Novel Openings Case Study #6: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

The Save Venice fund-raiser began as these things do, with Bellinis, with tiny toast points topped with squid pate, and with swaying musicians playing the greatest hits of Italian opera beneath a fresco by Tiepolo. Sequined women and tuxedo-clad men stepped out of teak vaporetti onto the private dock at Ca’ Rezzonico, where, it was hoped, strong drink and the thought of beautiful palazzi sinking into the sands below would lift wallets as easily as a child pickpocket in the Piazza San Marco.

The organizers were salivating, greeting a German fashion designer, an American hedge fund owner, and a dour British playwright. Models had been hired to improve the beauty quotient, since billionaires are not especially attractive up close.


There’s a prologue. Okay, calm down, Kim. It’s only 3 pages. (Don’t you just hate prologues that span the length of an entire chapter!?) Alright. Epic win…or epic fail!? First of all, there is a lot of Italian words that I don’t understand. This opening seems very depersonalized, as in like there is no focus on a character–not even people in general. It’s more about the fundraiser event and its visual particulars, and it’s mostly atmospheric. It kind of feels like the function itself is a mechanism, peopled by important social, political and artistic figures titles, where they gather so they can be enchanted into donating money. Yes, it feels very mechanical (not in a dull, lifeless way), and there is enough intrigue for me to keep going.


The foreign Italian words immediately made me think of Venice–or the many stereotypical images of Italy: bridges, gondolas, European/historical buildings, sparkles of city lights. I think the words add to the overall atmospherics and picture. The depersonalized descriptions of human characters (such as Sequined women and tuxedo-clad men) put an emphasis on their class or status–or the appearance of these individuals and what they are here for. There is an air of superficiality: I’m getting the feeling that all the people that attend this function are simply there to show their face or to perform a role. You don’t know who these people are. It doesn’t matter because the organizers just want them to donate. It’s a friendly, extravagant facade in which people gathered to smile at each other.


I’m a highly character-oriented reader so usually a depersonalized opening will throw me off, but there is a sense of fluidity and mystery in the opening passage, as one image seems to flow into the next and the pacing is very smooth. We are just scratching the surface, and I feel like there is more to be unveiled. There is a secret buried under this lush and high class party. Later on in the prologue, a few people jump out of the window, seemingly having committed suicide. The depersonalized and detached tone remains: the distant voice teases you with a feather and promises you more mystery.

Needless to say I am sold, since I am several chapters in already. This is coming from a reader who has high resistance to prologues. Maybe I’m not as prologue-resistant as I would like to think I am.

Also, from the back cover I learned that this is potentially time-travelling narrative, I am noticing a few teasers already…who is Beethoven’s mysterious lover? Why was he yelling like a freak at one point at his patron’s family? What does Polly’s dream mean–is it prophetic? Promises, promises. They’re there for you to recognize, I think, and they’re not annoyingly overdone.

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