Book Review: Midnight Queen

Image from Penguin

The Midnight Queen
By Sylvia Izzo Hunter

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 432 pages (paperback)
2014, Ace Trade
ISBN: 9780425272459 (paperback)

I received this book for free from Penguin’s First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blurb from Penguin: 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. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…

What I liked:
Just want to quickly point out that I think the cover art for this book is fabulous. I adore the color gradient, subtle background pattern and the all-white text and images. I need to make a trip to my local bookstore just drool over it. I’m a sucker for period books about wizards – I don’t think the year was ever mentioned in this book, but I assume it was sometime in the 1800s, and it was set in England, so I was sold. Those with magical powers and those without live side by side – an element I tend to prefer over wizards and witches being some secret part of life that us normies don’t know about.

What really drew me into this book were the characters – Gray is a charming dork, with a passion for his magic and an eagerness to learn and teach. He seems like someone I could be friends with in real life. He’s also insecure, but not overly so – I never pitied him. He grew throughout the story too – which I sometimes think writer’s tend to gloss over. The ultra-powerful wizard trope is a popular one and I’m tired of reading about simply amazing characters who are crazy powerful, perfectly beautiful and can do no wrong. Gray is also not drop-dead gorgeous. He is “overly tall” and his crooked nose is mentioned several times. The lack of focus on his physique (no rock-hard abs here!) allowed me to focus on his personality and development. In short, he felt real to me. Sophie was the same way, though I didn’t feel as much of a connection to her, because most of the story focused on Gray’s perspective. She too was powerful, but not perfect – she struggled to control herself in certain situations and could be a bit of a brat sometime. The supporting cast was fairly well-developed too – I had a sense of who everyone was and they seemed fleshed out.

The romance in this novel took a back seat as well – it was there, surely, but not the central focus of the novel. While there is a plot to this story, it was very much character driven and I appreciate that Gray and Sophie’s characters weren’t erased by a heart-stopping instant love for each other. Their relationship developed naturally and felt honest, not forced down my throat. Again, it felt real!

+ Vocabulary Alert +
Hunter used quite a few words I’d never heard and a few that I’ve always been too lazy to look up!
adduce – to mention or provide something as evidence or proof to support an argument
bellicose – having or showing a tendency to argue or fight
cogent – very clear and easy for the mind to accept
garrulous – tending to talk a lot
splenetic – very angry and annoyed
stultify – to cause someone or something to become dull, slow
rusticate – to go into or reside in the country
epergne – an often ornate tiered centerpiece consisting typically of a frame of wrought metal bearing dishes, vases, candle holders or a combination of these
perspicacious – having or showing an ability to notice and understand things that are difficult or not obvious
diffident – lacking confidence; not feeling comfortable around people
peroration – the last part of a speech

What I didn’t like:
My biggest issue with this book was the pacing – while I was reading, I was enjoying the material,  but I never felt like I was making progress! To be honest, part of this may be my lack of interest in e-readers. My preference is physical books and when using an e-reader I often find myself distracted. But I also think that this book was just a slow read, it took me much longer to get through than I expected and towards the end I just wanted it to…well…end!

There were also a few errors that I think might be cosmetic and also related to the fact that I was reading an advanced copy on an e-reader. Often times the setting or time would just change – for example, Gray and Sophie would be conversing in a room, then the next paragraph would detail breakfast the next day. I’m guessing there were supposed to be some page breaks in here to clue me in that the setting or time was changing – so this is nothing about Hunter’s writing, but more the way my copy was formatted. However, it did happen several times and definitely affected my experience while reading. There were also random changes in point of view – while the book was told from the third person, most of the time it would follow Gray, occasionally divulging his thoughts on an issue, or depicting scenes from his view. Then suddenly the next paragraph would pop into Sophie’s head and it was disorienting.

My last issue was the ending. It was so abrupt and unfinished that I honestly feel it was a mistake. Given the errors with the missing page breaks in my copy, I’d love to say that maybe my ARC was just missing some pages and give Hunter the benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to describe, but the book wrapped itself up, so it wasn’t a cliffhanger ending. Yet, the book just ended – there was no closure and I feel that Hunter should have done something more to clue me in to the fact that she was done with her novel!

~

The above issues aside, I did enjoy the book. Amazon mentions that this is a “A Noctis Magicae Novel (Book 1)” so I can only assume Hunter plans to write more books in this universe. I would definitely read more in this series, however, I can’t say that I would rush out to grab the next novel. Midnight Queen is a solid read considering it’s Hunter’s debut, but for me it was very slow going, so at times it was hard to stay committed. If you’re into old-world, magical books – I believe this is also considered young adult – but you’re not looking for a fast-paced plot, then check it out.

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