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Review: City of Dark Magic

City of Dark Magic, written by Magnus Flyte (pen name for Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch), is a fun, breezy mystery full of both vivid history and lurid supernatural. It’s a quick-paced little novel, by turns light and dark, serious and ridiculous, campy and straight-faced. Do not come into this novel expecting a historical mystery/thriller a la Dan Brown. City of Dark MagicWhile City of Dark Magic is undoubtedly well-researched and full of interesting cultural and historical information, it is also a romp through the Czech Republic with an unabashedly magical re-imagining of major people and events.

The story follows Sarah Weston, a PhD student focusing on music and the emerging field of neuromusicology. After her mentor dies while working on a project in Prague, Sarah is contacted to fly to Europe to complete his work. Once in Prague, she is torn between investigating the suspicious circumstances surrounding her mentor’s death, finishing his work, and pursuing her own interests — both academic and decidedly not so.

Confronted with mysteries both old and new, Sarah must sift through the people and places around her to determine what’s real, a lie, a hallucination, or magic. The fabric of time is thin in Prague, and Sarah begins to find herself slipping through the portals (especially with the help of a mind-expanding drug provided by a dwarf that knows far more than he’s telling). Historical drama meshes with modern political intrigue, creating a panorama of suspense through the centuries. Glimpses of the past begin to provide insight to the modern side of the mystery, in which Sarah finds herself facing off against a ruthless U.S. Senator with countless hidden allies around the world. Agendas overlap, then clash, and it becomes more and more impossible for Sarah to determine who she can actually trust.

The supernatural and mystery aspects of City of Dark Magic are the strongest aspects of the novel; the love story subplot, while fun, is really dispensable when you get down to it. Yes, it’s exciting and very romantic-comedy for the American student to fall for a European (though raised in the U.S.) prince, but it also doesn’t add much to the novel or growth of the characters apart from random opportunities to have sex. As much as I liked this novel, I really felt like the sex scenes were thrown in purely for the sake of having sex scenes. And, while I’m all for some literary sexy time when appropriate to the plot, I just felt like I wouldn’t have missed anything and nothing would have changed had those scenes been cut.

My other major issue with the novel was the ending, which felt like it both came out of nowhere, and resolved very little. Of course, magic played a major part — but given the supernatural bent of the book, I had no issue with that — but it just felt all too convenient. It cut off one storyline without warning or subsequent follow-up, but left another dangling. City of Lost DreamsNow, I have since found out that there is a sequel coming out in November, titled City of Lost Dreams, so I assume the threads left unraveled will be pursued in the forthcoming novel. That does make me feel better, though the ending still left me a tad dissatisfied.

I recommend this book, but with the admonition that you don’t take it seriously, at all. Just have as much fun reading it as the authors seem to have had writing it, and you’ll be in a good place. Despite my reservations, I’m definitely planning on reading the sequel to see if City of Lost Dreams follows the plot lines that were unresolved in City of Dark Magic. I suppose that’s my bottom line: fun, interesting, more than a little silly, and good enough to get me to read the second novel.

Happy Reading!

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Review: Dead Ever After

(NOTE: No spoilers for this novel, but there will be spoilers for books #1-12.)

After fourteen years, Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures are over. Charlaine Harris’ thirteenth Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire novel is the last, as the title — Dead Ever After — indicates. I’m sad the series is over, but I think Harris was right to end it on her terms, the way she always envisioned, rather than dragging it out simply for the sake of producing more novels.

Dead Ever AfterThe novel begins at a crossroads, where two men are meeting a devil. The men, who remain nameless for some time, wait in the French Quarter of New Orleans to sell their souls, each for a distinct price.

The action then jumps to Mexico, where two men — also nameless — collaborate in a scheme to exact revenge against Sookie Stackhouse for some unknown reasons.

Harris, as you can see, starts the action immediately, but the reader is left in the dark about who these men are or what motivates them. Though Sookie is mentioned, we don’t get to her familiar narration and storyline until roughly twenty pages in. Sookie’s narrative begins the morning after [*MAJOR SPOILER FOR BOOK #12!!!*] she uses the cluviel dor, a magical relic from her fairy relatives that has the power to grant one wish, to raise Sam from the dead.  Somewhat unsurprisingly, Sam is stunned and overwhelmed by the experience, and is acting like a totally different person, especially  around Sookie. Meanwhile, Eric, Sookie’s vampire boyfriend, is furious at her for not using the cluviel dor to benefit him. Eric is still bound up in the negotiations for the marriage contract for his impending nuptials with Freyda, the Queen of Oklahoma, a process that hurts and humiliates Sookie every step of the way.

With all of this already straining her sanity, Sookie’s life gets immeasurably worse when her former friend Arlene shows back up. Arlene, though never a good friend to Sookie, broke all bonds when she tried to help her new anti-vampire/were/magic friends crucify Sookie. Luckily, Sookie evaded their cruel plan and Arlene and her accomplices all went to prison for attempted murder. Now, though, she was bailed out for reasons unbeknownst to her or Sookie; they quickly become apparent, however, when Arlene turns up murdered, with evidence planted on her body that points to Sookie as the perpetrator.

