I was originally aiming for this to be a preview, as Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s The Midnight Queen was first released last Tuesday, Sept. 2, but it took me longer to get through my last book than I’d planned. Another novel with magic as a central feature, I wish I’d skipped ahead to The Midnight Queen earlier. Aimed at a young adult audience, The Midnight Queen doesn’t take itself too seriously. It addresses issues related to sexism and women’s rights, but without being too heavy handed or preachy. This particular approach to magick weaves in many different (though largely European) cultures, languages, and legends. The Midnight Queen was a very welcome change of pace. It’s not the next Harry Potter, but it will appeal to those of us who will never be quite ready to let go of that kind of world.
Graham “Gray” Marshall is a Fellow at Merlin College until something goes horribly wrong one night when he’s on a mysterious errand with some classmates. His tutor, Professor Callendar, brings him home with him for the summer holidays in what seems like a punishment. But while staying with the professor’s family, Gray meets and befriends the Professor’s inquisitive and studious middle daughter, Sophie. Though the Professor doesn’t like the idea of his daughters learning magick, there’s something about it that draws Sophie in, leading her to urge Gray to tutor her in the subject. As his stay progresses, suspicious visitors and surprising happenings begin to uncover a larger plot against the head of the college and beyond, with Gray and Sophie leading the charge to unravel the scheme and prevent it from being realized.
While the beginning few chapters were a little choppy to me, I found the characters charming and engaging. I think it would have been better for the prologue to center around the various accounts of the Midnight Queen rather than the confusing happenings of the night Gray first becomes a target of the Professor and his associates. There isn’t enough of a break in narrative for those scenes to be separately distinguished from the first chapters and the tales of the Midnight Queen and the alternative history it establishes play a far more important role in the novel’s plot as a whole; when it finally does come up in the story itself, it’s distracting and confusing.
The plot as a whole is rather predictable and could be better balanced but it’s fine for the intended age range; I would have liked more details related to the conspirators that the heroes are trying to thwart, but it’s already rather long for the genre and target audience so I can live without them. I thought Hunter did a respectable job of adapting the actual time period in which the novel is set to her slightly altered history and addressing the still relevant challenges faced by women and girls. The issue isn’t glossed over or ignored, but it doesn’t distract from the plot or story being told either.
I found The Midnight Queen enjoyable, even with the plot holes and certain areas that could have used additional development. It is definitely the kind of book I loved reading in middle school, in the same vein as Princess Nevermore and Ella Enchanted.