is probably the best word. There were sentences at the start of chapters where the reader is told that a couple of weeks have passed and then the story picks up to go into extreme detail for the course of events focusing on a period of several hours, only to then skip ahead in time and go into detail again for another several hours. In the end, the pacing felt a bit stilted. The writing itself, in terms of dialogue and thoughts, was good. When the plot had a clear focus, the writing had a good rhythm to it. The book started out good, with setting and details on the lead and the necessary factors to build up to a good mystery with moving to Prague. But enough of a cohesive hold on the many different plot threads never managed to materialize, making main points of the novel seem random when they came about. For me, the plot pacing was a problem that detracted from the overall effect of the whole book to the point that I just couldn't get it out of my head while I was reading.

Concerning characters, I'm going with the opinion that I'm not a fan of the main character, Sarah Weston. She's supposed to be an impressive doctoral candidate student working on a thesis under her professor, Scherbatsky, a man with a difficult reputation. She feels the need to prove her intelligence because of her poor background and apparently she uses her sense of smell to investigate things like letters, her surroundings and potential bedmates. While I was willing to take all of that in stride, Sarah made some pretty bad choices within hours of touching down in Prague that just made me think that basically, for a supposedly smart, tough student, she didn't quite grasp the concepts of discretion or responsibility. Then there's also the fact that main plot clues were discovered by other characters and then told to Sarah. She researches a bit to confirm said clues but she didn't figure them out for herself. As the main investigator of the novel, that seems a bit too easy to stomach as a reader. In the end, I'm left with not liking Sarah and her need to satisfy only herself, a disappointing result for this book.

In terms of a love interest, the prince was a little all over the place without any concrete development to him. He seems determined to do his best as the heir with his working to put his family's treasures into a museum for the people but then he has other motives that drive him, as well. I guess earnest is the best word to describe him, and while at times he could be appealing as a character, the interest to be had for him started to wane as the book continued. Nico and Pols, a dwarf that works for the prince and a student that Sarah tutors, are a pair of intelligent characters with interesting backgrounds introduced early on in the plot before the setting becomes concrete in Prague. When they come back into the plot at various intervals scattered through the book, the story picks up and the mystery becomes truly intriguing. However, they only come in so often and not enough is seen of them in the story overall.

The villain of the piece, who has a chapter from their point-of-view every so often, doesn't seem like enough of a bad guy to even warrant the title of "villain". They have power, they have people willing to kill for them, but a true calculated threat never seems to come across because of how separated they seem to be from the central action of the story. By the time said villain comes in and starts to make trouble, its basically too little too late. When it came to the mystery, the reader is given everything by seeing things from the villain's view. By the time the lead characters figure out the truth, it just comes off as anti-climactic. Threats that come for Sarah are resolved too quickly and in the end, the true tension to make this a supposedly thrilling read just never comes to fruition.

Overall, I didn't really care much for this book. It took me ages to finally finish it and for me, it's always a bad sign when I have to force myself to finish reading a book. If you're interested in this book, read reviews besides this one, look at as many opinions as possible and then see if you want to give it a try. As of right now, I would only recommend this with reservations for readers to try.

Rating: 3 Stars

I WANTED to like this book so much. Honestly, I waited for this release to finally come out and bought it as soon as I could. But I didn't like the lead and the mystery ended not being a mystery at all. I didn't get a sense of suspense and it seemed to take forever to get anywhere in this book. If there's a sequel, I'm going to wait and see what other opinions are first before venturing into another attempt at an adventure with Sarah Weston.

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