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…
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It was his own fault entirely, Gray reflected later. That morning in Merlin’s South Quad, when Taylor and Woodville had pressed him to join them in some not-quite-specified excursion, he ought to have known that no good would come of it; what good had ever come of Taylor and Woodville before?
“It is a special commission of Professor Callender in the town,” said Taylor. “I am sure he would be very pleased . . .”
“It would do you no harm, Marshall, to render him a service,” said Woodville. “And,” he added delicately, “there may be some coin in it for you, if we speed well.”
A hit below the belt, indeed, but that was only what one expected of Alfric Woodville.
“I have run afoul of the P-proctors b-before,” Gray pointed out. “I am not very eager to do so again.”
“Nonsense!” said Taylor bracingly. He clapped Gray on the shoulder, with some force; Gray stumbled, half in reaction to the blow, half startled by Taylor’s sudden camaraderie. “What can the Proctors do, when we are commissioned by a Senior Fellow?”
Gray had wished very much to know why, if this was indeed his tutor’s business, the Professor could not simply discharge it himself, but he had not been able to get the words out. Having now some inkling of the circumstances, he doubted that Taylor or Woodville would have told him in any case.
“Give me t-t-time to think,” he had said instead.
In the end, however, he had agreed to be of the party. Crowther and Evans-Hughes—good, solid, trustworthy men, though perhaps rather easily led, and the latter in particular always rather short of coin, since (like Gray) he spent too much of his scholarship income in the bookshops of the High-street—had been talked round by Taylor, or perhaps Woodville. They in turn had recruited Gautier, who always seemed to Gray to be in need of looking after, and these three earnestly represented to Gray the advantages to all of having with them the most powerful mage of the Middle Common Room.
After a year’s almost constant disparagement by Professor Callender, Gray dismissed this as patent flattery, but the participation of Evans-Hughes and Crowther did lend a more respectable air to the proceedings.
Finally young Gautier had said, with perfect gravity, “Please, Marshall, do come with us; we should all feel safer, you know.” And Gray—perhaps feeling the effect of having grown up with three younger siblings—had let himself be persuaded.
Thus it was that, in the depths of a murky June night, six Merlin men came to be stealing along Oxford’s New Road in the general direction of their College. The street being otherwise dark and still, their black gowns and subfusc formed a dense creeping shadow against the night.
Taylor and Woodville were cautiously triumphant; the others, knowing themselves by now to be embroiled in something at best equivocal, had long ceased to enjoy themselves and thought only of returning to the safe haven of the College walls.
“What’s the hour?” whispered Crowther.
Evans-Hughes replied, “Nearly one past midnight.”
“Apollo, Pan, and Hecate!” said Gautier. “We shall all be killed on sight!”
“Shut it, you fools,” hissed Woodville.
They were about to round a corner when from over the road came the sound of heavy footsteps.
A moment later a crowd of townsmen was upon them, in drink and in vicious mood. The historic tendency to mistrust University mages, who shut themselves up in book-rooms instead of putting their talents to good honest work in field or pasture or sick-room, was suddenly of very much more than academic import to the Merlin men.
“Look at ’em, sneaking about the streets when decent folk are abed!”
“Aye, and working nasty magicks, I’ll wager.”
The angry mutters crescendoed into shouts: “Have at ’em, mates! Knock ’em down!”
Though few of the townsmen were armed, and none heavily, their advantages in size, strength, and numbers were quickly felt. The air was chill and heavy with dew, and Gray succeeded in drawing down a fall of hailstones, then another and another, which drove back several of their attackers but, alas, only enraged the rest. One flung something at his head; he tried to dodge it but succeeded only in changing the angle of impact. To his left, Woodville had summoned a deadfall tree-limb from someone’s garden and was wielding it, inexpertly, as a sort of flail; to his right, Evans-Hughes bloodied the nose of a young man nearly twice as wide as himself, grinned in fleeting triumph, and then was borne back against Crowther by an answering blow to his temple and fell insensible upon the cobbles.
Taylor, alone of the students, did not fight at all; he was entirely occupied with the teakwood box cradled in his arms, hunching and twisting his body to shield it both from sight and from harm. When the tide of the fight pushed Gray near him, all the hairs stood up on the back of his neck.
Young Gautier darted between two staggering townsmen, caught Gray’s arm, and pressed a handkerchief to his bloodied mouth. “Go and get help, if you can,” he urged, his voice low and urgent. “Get the Professor—get anyone—even if it must be Proctors.”
