Review: The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

The Midnight QueenThe Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter (Noctis Magicae #1)

Genre: Fantasy, Fantasy of Manners

Publisher: Ace on September 2, 2014

Source: Library

Rating StarRating StarRating StarRating Star

Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.
Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.
Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them…

Fantasy Review Icon Review Icon Swoon

Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN is a clever and sophisticated historical fantasy with charming characters and a delightful alternate Regency setting. I would classify this as a fantasy of manners book, a fantasy novel that mimics the structure and tropes of a classic comedy of manners. Struggling with a hierarchical social structure, battling one’s enemies with wit and intrigue, and chaste romance are all hallmarks of the subgenre.

Graham ‘Gray’ Marshall is such a wonderful hero, particularly for the setting. He’s intelligent, he’s kind, he’s respectful, and he’s not deluded into thinking that women are less capable than men. In a historical setting like alternate Regency England, a man who’s not a misogynist is a bit of a shock, albeit a pleasant one. Personally I find it difficult to root for asshole heroes, but maybe I’m crazy! Anyway. Gray is an unusual romantic hero: shy and withdrawn, he struggles to articulate anything emotional when he’s in Sophie’s presence. But thankfully he can discuss magick with her, and the two of them build their friendship (and more) on a foundation of…well, magickal geekiness. It’s awesome.

While the world building in THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN isn’t particularly elaborate, Sylvia Izzo Hunter includes enough detail to keep the world of Merlin College and its magickal students fresh and original. I especially appreciated the inclusion of a symptom of spell casting called ‘magick shock,’ a horrible and debilitating exhaustion that comes of expending too much power in a short time. In my mind, any well thought out magical system or supernatural abilities should have at least one major drawback lest the characters become so powerful that it verges on the ridiculous.

One of the things that I like best about THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN is its feminist message and commitment to female empowerment. Yes, this novel is set in an alternate Regency England, a time when women – even those of high rank – had few options. And yes, Sylvia Izzo Hunter does take pains to convey that Sophie and Joanna are forced to act contrary to their desires because of male oppression (i.e. their father, Professor Callendar). But Hunter also incorporates moments of defiance, autonomy, and sheer gutsiness from Sophie and Joanna that really impressed me. And their “girl power” moments are supported by Gray ever step of the way!

Sophie desperately desires magickal knowledge and her heart’s desire is to become a scholar, but under the current rulership women in England cannot attend university and women are considered unfit for academia. Rather than take this lying down, Sophie skulks around after hours to scour famous magickal treatises so that she may learn more. Similarly, Sophie’s younger sister Joanna subverts expectations of female behaviour with her thirst for adventure and her refusal to kowtow to any authority figure. At one point her guardian calls her the most disobedient girl in the Kingdom, and she’s not far off! I have a soft spot for Joanna, in case you can’t tell.

Aside from the charming characters and the intriguing feminist elements, there’s also an intriguing plot in THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN. When Gray arrives at the estate where Sophie and Joanna live with their father, it quickly becomes clear to him that something strange and sinister is afoot. Professor Callendar is entirely too interested in what Gray may or may not have seen during the chaotic events at Merlin College; the Professor’s increasingly suspicious and erratic behaviour concerns Gray, Sophie, and Joanna alike. If they and their friends are to make it out in one piece, they’ll need to keep their wits – and their magickal talents – about them.

Court intrigue and magickal politics play an integral role in THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN, contributing to the world building and the suspense surrounding Sophie, Gray, and Joanna’s adventure. Although there’s tension and action throughout the novel, I wouldn’t call it fast paced by any stretch. Those seeking high-octane thrills should probably look elsewhere. But if you’ve ever wondered what a Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer novel would have looked like with magic, then THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN is the book for you!

Have you read any fantasy of manners books? What do you think of feminism in historical settings? And if you’ve read THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN, how much did you love the kooky cast of characters? Inquiring minds want to know!

Related Posts

  • Tammy Sparks

    Well, I’m a big Jane Austen fan so this sounds amazing. I think I may even have a copy, so I may dust it off and give it a try! Thanks for reminding me about this:-)

    • Who doesn’t love Jane Austen, right? You’re welcome! It’s always nice to give those unread books on your shelf a second look. Goodness knows I should do the same! 😉

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Female empowerment is a good thing. I had heard this book is slow, but sounds like it has traits that make it worth reading 🙂

    • Girl power to the max! Yes, this is definitely a slow-moving book. Personally I still thought it was compelling, but if you don’t like Regency era novels or stylistic conventions then it’s probably not for you. I happen to love both, so it worked well for me! 🙂

  • Oh my goodness, you got me with the double threat icons of ‘Swoon’ and ‘Fantasy! I love my slightly beta male love interest, plus this book has feminist messages you say? It sounds like it’s ticking all of my boxes, I would never have heard of this book without your review, thank you!! I will definitely be looking into it!

