I am forced out of my reading comfort zone more than you’d expect. While I can’t read every event book (no way! You should see our spring schedule), I certainly try to read my share, and that share tends to crowd out most of my other reading. I will skip a book, however, if I think it doesn’t need me.
1. Reviews will carry it
2. Friends and family will carry it
3. Other booksellers will carry it.
But one never knows. I booked a first novel that was a speculative, historical, comic, and somewhat sexy thriller called City of Dark Magic thinking that the Boswellians would jump right into it. Thinking about the other unknown novelists that they’ve jumped on—Ernie Cline, Erin Morgenstern, with a touch of Michael Ennis—it seemed like something we could generate some buzz on. Jason told me he was going to read it too. Great! I booked the mysterious Magnus Flyte for a talk on Tuesday, January 15, 7 pm, at Boswell.
Jump a few weeks later and I don’t have any reads. Jason’s reading it, but he’s also reading something like 17 other dense nonfiction works. What am I going to do? I’m going to read City of Dark Magic myself. I can’t figure out another way to talk it up properly. And so I am inadvertently taken in by Prague, Beethoven, conspiracy, murder, and a possible door to another dimension.
It starts off with Sarah Weston, a student at Thoreau College, being invited for a summer commission reviewing Beethoven’s papers for a new museum opening at Lobkowicz Castle in Prague. All well and good, but why someone so uncredentialed? Well, it turns out that her professor sees in her a rare musical knowledge that might come in handy. But then she finds out that this very professor, her mentor, is already in Prague and has mysterious died.
There is also:
--A mysterious little man helping her who claims to be 5000 years old
--The last heir to this princely inheritance, a young American
--His rival, from the Italian branch of the family
--A sociopathic senator, with dibs on the White House, if only she can cover up her shocking past
--A Lesbian Japanese weapons expert
--Sarah's very young musical protégé, who is also blind
--The project head, who might get a cushy job at the Smithsonian if everything works out
--A mysterious drug which gives the ability to see traces of the past in the present
--The secret to Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved”
I’ve probably given away a few twists, but there are so many in City of Dark Magic that it’s had to write about the book at all without giving one or two things away. And I should note to our customers that Magnus Flyte is actually Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch. And there’s a great interview on how they came to write the book here . What is most important to know is that the book has relatively short chapters (though not as short as the 1-2 pages of some thrillers) and each one usually has a twist. The story is seeped in Prague, for those who love an exotic city.
And it’s filled with Beethoveniana as well. My feeling is that if you liked Sacré Bleu because of the way the story played with the history of the French Impressionists, or Michael Ennis’s Malice of Fortune, because of the way he filled in the holes of the story of Machiavelli and the Borgias, than you will like this clearly well-researched take on Beethoven and Tycho Brahe. It’s more like Christopher Moore in that there is an over-the-top speculative element, but we’re not talking history, but playing with history.
And for those having Fifty Shades withdrawal, there are a few racy scenes as well. Not enough turn me a bright shade of pink or anything, but enough to establish Sarah’s character, perhaps closer to the way Ian Fleming and subsequent interpreters have used sex in a James Bond adventure.
Well, I hope it did the trick. I understood the book a little more, and think I understand the market a bit more. I’ve added Libba Bray to the comparisons, but on the older side. And by the time I was done, two more Boswellians (Hannah and Mel) were deep into City of Dark Magic, and we might have jumpstarted Jason back into the book as well. And now maybe you’ll be the next. I’m not saying we’re talking shortlisted for the Pulitzer here, but who couldn’t use a good escape?
Here's another take, an interesting review from Glen Weldon in Slate about how reading a book is like exploring a strange city.