(Author: Benjamin Black) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)
Don’t let the beautiful cover and the fairytale-like description fool you, this book is nothing like what it seems.
I was beyond excited to request Prague Nights on NetGalley. And I can’t tell you how happy I was to start reading it.
Sadly, it was in vain.
Prague Nights is a dreary, boring, uneventful narrative about some equally boring events that did not happen in the court of Rudolf II.
In theory, this book could have been fantastic. Rudolf II was obsessed with the occult, with different curiosities, he was a patron of art and magic. Looking for the philosopher’s stone in 16th century Prague? How awesome is that?
Not very awesome, in this book.
The narrator and main character, Christian Stern, is a person who needs a hard slap. He is not remarkable in any way, he is not particularly talented, nor is he very smart, for that matter. Christian Stern is ordered by the emperor to investigate the death of a young girl. What he does instead of that is snoop around the court affairs, have sex, and think how he should investigate but isn’t. There is not a drop of suspense, because the narrator is in no way engaged in the drama unfolding in the palace. He is no part of it, he doesn’t know what the relations between the other characters are, he is usually at a loss as to how to act and what to do. The main event of the book being the death of Magda Kroll, Christian Stern plays no role in solving it. He just follows what other characters tell him to do and ends up learning information that is completely inconsequential, as everyone else already has the knowledge. Even in the end, he is just a passive observer. He doesn’t manage to achieve absolutely anything.
More so, out of what could have been an absurdly beautiful scene for the events of the book, my dream city of Prague, what we get is usually Stern’s cold house where he has sex. No enchanting adventures in the maze of streets of old Prague, no hidden treasures, no magic, no life in this book.
All of the events simply happen and we are forced to read about them from the view-point of the most uncharismatic outcast in the court of Rudolf II.
Lastly, what could have been the two most interesting characters in the book, Rudolf and his son Don Julius Caesar, are just mentioned as background information, and often mocked, while in reality, they were both probably insane, but also very interesting people.