In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of otherworldly creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – a secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavice, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek find solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischerová– a widow with secrets of her own.
When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady – a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp, a mischievous spirit known to lead lost travellers to their death, but who, once captured, are bound to serve the desires of their owners.
After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavice that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.
As much as I love the Brits, I’m always looking for historical fantasy set in countries other than England so I was very excited to receive an ARC of The Lights of Prague. The atmosphere in this book definitely lived up to the hype, which was full of haunted castles and sinister underground tunnels, and the author used the trappings of the time period (the 1860s) to her advantage, as the reliance on gaslamps made the streets Prague feel appropriately spooky and an unwise place to be after dark. Jarvis definitely nailed the gothic feel. I would have loved more about the history and politics of Prague rather than just castles and cobblestones, but others may be satisfied with just the aesthetic trappings.
The plot starts off slow, but it gets more compelling as it progresses, and we learn more about who is really behind the pijavice (vampire) scheme to take over the city.
All that said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the character arcs in this book and the relationships – especially the romance between Domek and Ora – felt forced. Ora is the more interesting of the two characters; as a vampire, she’s had a long time to come to terms the challenges of being immortal and living among humans, and we get some interesting snippets of her life in prior centuries (also: a bisexual vampire, we love to see it). She also has a strong sense of justice in comparison to other vampires, which I found compelling. Domek, on the other hand, has no similar backstory and I found it hard to connect with him or understand his compulsion to hunt vampires beyond the superficial; this made the conflict between vampire and vampire hunter less compelling than it could have been.
It doesn’t help that the relationship between Domek and Ora starts in a weird place, plot wise – we’re told they already know each other and are good friends at the start of the story, but there was no immediate chemistry between them, and their closeness wasn’t backed up by the content of their conversations and their interactions with each other. It didn’t help that dialogue isn’t really a strength of this book; it’s often stilted at best and cliche at worst. (That goes for all the characters, not just our main duo).
Overall, I have fairly mixed feelings about The Lights of Prague. I loved the atmosphere but really wish more time had been dedicated to character development and fleshing out the relationship between Ora and Domek into a more passionate romance. Still, it’s definitely worth a read if you want gothic fantasy not set in England.
Note: I received an ARC from Titan Books. The Lights of Prague will be released on 25 May.