I am always on the lookout for interesting books that involve some sort of magic school. What can I say? I will always be a little bit obsessed with Harry Potter. Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s The Midnight Queen combines two of my favorite things: magic and history. Naturally, I had pretty high hopes for this book.
When four Merlin College students go on a mysterious midnight mission, two end up on the infirmary, one is dead, and the other is blamed for his friend’s death. Gray Marshall knows nothing about why or how his roommate died, only that it happened when he left to get help. Ostracized by his remaining friends, Gray is sent to his professor’s estate for the summer as his position at Merlin is questioned. Under the scrutinizing eye of Professor Callender, Gray spends his summer stuck in the sweltering garden and wondering what happened to his power.
Sophie Callender has spent nearly her entire life sequestered at her family’s estate. But when her father’s student comes to stay, everything changes. Sophie has studied magickal theory against her father’s wishes for years. When Sophie confides her interest to the oddly charming Gray Marshall, he becomes her tutor. When the King’s closest advisor pays her father a visit and Gray starts acting strange, Sophie begins to question her own place. The accident in Oxford may not have been an accident at all, and Sophie and Gray must find out what exactly is going on before someone else ends up dead.
Where do I start? I liked the story. I thought it was interesting and actually pretty unique. I love the historical context, but the time period was really confusing (and this is coming from someone who spent four years studying British history). The most concrete clue was that the king was King Henry XII and he was a Tudor, but there hasn’t been a King Henry XII of England and the Tudor line ended with James I in 1625. My guess was that it takes place in the 19th century, given the language and the fact that women were permitted at college (there’s more proof of this in the sequel), though very rarely. Honestly, I don’t think I liked that Hunter fudged the history a bit without giving adequate clues – it’s okay, in my opinion, to create a completely different world or change history, but what she gave the readers to work with wasn’t cohesive and I ended up focusing on it instead of the story. Which is probably just the history nerd in me, but I’m just being honest here.
I also did like the characters. Gray and Sophie in particular were well developed and interesting. I could have used a bit more backstory on the secondary characters, particularly Professor Callender, but I understand why the author wanted to focus on her main characters. Still, some of the background info wasn’t integrated very well. I was very aware that the author was giving me backstory. Which I think is the main problem I had with this book. For some reason, I was conscious of the author the entire time I was reading it. I think it was her writing style – which fit the time period, but often seems a bit pretentious or affected. The action literally starts on page two, but it felt really slow. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I felt like I was being told a story instead of being immersed in it, which is what I like about books. I wanted to like this book so badly, but I couldn’t bring myself to care all that much about the action of the story (though I did care what happened to Sophie and Gray, but I didn’t think they were in any real danger).
I waffled between three and four stars for The Midnight Queen. I honestly still haven’t decided, but I feel like I’m always pretty generous in my ratings, and I couldn’t find a half star symbol, so I gave it four. I didn’t love it, but I did like it. I’d recommend it if your a fan of the magic school thing, because it was pretty different from the others I’ve read. Almost The Magicians meets Jane Austen with a touch of high fantasy thrown in. If you’ve read The Midnight Queen, let me know what you think in the comments below!
I did receive an ARC of the sequel, Lady of Magick, which I am currently reading, so look out for a review on that soon-ish!