Nicole Jarvis’ debut fantasy, The Lights of Prague, welcomes readers into an arresting and vivid historical fantasy world.
Set in 19th-century Prague, Jarvis’ careful and effective world building suggests an abundance of research and showcases her descriptive skill. In her version of the culturally rich European city, creatures from Czech folklore haunt its streets and endanger its citizens. Pijavice—vampiric monsters consumed by bloodlust—are particularly terrifying to those who walk alone at night. The Lights of Prague follows Domek Myska, an earnest member of the lamplighters, who in this world are also a monster-hunting secret society that keeps these creatures at bay, and Lady Ora Fischerová, a charming widow with her own ties to Prague’s supernatural underground.
The two protagonists’ paths cross and uncross as they each unravel the threads of a conspiracy that threatens the safety of the city, each bringing their own skillset to the fight to save Prague from doom. Their interactions exude chemistry when Ora’s playful flirtations bounce off Domek’s endearing shyness, a dynamic bolstered by how tangible and layered both characters feel when they are apart from each other. As the many secrets of her past unfold, Ora becomes especially engrossing. An intriguing cast of supporting characters surround the central duo, from a sentient and manipulative will-o’-the-wisp to an aristocratic pijavice who feeds on unwitting servants in his looming castle. Everything feels real, from the intriguing lore to the communities of people (and not quite people) who make up the gothic, powerful city.
The story unfolds at a measured pace, submerging the reader into moments of reflective exposition or lush descriptions of Prague. The book clocks in at more than 400 pages, and some of these passages can drag. Readers hoping for a fast-moving adventure might be left a bit wanting, but those interested in a story that’s meditative will enjoy spending their time in the world Jarvis has built. The Lights of Prague is an impressive and mature feat from a debut novelist.