The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

So, I knew when I started reading this book that I’d owned it and not read it for a while – I’ve got a bunch of those. I didn’t realize quite how long it had been – according to Goodreads, I’d shelved this book as “upcoming” in 2014. Whoops. You know how it is. You add a book to your “to be read” pile, it sits there through three years, five moves, and probably two or three hundred other books read. And yet, this seems like another case where I should have read it when I first bought the book – it quite possibly would have appealed to me more then.

The Midnight Queen is the story of Gray Marshall and Sophia Callender, him a student at the prestigious Merlin College at Oxford, she the daughter of his professor who, uh, might be trying to kill him. And also the master of the university. And also the king. It’s fine. If you hadn’t gathered by the name, Merlin College teaches magic. Or, well, magick. With a K. Ugh, I hate magick-with-a-K. The back of the book says it takes place during an alternate Regency England (as well as an alternate rural Brittany). Anyway, Gray and Sophia are powerful magicians, who set out to put a stop to her father’s scheme.

I want to start with the setting of this book, because I feel that’s where some of my more immediate issues are. Alternate Regency England and alternate rural Brittany. That’s fine. It’s… hard to pinpoint what exactly is alternate. Like, where is the jumping off point? Where does this book’s history diverge from our own? I’m guessing, based on the names for things, that the Roman Empire’s hold over Gaul lasted rather longer than it did in our own world (and thus possibly other places too? Like Iberia?). I think my problems with the worldbuilding here is that not much is done with it. It’s barely even flavor. It’s just… kind of there. In the names for things, and that’s about it. The setting should impact the story in some way or another, right? And it just doesn’t here. After reading so many books in this past year where the setting was really outstanding, this was just fairly jarring.

One of my other problems here was, alas… with the romance. I don’t need to tell you guys again how much I love a good romance, right? I really, really do. But, uh, this is… not one. This is a mediocre romance. Gray and Sophie are… well they certainly are people who have feelings about each other. But I don’t know that I’d call those feelings love, per se. Maybe friendship? There’s just no chemistry there. There’s always that moment of realization, where one of the characters suddenly realized that they’re in love with another, but here it just comes across as “oh, huh, she’s also hot, I guess.” And it’s not really any different for Sophie. One minute she thinks of Gray as a brother, the next she doesn’t (I hope).

The plot is certainly fine. I’m always down for a secret princess story (especially a witchy, magickal princess like Sophie). I like magic. I like stopping conspiracies to kill the king. These are good fantasy things. But to me, it seemed like there was really nothing here that set it apart. It didn’t feel particularly unique, which actually made me kind of sad. It’s not a bad story. And perhaps some of the other flaws would have bothered me less if the plot had been able to surprise me at any point during it. Or, you know, maybe not. It’s hard to say.

I liked Sophie as a character, and I liked Joanna and Mrs. Wallis. Sophie’s got spunk, she’s a fun princess, she’s got a good personality and a good head on her shoulders. Joanna is the fun little sister who ends up being way smarter and way more sensible than her older siblings, so maybe at some point they should’ve figured out that they should listen to her more, but that’s a common gripe for me. I was less impressed by the male characters, Gray in particular. Then again, it takes a lot for a male character to impress me, especially in an otherwise okay book.

In terms of the writing from a technical standpoint, I also had some issues with the pacing. This book felt like it took a long time to get going. I didn’t feel like the plot really kicked in until at least a hundred pages in (of a 400ish page book). After that, there was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. The pacing of a story should have natural ebbs and flows, but it seemed like very sudden transitions here. It probably would have been better had things been smoothed out somewhat – the highs a little less high and the lows a little less low. I’m pretty sure this was Hunter’s first novel, and perhaps these things would work themselves out with time and practice.

Overall, it was a fine book. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t awful. It just… sure was a story. Like I said, it may be that these are first-novel kinks and they’d be worked out in future books. I doubt I’ll pick up the second or third books in this series though,, but you know, maybe? I’m not ruling it out. But at the time, I can think of a dozen other things I’d rather read. And with so little time and so many books to read, I don’t like to make time for the ones that are just okay.

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