A moment later, Gray’s gown fluttered down to rest atop a heap of now-outsized garments, and Gautier tossed a large grey owl into the air, to take desperate flight in the direction of the College.
A few lights still burned in upper windows at Merlin, among them that of Appius Callender, Regius Professor of Magickal Theory—tonight playing the expansive host to a party of distinguished and influential guests. The Professor was calling fire to light his pipe when something outside the window caught his eye, and the fire streaked past the pipe-bowl to set his robe alight. Distracted by this embarrassing contretemps, he did not recognise the owl.
The great bird approached the open window and—instead of sailing neatly through it—crashed headfirst into the barrier of a reinforced double ward, fell two storeys, and landed in a heap on the cobblestones.
There it struggled briefly to right itself, then quivered and shimmered and grew into Gray Marshall, sprawling dazed and naked in the street.
Gray staggered to his feet and looked up at the window. “Professor!” he shouted. “Professor, trouble! Help!”
There was no answer from above.
With an effort, Gray raised his voice to maximum volume and bellowed, “Help! Help, anyone! Proctor! Porter! A fight in the New Road—Merlin men in danger!”
Heads began to emerge from windows; Gray turned with profound relief towards the usually menacing sound of the Proctors’ men erupting from the Porter’s Lodge near Merlin’s back gate. “The New Road,” he repeated.
Then he swayed on his feet, reached out for support, and, failing to find it, collapsed, striking his head hard upon the cobbles.
Gray woke, groggy and with pounding head, in utterly strange surroundings—not in the Infirmary, nor in his own rooms overlooking the Garden Quad, but (he eventually discovered) lying on a pallet in what seemed a windowless box-room, and covered only by a rough blanket, long unlaundered.
His head ached so that he could scarcely think. His first efforts to sit up and look about him proving spectacularly unsuccessful, he subsided, retching and gasping for breath, to his original supine posture.
Eyes closed, he lay still, sorting out the half-familiar smells. Pipe tobacco was among them, he decided at last; bergamot, juniper, mace; a nose-wrinkling undertone of asafoetida.
“Mother Goddess!” Gray whispered suddenly. The smell was very like his tutor’s study.
The room was dark; no door was visible. Stretching out his hand, he tried to call light—as he had done thousands of times since first learning to use his magick as a child—the better to investigate his surroundings.
It was when the effort failed, and left him dizzy and seeing spots, that he began to see what trouble he was in.
Approaching footsteps warned Gray an instant before the door opened. Instinctively he closed his eyes and relaxed his limbs, breathing deeply to feign sleep.
“Well?” A bass voice, impatient.
“There; do you see?” he heard the Professor say. “The boy fancies himself a master shape-shifter and has drained his magick down with that idiotic stunt. He will sleep for hours yet.”
“Very well,” said the basso. “He will give thanks for a lucky escape, I should hope.”
“And you are certain the wards on the outer walls will hold?” said another voice—this one higher and faintly nasal.
“What do you take us for?”
“Leave the boy, then; we have not finished.”
The door closed, the footsteps retreated; but Gray, now listening hard, could still—just barely—hear the voices, though their words came to him only in disjointed phrases.
“We dare not act before the Samhain term,” said the nasal voice. “. . . too much groundwork left to lay . . . afterward we shall have little time to prepare . . .”
“. . . great pity that your students failed you so badly, Professor,” said the basso; his tone rode the knife’s edge between commiseration and mockery. “I know . . . counting on them to provide—”
“We do not know yet that they have failed,” the Professor retorted, louder. “All we do know is that they were waylaid on their return. I shall see tomorrow how they have sped.”
“And can another such attempt be made . . . seek it elsewhere?” This was the nasal voice, which Gray was finding more and more unnerving.
“Leave all of it to me.” The Professor’s tone grew louder yet, impatient. “What would you have me do? If your involvement is revealed, then all our efforts here will have been for naught. You must let me work in my own way.”
“But of course,” his companion replied, soothing now. “You must . . . think best.” Then his voice sharpened, and Gray heard him clearly: “Only make very certain that no one can draw any connexion to you, or to any of this night’s doings, when the Master is gone. Do not give me cause to regret granting you the choice of subjects to test your method.”
At this Gray, who had been sitting upright, one ear pressed to the box-room door, fell back with a little gasp. I am dreaming, surely. Have I just now overheard a plot to do away with the Master of Merlin? No—surely this is only some academic contretemps? Mother Goddess, bountiful and kind, wake me from this nightmare . . .
