These two books had, for me, an uneven mix of good and bad. At times it seemed like I was reading the work of a bunch of peurile guys sitting around fantasizing about elements to add for a fun story: brilliant and beautiful heroine who loves sex, handsome and rich hero, cardboard evil woman (one for each of the books), an abundance of flatulence jokes, anonymous sex, instant sex, solitary sex, athletic sex, a bit of murder, a bit of mayhem, a travelogue (first for Prague, and in the second book, Vienna), hallucinogenic toenails, alchemy, and the obligatory dwarf.
[Much to my surprise, the bunch of peurile guys I imagined to be using the pseudonym Magnus Flyte actually turned out to be two female writers working in collaboration: novelist Meg Howrey and screenwriter Christina Lynch.]
In this sort of college version of Dan Brown (history/mystery/art/evil/blasts from the past), we follow the escapades of Sarah Weston, 26 when we first meet her, who is a graduate student of neuromusicology. She has been invited to Prague to be a part of a team of academics curating a museum collection at the Lobkowicz Palace, where she will work on authenticating the papers of Beethoven, whose work is her specialty. Sarah believes she has been selected on the recommendation of her mentor, Dr. Absalom Sherbatsky, who preceded her there but died mysteriously in a seeming suicide. He had always championed Sarah because of her seemingly heightened power of sense, which, however, is not as great as that of her precocious, blind 11-year-old piano student Pollina.
Pollina is distraught that Sarah is going to Prague. She warns her:
Prague is a threshold … between the life of good and…the other. Prague is a place where the fabric of time is thin.”
How does Pollina know this? It’s all part of the “spooky action at a distance” (as Einstein called quantum entanglement, or QE). Sarah doesn’t refer to QE directly, although she’s all over the ideas of dark matter and dark energy and the “relativity” of time. As PBS explains QE:
…results, coming from both theoretical and experimental considerations, strongly support the conclusion that the universe admits interconnections that are not local. Something that happens over here can be entwined with something that happens over there even if nothing travels from here to there—and even if there isn’t enough time for anything, even light, to travel between the events.”
And plenty of that happens in these books.
In Prague, Sarah joins forces with the heir to the castle – Max, and his friend the dwarf Nico, to discover why Dr. Sherbatsky died, why others are being murdered, and why even Sarah’s life is in danger for trying to get to the bottom of everything. In addition, she helps Max in his quest for the Golden Fleece, depicted in this series as a book that might contain “the mystical theory of everything, or spells of ultimate power, or maybe just a load of crap.” In order to find out, Sarah needs to take the hallucinogenic toenails….
The second installment takes place two years later, this time in Vienna, and reads even more like a travel guide that Arthur Frommer or Rick Steves might have written (after a hard night of drinking of drugs). There is a new absurdly Evil Female Villain, but now she is a Femme Fatale rather than a Government Baddie. Pollina plays a larger role, acting as a mirror to enable us to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys (as if we needed help): i.e., if you care about the blind prodigy child, you are Good. If you don’t, you are Evil.
Evaluation: These books incorporate an eclectic blend of art, music, and history, and have both positive and negative aspects. I’ve mentioned some of the negative; but I would be remiss not to point out that there are some very nice epistemological discussions of science versus magic, some great travel info (if a bit too much), and wonderful reflections on the power of music, “the language that transversed time.” So true.
If you would appreciate a “zany” sort of “mad-cap” mystery with lots of travel and art information, these books will definitely fit the bill.
Published by Penguin Books, 2012 and 2013