Monday, December 24, 2012

City of Dark Magic

Author: "Magnus Flyte"*
Genre: Shelved as general fiction in order to sneakily attract a wider audience; Fantasy
Original Pub. Date: 2012

Books are rarely more disappointing than when they could have been really good and failed to hit the mark. In this way, City of Dark Magic is actually more of a letdown than, say, Fifty Shades of Grey, which had no potential whatsoever.

Our protagonist, Sarah Weston, is a Ph.D. student whose specialty is Beethoven. Her mentor goes to Prague to work on the opening of a new museum that includes a collection of privately owned Beethoven artifacts; he then dies mysteriously after recommending Sarah be offered a job as his assistant.

When Sarah arrives to take over the professor's work, the descendant of Beethoven's princely patron is there, along with an assortment of more or less caricaturish academics (the lesbian weapons expert, the lecherous red-headed Englishman, the delicate blonde china expert, and so on). There's also a dwarf and some Russian spies, alchemical drugs that cause time to implode, and secret tunnels beneath Czech castles. One would think this recipe, combined with the very funny one-liners that appear in this book just often enough to tease the reader, would produce a winning literary dish.

Sadly, one would be both wrong and out $16 plus the relevant sales tax. Despite this book's plot potential and occasional witty humor, it's hampered throughout by a plodding, dragging, continual abuse of the third-person limited point of view. Characters don't simply do things, they think, decide, or wonder about them instead. This is such a common problem in fiction that I don't know why someone hasn't set up a whole writers' workshop to deal with it yet. I've gone on a rant about this problem before, so feel free to go back and read that before continuing on with this one. Ready? All right.

Let's say I wrote my reviews the way Nicholas Sparks and "Magnus Flyte" write their books:

E. Worthington decided to write a review of City of Dark Magic. She thought that maybe someone would want to read it. Should the review be short or long? Well, E. decided, it would almost certainly be long, because she had never in her life managed to write anything without several long digressions. Didn't she write something completely extraneous about pickles at some point? She was fairly certain she had. Pickles made her think of the random and slightly jarring sex scenes in the book she was currently reviewing. That probably revealed more about E.'s mental processes than she would probably have liked to reveal about her mental processes. Shouldn't we get to know a character a little more before we're told about how she once had sex in a hotel janitor's closet,  E. wondered, or is that what passes for character development these days? E. decided to give the book two and a half stars, but thought that was perhaps generous under the circumstances. The readers probably thought they were glad all of the reviews weren't written this way. Or maybe they decided that they preferred this style, in which case they should go read City of Dark Magic immediately.

* This is obviously the pseudonym for Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, the two writers referred to in the back cover of the book as the author's "representatives." If you're going to use a pseudonym, use a pseudonym, and don't put cutesy author photos of yourselves in the back, okay? What's the point? Making me just a little more disgusted with your faces than I otherwise would be, you irritatingly smug hipsters? Then well played, ladies, well played.

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