Gray woke again, slowly and painfully, to the Professor’s impatient voice. Sleep had not helped him; on the contrary, the blinding headache and general malaise had been joined by a wide assortment of very specific aches and pains.
Worst, he was still stark naked in his tutor’s box-room—and desperately needing the privy.
“I am awake now, sir,” he managed to say. June sunlight streamed in the open doorway; he screwed his eyes shut against the pain. “S-sir, are—the others, are they—”
“Nothing you need worry about, my boy,” the Professor replied, with the heartiness Gray had come to dread. “Taylor and Evans-Hughes are in the Infirmary, but the healers tell me they will be themselves again in no time at all.”
He did not address the obvious questions: What of the rest? Why was Gray here, and not in the Infirmary with Evans-Hughes and Taylor? How long had he been here?
A scout loomed behind him in the doorway, carrying a stack of folded clothes, a basin and ewer, a towel, Gray’s shaving kit. He looked about him impassively for some surface on which to place them.
“Now, Marshall,” the Professor went on, “I have sent for some things from your rooms, and when you have washed and dressed I shall take you to the Infirmary. Though there is very little the matter with you, I expect.”
Gray was about to blurt out that something was very wrong indeed, but it had become a matter of instinct with him by now never to offer his tutor any unnecessary advantage over him. “Y-y-yes, sir,” he said instead.
“Good, good. On you go, then.” And the Professor was gone, leaving Gray alone with the scout.
“You may as well put all of it on the floor,” Gray said, wearily. “What can it matter? Here—let me take that.” He relieved the man of the basin and ewer. “And I thank you. I am much obliged to you.”
“Sir.” The scout, looking faintly surprised, nodded at him, then began dusting off a trunk to serve as a dressing-table.
Gray set down the basin and ewer and looked through the pile of clothes. There was a handkerchief that was not his—a minuscule AG was embroidered in one corner—and something else vital was missing. “Do you—” He stopped. “I b-beg pardon; I do not know your name . . .”
“Baker, sir,” said the scout, without looking up.
“Baker, I wonder—do you know what became of my gown?”
“I am sorry, sir,” Baker replied. “I couldn’t rightly say.”
Once in the Infirmary, Gray contrived to escape, briefly, from the Professor and the chief healer, and found Taylor and Evans-Hughes in adjacent beds, both looking battered and miserable. This was not unexpected—very probably he looked the same himself—but he was shocked by their reaction to his arrival.
Taylor, whose fault all of this was, if anyone’s, narrowed his eyes and turned his bandaged head away; gentle, bookish Evans-Hughes greeted him with curses.
“What—” Gray began, then stopped, bewildered.
“How dare you!” Evans-Hughes growled. “How dare you show your face, after—”
“Don’t talk to him,” said Taylor.
“What is it you suppose me to have done?” Gray demanded. “What happened, after Gautier sent me for help—”
“Sent you for help!” Taylor scoffed, ignoring his own advice. “How easy to make such a claim, now he cannot speak against you.”
“Cannot—why not? And where is he?”
The other two exchanged a look that Gray could not interpret.
“The Proctors brought him in,” said Evans-Hughes.
“Dead,” said Taylor.
Gray’s stomach lurched, and he sat down, hard—on the floor, there being nothing else within reach. He felt the blood drain from his face. Only last Beltane-time they had all drunk to Arzhur Gautier on his eighteenth birthday . . .
“But the Professor . . . the P-professor said . . .”
Before he could finish his sentence, two strapping healer-assistants, dispatched by their master, came to haul him up by the arms and march him away to a hot bath, and thence to bed.
The Professor was waiting for him there, wearing his heartiest and most insincere smile. “Marshall,” he said at once, “I have decided that you shall accompany me to my country home, and remain there for the Long Vacation. It will do you good to spend time in different surroundings. And, of course, I should otherwise be forced to agree with Proctor Morris that your actions in abandoning young Gautier to his fate cast into grave doubt whether you merit a place at Merlin—much less the continuance of your fellowship. You will much prefer to consider your situation at some distance, I am sure.”
It was a command and a warning—not an invitation—and there was only one possible response. “I thank you, sir,” Gray said miserably.
All along their journey—to Portsmouth and across the Manche to the province of Petite-Bretagne, at the eastern edge of the kingdom—Professor Callender kept Gray closely leashed. At one posting-inn, some way inland from the port of Aleth, Gray contrived a few unwatched moments in the taproom, where a silver coin he could ill afford to part with secured him a bottle of ink and a sheet of rough note-paper, and wrote a brief and anxious note to Henry Crowther. The barmaid accepted it from him, and promised to see it safely into the next post-bag bound for England; on running him to earth, however, the Professor scolded him so caustically and publicly for leaving his rooms that Gray fully expected her to think him a lunatic and drop it into the midden-heap instead, and could not summon the necessary resolve to try again at their next halt.
