My rating: 2 of 5 stars
If you like mystery, classical music, and castles you might like the new book, City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte. It delivers passionate descriptions of music, extensive historical background steeped in fiction, and a bizarre cast of characters living and working in a castle.
The novel has several things that I truly love in a good story. I like the topic of alchemy. I love Eastern European cultural and history. I love music. I like spies and mysteries. And yet, this book somehow missed the mark for me; almost from the beginning.
First, there is the main character, Sarah Weston. I don’t call her the heroine because in my opinion that would imply there is a romance in this story. There is sex. The novel has the physical act of two people coming together and yet it was completely devoid of any emotional ties. Although there were a few attempts at emotion, like hands being held, the reader never hears of Sarah’s feelings except one rather stray thought that maybe she was in love. There’s no more romance than that simple declaration. Now, this isn’t classified as a romance novel so I don’t expect long passages of characters expressing their love for each other but I’ve read hard core westerns with more love expressed by a weathered, tight lipped cowboy than we ever get from Sarah. The sex never moves to making love. There doesn’t seem to be any real desire or interest on Sarah’s part get to know the man having sex with her. And since Sarah doesn’t seem to care, I found myself not caring either. I really struggled not to think of Sarah as just a common, college-educated slut.
Second, the action in the story doesn’t flow. When things seem to lag Flyte simply has the characters take a magic drug trip and readers have to ride along their bizarre viewings that fracture off into insignificant threads. There isn’t a steady focus of what the main character (and even the supporting characters) is searching for during the novel. I found the plot really jerked left and right instead of building to tension-filled climax. Maybe there was an unclear focus between Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey, the two writers hiding behind the pen name of Magnus Flyte. They prefer to be called Flyte’s handlers but no one beside them believes he exists. While I’ve read some great writing books written by author partnerships, I believe Lynch and Howrey could take a lesson from Jennifer Crusie, who has raised writing books with other authors to an art form. You shouldn’t feel pulled to one writers thinking and then another as the story moves along. They need to both agree on where the story is going and provide exciting or at least interesting action to get there.
Third thing I just didn’t like is what I call horror girl syndrome. You know the situation, classic blonde in a horror movie who goes outside to see what that noise was when she knows that there is a homicidal murderer on the loose; it is never a surprise when she dies. Sarah behaves like that. In one scene Sarah swallows the mystery pill; she’ll later wish it was a pill but you’ll have to read the book to find out why. Anyway, this supposed PhD candidate has no hesitation to ingest a pill she knows nothing about. Hello! Did she never watch any afterschool special when she was young? Really! I can’t help but think this is a cop out on the author’s part who created a magic pill instead of developing a more integrated story. It got to the point where I could tell from the story’s pacing that in the next few pages someone would trip out and someone would die but neither event really enlightened me about where the story or its characters were going.
On the positive side (and I wouldn’t have even written a review if there wasn’t a positive side) I will say that since this book gives such a detailed and enthusiastic appreciation for classical music that I tweeted @MagnusFlyte and asked if there was a playlist for the music mentioned in the book. I quickly got a reply directing me to his website which hosts a Spotify City of Dark Magic playlist. The soundtrack not only highlights Beethoven but also Mozart, Berlioz, or Dvořák. I give kudos to anyone who uses social media to market their work and the playlist is an excellent attention-grabber.
The novel ends with the prefect segue for a sequel but I’m not sure that Sarah grew enough as a character to make me want to read more about her. She didn’t seem any more tied to the other supporting cast than when the story started. If the main character isn’t impacted by the novel’s events, why would readers feel compelled to tag along?
I hope others find more substance in City of Dark Magic than I did. The prose was well written and the music tie-in is fabulous. And that is why I think this novel isn’t a total loss. If nothing else, you’ll gain insight into feelings inspired by music. Maybe that’s enough.