The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented and highest born sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover.
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.
If you enjoyed The Split Worlds series, The Lie Tree , Rachel Aaron’s Nice Dragons series or Marie Brennan’s Natural History, you’ll love this. Being a history geek, I love the wealth of alternate information – the Roman traditions, the place names, the Tudor links and the magical twists on life. And the plot’s excellent – the story’s a real page-turner and you get so caught up in the story. I adore these books!
Grey starts off as the focus; lanky, unsure and plunged accidentally into the middle of something that’s obviously big but equally unclear. Accused of killing a fellow-student, he’s whisked off to the Professor’s country home, and meets Sophie – herself fascinating and with several mysteries following in her footsteps. As they work out what’s planned, they have to take drastic steps – and a flight across Britain follows, trying to save both King and Country.
The supporting characters are all excellent – the Professor (distracted and icy), Sophie’s sister Joanna (fond of meals and rather too outspoken for everyone’s liking), Mrs Wallis (smug and knows-something-you-don’t) – and the world is just wonderful. The little touches add so much brilliance, and the smallest detail can matter to the story (although it’s ok if you missed it, things are explained) and the alternate world history is so brilliantly envisioned. The plot races along, and the growing friendship of Sophie and Grey is so much fun to read. I may have nearly missed my stop on the train because I got sucked in!
I loved this – I don’t know why it’s not more popular, but it should be! I’ve already read the second one, Lady of Magick (which is just as good) and my fingers are itching to get the third, which is just out. If you like character-centred stories, magic, action, alternate histories, a love story and a story of someone learning that they can be who they want to be – read this.
Ps. This is one of my Discoverability Challenge books.