The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis
Titan, pb, £7.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Domek is a lamplighter of Prague. His job is to light the new gas lamps around the city and protect the inhabitants from the monsters that hide in the shadows. During a patrol, he finds a pijavica, a vampire, with a will o’ the-wisp in a jar and stumbles into a plot to rid the pijavica of their intolerance to daylight. Uncertain who to trust with knowledge of the wisp and its power, Domek finds an unlikely ally in Lady Ora Fischer, a pijavica, who has renounced feeding off people for more humane feeding methods. Between them, they must uncover the truth behind who is trying to free pijavica from the shadows so they can turn the humans of Prague into cattle.
On the surface, The Lights of Prague sounds like my perfect book, an atmospheric horror set in an old city full of superstition but with eyes set firmly on the future and science. I have been to Prague and fell in love with the architecture. The Charles Bridge, lined with statues, is the perfect place for monsters to lurk for unsuspecting mortals out late. Unfortunately, this book contains more telling than showing, which kept me from engaging emotionally with the characters and events.
Told from the points of view of Domek and Ora, we follow an oddly paced story. It starts with a bang, Domek fighting a pijavica on Charles Bridge and finding the wisp in a jar. After this intense start, the story trails off with lots of scene-setting and character background as they go about their lives. Plot movement is in fits and starts that I was distanced from because of the telling instead of showing style. This meant that some crucial decisions, such as Ora returning to her maker, whom she hates, lost their gravitas.
I also found the characters of Domek and Ora falling on the side of tropes. She is an old vampire with an appreciation for mortals. She has shunned the old ways and lives in the human world at night. Domek is a gentle giant, noble and sensitive, capable of great violence and compassion. Their relationship was that of Romeo and Juliet, two enemies in love. For me, there was very little new, and that includes the twists and betrayals that I will not go into here so as not to give any spoilers.
That isn’t to say there weren’t good elements. When Jarvis is building the romance between Domek and Ora, the passion is bursting out of the restraints of polite society and social standing. That element popped from the pages. Those sections showed promise, and it is unfortunate that promise didn’t follow through in the rest of the story.
While The Lights of Prague was ultimately not for me, I have no doubts many will be captivated by this tale full of twists and turns and doomed romance, not hindered by the writing style.