The bulk of the novel focuses on Sookie’s attempts to exonerate herself, alongside a group of her friends, including Amelia, Bob, Mr. Cataliades, Diantha, Quinn, and Barry. I really enjoyed this book; I flew through it under two days. The one facet that surprised me somewhat is how small a role the vampires played in this novel. Bill, Eric, Pam, and the usual assortment are present, but remain mostly in the background. Even the shifters take a notably smaller role. Unlike the previous installments in the series, this book is not about a vampire and/or shifter mystery adventure that spills over into Sookie’s life, but rather entirely Sookie-centric in both the focus and scope.

Without going into any spoilers, I will say that it ended the way I pretty much always expected it would. I was pleased with this ending, because I really do feel like Harris hinted in this direction throughout the dozen books leading up to this one. I wouldn’t say things were completely tied up or closed off, but it’s very clear how things will play out in Sookie’s future.

I’ll miss looking forward to a new Sookie Stackhouse novel every summer, but I’m sure I’ll find another series that will hook me in no time. (Plus, there’s still the bulk of my Masters’ Exam reading list to work through…)

Happy Reading!

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Review: The Color of Magic

The first book of Terry Pratchett’s that I read was a desperation buy. This is nothing against him; allow me to explain. I was in LaGuardia airport, sniffling and feeling very for myself because a freak Spring snowstorm had delayed my flight for over 24 hours. As is typical for me, I sought refuge in the obligatory airport bookstore. The books they had were largely unappealing to me. I sat on the floor — all the better to mope — and a little white book with red type caught my eye. It was Good Omens, the epic and hilarious collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I had already finished the novels I’d brought with me from home, so I bought it. It turned out to be an excellent decision, as it became one of my favorite novels and made me a fan of each of the collaborating authors. I finished it the same day I bought it, and I’ve read it at least a half dozen times since. (Actually, this makes me realize that I really ought to have reviewed it on this blog, given my adoration of it. Even without a full review, though, know that I highly recommend it!)

As I said, Good Omens led me to read more of Pratchett and Gaiman’s independent works. Recently, I decided to embark on the journey to Discworld, a fantastical universe of Terry Pratchett’s creation. An impressive 39 Discworld novels have been published as of September 2011, so it’s quite a series. Books in the series have won awards, been adapted for television, and regularly land on bestseller and recommended reading lists. After reading about Discworld, including a theory on an alternate timeline/reading order, I decided to keep things simple and just start with the first book. Thus I arrived at The Color of Magic, which was first published in 1983, before I was even born.

The Color of Magic centers on Twoflower, an endearingly bumbling tourist in Discworld. He is grudgingly accompanied by Rincewind, a failed wizard who only knows one spell and is terrified to use it. Pratchett intersperses the story with background and mythology of Discworld, all of which is just as entertaining and amusing as the main characters’ escapades. To begin with, Pratchett explains that Discworld is resting on the backs of four giant elephants, which are in turn riding on the back of A’Tuin, a gigantic turtle that carries the world through space. There is heated debate in Discworld on as to the gender of A’Tuin, though the rest of the heavenly conveyance is common scientific knowledge. This is a world inhabited by not only humans, but also trolls, elves, nymphs, dragons, sentient plants, and of course, magicians.

Twoflower is from a place very different than the city of Ankh-Morpork, which he decides to visit because he wants to meet heroes and villains, and — if he’s lucky — maybe even get into a brawl. His inclination to seek adventure is a major thorn in the side of his hired guide Rincewind, who prefers to run, hide, and otherwise avoid all types of danger. Together, Twoflower and Rincewind make an otherworldly odd couple. Twoflower is happily taking photos of men who are trying to kidnap him, while Rincewind wearily attempts to fend of the myriad threats that Twoflower’s flamboyant behavior attracts. After being involved in the incident that starts a fire that literally burns Ankh-Morpork to the ground, Rincewind decides he and his charge had better cut and run for the forest, where there is slightly less of a chance for calamitous mishaps. This though, however, just goes to show that Rincewind underestimates Twoflower’s prodigious ability to attract trouble and embroil himself in all manner of sticky situations. Twoflower’s saving grace is his thirst for adventure and discovery; he somehow manages to continually come out on top and even get chances to do things he never imagined he’d be able to do.

The Color of Magic is a perfect beach read, summer escapism and fantasy at its humorous best. Pratchett’s world is one that we recognize from many older, heavier traditions of fantasy and science fiction, but his light tone and sharp wit breathe a new life and buoyant attitude into the genre. It’s a fast read: only about 200 pages. Of course, this is just the first step in Pratchett’s decades-long exploration of Discworld and its inhabitants. I definitely plan to read much more of the Discworld series.

Happy reading!

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