The Midnight Queen
by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
432pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.1/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.53/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.5/5

Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel The Midnight Queen was published in fall 2014. Since then, a second book in the Noctis Magicae series, Lady of Magick, has been released. A third book, A Season of Spells, is scheduled for publication toward the end of this year—and I am delighted that there are more books in this series to read since I thought The Midnight Queen was quite charming.

Gray Marshall, an especially powerful mage studying at Merlin College, finds himself in quite a predicament after he and several other students do a job for Professor Callender: one of the other young men was killed during their outing and the others decided, rather unfairly, to blame his death on Gray. While recovering from this incident, Gray awakens and overhears part of a conversation between Professor Callender and another man outside his door that leads him to believe they are plotting to remove the Master of Merlin. Later, Professor Callender informs Gray he shall be spending the Long Vacation with him at his country home—and Gray knows this is not a request but a command, as the Professor also states he will otherwise have to agree with others that Gray no longer belongs at Merlin College.

After their arrival at the estate, Gray becomes acquainted with the Professor’s middle daughter Sophie. The two enjoy each other’s company but are each puzzled by the other. Sophie finds Gray very unlike the students her father has brought home in the past: he’s far more clever and less pompous and sycophantic, and it’s quite clear Gray and the Professor despise each other. Gray is confused to sense magick when the only other person nearby is Sophie, who—despite being interested in the study of magick—insists she has none of her own.

The longer Gray remains the Professor’s captive, the more he wonders exactly what secrets the man is keeping. After Sophie’s younger sister Joanna nearly falls to her death at the Temple of Neptune (a trap Gray is quite certain was intended for him) and a visitor arrives who sounds exactly like the man plotting the downfall of the Master of Merlin in the hallway, Gray begins to investigate, and later shares what he’s learned with others, including Sophie. As Gray and Sophie further unravel these mysteries, they discover a conspiracy with even larger, farther reaching consequences than they’d feared—and that the Professor’s plans involve revealing the truth about Sophie, previously unknown even to her.

The Midnight Queen is a delightful book. It’s not particularly complex with the major characters fitting rather neatly into “good” or “evil” categories, it can be predictable, and it’s a little slow to start, but it was completely enjoyable nonetheless. Though it took some time to get going, I was immediately interested in reading about Gray and Sophie, and once the secret about Sophie was brought to light, I was hooked.

It’s a difficult book to categorize. My first instinct was to call it “historical fantasy” since it’s set in British lands and feels quite like a Regency novel—the elaborate prose style, the expectations society have of women and Sophie and Joanna’s rejection of them, and the expectations Gray’s father has of him and the consequences of his rejection of them. However, despite the overall atmosphere seeming like it could have been Great Britain with magick, it’s very different from our world’s past and it’s altered enough that I’m not actually sure what era it would be. The current monarch is King Henry the Twelfth, and a variety of gods, including Greek and Roman, are worshiped since Christianity never became a major world religion. I really loved how the differences between our world and this fictional world were woven into the story: it was quite unobtrusive and integrated in quiet ways, through the language, traditions, local temples, and rituals.

The romance between Gray and Sophie is also a central part of the story. It’s a rather low key romantic relationship that grows through friendship and mutual respect, and as such it’s free from a lot of tension, angst, and drama. Sophie and Gray have alternating perspectives, and even when it’s clear to the reader that each admires the other, they are each oblivious to the other’s feelings. This is the closest to dramatic romance the story comes, but it’s still not terribly overwrought with misunderstandings galore.

Though they weren’t terribly complex characters, I enjoyed reading about both of them and thought they were great together. They’re both clever and brave people who want to do the right thing. Sophie not only finds someone who encourages her interest in magickal studies, but someone who appreciates her intellect and doesn’t feel threatened when she’s better at something than he is (which is the complete opposite of the way she’s been treated most of her life). I loved Sophie’s tenacity that kept her from letting obstacles get in the way of her desire to learn.

The two main characters aren’t the only ones who work together to prevent the Professor’s dastardly plans from coming to fruition, and the other characters are also wonderful. I especially loved Sophie’s bluntly outspoken younger sister Joanna and Gray’s kind sister Jenny. As much as I did like them, some more depth could have made them more memorable overall since they were rather black and white, though. The “evil” characters other than Professor Callender also weren’t terribly fleshed out, and he had no redeeming qualities at all that I could see. He was greedy, condescending, not particularly talented or clever, and commonly regarded as being laughably incompetent.

Although more complexity could have moved this book from “great” to “phenomenal,” I still enjoyed The Midnight Queen immensely. It’s less dark than the books I normally love, but I found it to be an engaging story with a likable main cast, family secrets, hidden identities, and plots to foil that kept me eagerly turning the pages.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

This book is March’s selection from a poll on Patreon.