city of lost dreams = a book that makes me have travel dreams

Last year, I reviewed this random book that just sounded interesting. It was called City of Dark Magic, and it was about magic and adventure and Prague and music and history. Winning. I loved it.

So there is a sequel, called City of Lost Dreams, and it’s the kind where it’s just another adventure, not a drawn out trilogy that didn’t need to be three books but is because it’s YA. (See: “series over trilogy.”) This book is not YA, so that’s good, because I have been trying to read more books that aren’t children’s or YA. It’s also something I was just really excited about, because Sarah Weston is a different kind of character with substance while also being a kind of crackerjack crimefighter à la Stephanie Plum, except she doesn’t suck. She’s actually a girl Robert Langdon, maybe. At any rate, I don’t read a lot of such books, but when I do, I love them, because they make me remember that I need to travel to live and that smart people can be badasses while not abandoning their nerdery.

You can read the plot description by clicking on the book cover or title. You get it. Basically, it’s a Robert Langdon-style adventure, and you will like it if you a) like Dan Brown books or b) want to like Dan Brown books but are tired of dudes doing shit and having lady sidekicks who are Bond Girls with only occasional flashes of brilliance. Also, if c) you liked Stephanie Plum when you were a teenager but now feel embarrassed because she’s so trashy, but you still secretly like her, or d) you like reading books that make you want to travel and have adventures and solve mysteries. You have lots of options, see. While the main character is Sarah, the musicologist who is smart and a total geek about Beethoven but also has casual sex with hot guys because she just wants to. Because ladies can have sex if they want to, and it doesn’t make them have less of a Ph.D. or be less able to save the life of a little piano prodigy dying of a rare disease.

This novel has more or less the same conceit of the first one, with Sarah solving a problem using a drug that allows her to experience past events when she’s in the space they occurred in. The first book definitely had a bit more going for it in that it had a lot more to do with music history and this one deals with history more generally, and alchemy more specifically. That held a little less interest for me, since the musicology and archiving angles were a huge draw for me in the first book. I can’t say I was quite as compelled to never put the book down as I was with its predecessor – this one has some supporting characters whose journeys are not really all that interesting, and there are some threads that, while related to the major mystery, still somehow feel thrown in. But all in all, this was a book I enjoyed reading.

Somehow, Flyte manages to do time travel and mystery at the same time without being sci fi or dime a dozen crime novel. It takes on the conventions of both genres and is neither. It’s just fun. I haven’t really had fun reading lately, and this book was so refreshing. It’s a palate cleanser, but I don’t mean that in the way you call trashy, crappy books palate cleansers. It cleanses while still having skill and art to it. It’s not Literature with a capital L, but it’s not a throwaway. And where there are some things that made it a less compelling read, there is so much I respect about what it’s doing – the mixture of genres, the young professional angst and ennui, the placement of a girl in a usually male role but without the usual girl-playing-strong-female-in-a-man’s-role thing where she’s either super slutty or just super bitchy. Sarah’s not worried about proving herself to anyone. She has shit to do and wants to get it done. She accepts help when she’s offered it, and she’s sneaky when she needs to be. She doesn’t need to be rescued all the time, but she also understands that people who work together and who are friends and lovers rescue each other all the time when there is a Great Big Mystery and Crisis at stake.

Great job, Flyte ladies. Please write another one.

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