I can’t remember exactly when or why I picked up The Midnight Queen, but I think I was attracted by the references to the scholarship of magic. After Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, that’s proven to be something I enjoy reading about, particularly in alternate-history settings. This book reminded me of that, and of Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown in the sort of approach to integrating magic and history, while being on the lighter side — more Heyer than Dickens, if you want an idea of tone and style.
The Midnight Queen moves between London, Oxford and Brittany, and delighted my heart in a small, unobtrusive way by referring to the Welsh language as Cymric, and the country as Cymru, rather than Wales. (It’s a small touch, I know, but “wealas” in Saxon meant “foreigner”, so it’s nice to see a book using our word for ourselves as a matter of course.) It does the same with Breton, too, which proved interesting — there’s quite a few references to Breton customs and settings which is a little different in fantasy, I think.
The characters are likeable enough: the awkward Gray, and the lovely but trapped Sophia; lively Joanna, and Gray’s kind sister… they all work well as a cast you can root for, or in the case of the antagonists, hate. The magic is interesting, featuring various different types of magic — including Sophia’s own magic, wrapped in the power of song, like a Siren. It requires exploration on both Gray and Sophia’s part, though Gray starts off with a good grounding in it which allows him to guide Sophia and the reader.
I can see some readers finding it rather slow paced, particularly at the beginning; aside from a quick burst of initial action, there’s a longish section where not much seems to happen except Gray and Sophia talking to each other. I quite liked it anyway: it builds the relationship, which you do need for the later chapters to really work. The romance is sweet, without too many stupid setbacks due to lack of communication. Hurrah!
This is listed on Goodreads as a series, and I’ll be interested to see where it goes next — whether it follows the same characters, or perhaps takes a little detour into Joanna’s doings, or perhaps into the past with Laora. Personally, I’m up for it!