Tour Review: The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Titan Books (May 25, 2021)
Length: 416 pages
Set in 19th century Prague, Nicole Jarvis’ historical fantasy debut opens on a world at the cusp of great change. Society has been introduced to countless wonderful new scientific technologies, paving the way for an era of cultural and artistic development. Residents of the city are enjoying a revolution of sorts, with everything around them changing quickly, becoming better and more modern. However, unbeknownst to its citizenry, Prague is still a dangerous place, hiding many secrets in its shadows. Thanks to men like Domek Myska and his fellow Lamplighters though, everyone can sleep a little more soundly. Our protagonist is part of a guild of monster hunters who patrol the streets at night, keeping the gas lamps burning, vanquishing any supernatural creature unfortunate enough to cross his path. As the story begins, Domek has just had a run-in with a particularly nasty pijavica, a vampire-like predator. After killing it, he discovers what the creature had been transporting—a mysterious container with a will-o’-the-wisp trapped inside. Curious about his find, Domek contemplates taking the wisp to the guild scientists, but winds up befriending it instead, learning that its name is Kája.
Along the way, he also becomes drawn to Lady Ora Fischevá, our other major POV character who is a wealthy widow with a reputation for being a little eccentric. What no one realizes though, is that the noblewoman actually cultivates that image to her advantage, in order to prevent people from looking too deeply into her affairs. The truth is, she is a pijavica, currently working on her own investigation into rumors about a possible cure for vampirism. Having survived for centuries, Ora has mostly turned away from the more violent and baser instincts of her kind, but for some, it won’t matter—she’ll always be a soulless monster. Unaware of Domek’s affiliation with the Lamplighters, she strikes up a relationship with the young man, while he also finds himself growing more attracted to her, completely clueless as to her true nature. As the bond between our two main characters deepens, so too does the urgency to expose those behind the conspiracy that has bought them together, but of course, it’s also only a matter of time before they find out the truth about each other.
Drenched in history and atmosphere, The Lights of Prague is an intelligent and moody work of fiction combining supernatural and urban fantasy elements. Nicole Jarvis has a way with words, bringing the setting to life with flowing, confident prose. Her world-building feels at once strange and wonderful, from the grand museums and lavish opera halls in which we find Lady Ora and the upper class circles she runs in, to the dank crypts and alleyways where Domek often hunts his prey. I loved that our two main characters come from different worlds, in more ways than one, as it allowed readers to experience so much more of the author’s version of Prague—both its fantastical side, as well as the mundane.
I was also fascinated by the characters, as individually they were each quite compelling, though I confess I was probably more impressed with how well the two clicked with they were together. Domek is a level-headed man of purpose and principles, but he’s not so rigid as to be unwilling to consider other ways of doing things. That makes him a pretty good match for Ora, who is charming and vivacious, for all that she is secretly a pijavica. I was a huge fan of her character, the way she flouted social norms and expectations, following her heart wherever it leads her. Despite her socialite ways, there’s also a depth to her that’s only revealed in her more private moments. Ora has something of a heartrending backstory, one that gives her current mission quite a bit more meaning and substance. It’s when she and Domek are in each other’s presence, however, that things get really interesting, as neither are aware they are on opposite sides of a primal conflict.
And when their investigative paths coincide, that’s when the story really heats up. Prior to that, the pacing was more of a slow burn, but the action ticks up noticeably after the halfway point, as does the intrigue in the overall mystery. For me, Kája was a highlight as well, and I enjoyed how such a seemingly minor side character came to occupy such a large place in my heart by the end of the book! Bottom line, there were so many moving parts to this book, I was quite amazed Jarvis was able to weave them all together while losing none of the gothic elements or atmospheric vibes.
All in all, I had a good time with The Lights of Prague, a historical fantasy I would recommend to readers looking for a more sophisticated kind of vampire and monster hunter story.