    • RIGHT? The best possible combo, imo. I enjoy both the alpha and beta types, but I really liked the beta hero here because it let the heroine be the more forceful personality. You are very welcome! Definitely recommend it if you enjoy slower-paced, atmospheric fantasy.

  • While I understand it’s supposed to fit the “style” of the story/era, but come on Gray and Sophie, everyone around you can see what you guys are too blind to see, just get together already! The story was also a bit predictable for my tastes, but I’m keen on picking up book two especially since it apparently starts with the two of them married. A lot of interesting places the story can go.

    ~Mogsy

    • LOL, honestly I kind of love those romances. And I thought it worked for them since they both started out with such woefully low self-esteem – how could she/he be into me? etc. Yeah I’m excited for book two, as well! More Merlin College, please! 🙂

  • Jan

    This sounds fun, Danya. I just read Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho which has sounds like it has a similar vibe. I’ll have to take a look at The Midnight Queen.

    • I’ve been hearing lots of great things about Sorcerer to the Crown! If it’s anything like The Midnight Queen (historical fantasy with romance) I’m sure I’ll love it.

  • Colour me intrigued by this one. To be honest, I have already been drawn in by the cover on Goodreads but haven’t actually looked into buying. After reading this review, I may have to investigate buying because this sounds great. A book with a regency era setting that has a feminist message! Who wouldn’t want to read that?

    • The cover art sucked me in too, honestly! UGH so true, historical fantasy, feminism, and romance? Deadly combo. If you like slower-paced novels then you’ll love this one!

      • See, I have a love/hate relationship with slower paced novels. If done well I am sucked in and love it, but if the pacing is too slow I can get bored. It is partially down to me being in the right frame of mind for it in a book, and I think I would be when a book has a historical setting. I don’t know why that makes me to expect a slower pace, but it does.

  • Maraia

    This sounds fun. I’m all for fantasy and swoons. And my library even has it! I looked for Nice Dragons Finish Last but can’t find it. Not a single library in my state owns it. =/

    • You know I think that swoons get a bad rap, but personally I live for them. Give me swoons or give me death! Ahhh yes, so the reason why you can’t find NDFL anywhere is because it’s self-published by the author under her own LLC. If you want to read it you’ll have to buy an ebook copy or audio. If you end up buying it, let me know! 🙂

      • Maraia

        Haha, exactly! I love a well-done swoony fantasy or contemp. I’ll admit that I can’t handle straight-up romance novels, though. I even tried Romancing the Duke, but it’s not meant to be. 😛

        Oh, good to know. I just checked on Amazon, and it looks like it’s available through Kindle Unlimited. Someone gave me a short subscription for my birthday and, um, I kind of haven’t started it yet. I will put NDFL at the top of my list.

  • Well, I guess I’m adding another book to my tbr. *sigh*
    HOW DO YOU DO THAT?! You make the books you like sound so interesting and pretty and I want to read them all. Jane Austen with magic? Sounds perfect.

    • Hehehehe, you’re welcome! 😉 It’s my gift to you. If you’re in the mood for a slower-paced, character driven novel, THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN is a no-brainer.

  • Lynn Williams

    I love the sound of this and you have a ‘swoony’ badge so that definitely intrigues me!
    How does the feminism work with the historical setting? Intriguing minds wish to know.
    Lynn 😀

    • Ahhh I’m glad you asked! So the book kind of follows the main conventions of Regency era novels, largely that women are viewed as less intelligent than men by society and they’re expected to be subservient to their husbands. In THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN, the relationship between Sophie and Graham doesn’t fit those conventions at all. Sophie is clearly intelligent and more capable than most of the men around her; she articulates that, and Graham supports her desire to go to university (as does her younger sister). Plus their whole relationship is built on equal partnership, and Sophie campaigns for women to go to university. Yay! Loved it. 😀

      • Lynn Williams

        Sounds good. I do like fantasy of manner type stories. I will (groan) add this to my pile!
        Lynn 😀

  • Anya E. J.

    Yey, I loved this book! I was worried the slower pace wouldn’t work for me, but I read it in the right mood so I was just delighted with the lyrical writing. And I totally loved the girl power aspects, I probably couldn’t have enjoyed it otherwise 😉