In every idle moment, his mind reverted to that half-overheard conversation in the Professor’s rooms. Unquestionably there was a conspiracy of some kind, and the Professor deeply involved in it. Who had those two men been, whose voices now seemed burnt into his mind’s ear? That they meant ill to Lord Halifax, Master of Merlin College, was plain. But ill of what sort? What did they hope to gain by his removal, and how did they mean to achieve it?
Had Woodville known of this? Had Taylor? What of the others? Not Evans-Hughes, surely. Not Crowther. Mother Goddess, not Gautier!
What did the Professor believe Gray to have done, or heard, or seen, that they had not, that he should keep Gray—alone of the more than half-dozen men conscripted to that ill-starred errand—so close at hand?
And, supposing that he attempted to tell someone the little he had overheard—if it had not been only the product of magick-shocked delirium—who would believe him?
If there was a way out of this tangle, Gray could not see it, try as he might. I know what I am running from. What am I running towards?
Excerpted from "The Midnight Queen"
Copyright © 2014 Sylvia Izzo Hunter.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Graham "Gray" Marshall is a student at the prestigious Merlin College at Oxford. Bullied by his professor, the lanky young magician stutters his way through his lessons. Agreeing to help some of Professor Callender's teachers pets on an errand leads to heartache. Given little choice after the death of a friend, Gray spends his summer vacation at the Professor's estate in what would be Brittany, tending the garden and doing other menial tasks. Here he meets Sophie Callender, the Professor's middle daughter. She is enamored of magic, though she's known her whole life she is talentless. Taking pity on this downcast student of her father's, she befriends him. Their friendship allows both to blossom: Gray tutoring Sophie in Magical Theory and growing into the man he should be under her regard. Circumstances conspire to overtake them as the Professor is involved with a plot concerning the British Royal Family. Taking Sophie's younger sister and their guardian along, they flee for England ahead of pursuit. On the journey, Sophie's natural talent finally manifests itself and another great secret is uncovered. In London, Gray and Sophie make allies and grow in both talent and love. But will they be able to save the King and be together? I absolutely loved this book. Every time I had to put it down, I looked forward to picking it up again. Set in an alternate history Regency period where things happened considerably differently - Roman gods are worshipped, for example. This reads a great deal like Dickens with magic. A truly fantastic debut, any fan of Mary Robinette Kowal and her Glamourist History series would enjoy this book.
God, I love a good map! I turned the first page, and there it was, a MAP! Great start, Ms. Hunter! The cover is also extremely cool. The Midnight Queen is the story of Sophie and Gray, privileged youth in an alternate history of England where magic is a fact.This one reads slowly, like you would expect of a Jane Austen Era novel. There are no frantic emails, car chases…where people can actually outrun dangerous situations. It is quite a change from the pace of novel I am used to and it was frankly absolutely refreshing. There is a love connection between the two, with propriety getting in the way of actual communication. It was lovely and touching. The supporting cast of characters are interesting. Joanna is a quintessential little girl. Master Alcuin is a trustworthy professor. The nursemaid is a typical nursemaid… with a huge secret. Of all the characters, including the main characters, I liked Gray’s sister Jenny the best. She had depth, character and was well spoken and interesting. I would like to read her story from the beginning. While it is clear she isn’t unhappy in her situation, I would like to see if she moves towards a true joy. There is a fairly big spoiler in this story, which I will not mention. I also felt it to be fairly unnecessary. It was an added complication without much payoff. For those of you who have read it, I bet you are with me. Not really needed for the story to be good, and waaay more work than it was worth. Overall this is a great book especially if you appreciate historical fiction paced like a Jane Austen novel. This is simply a slower read, to be enjoyed in days rather than hours. I loved it. It is a simple and lovely story and I certainly hope to read more in the same vein.
Regency + magic = win. Sylvia Izzo Hunter's first novel THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN combines two of my favorite things-- the intelligence and witty dialogue of a classic Regency romance woven into a fantasy world where the Oxford's colleges are the center of magical studies. I loved all the details that made up this alternate Regency Britain, from the cleverly designed magic system, to the seamless integration of the regional languages and local customs. Sophie and Gray's romance is charming, sharing equal time with their quest to foil the sinister conspiracy they've uncovered. The ending is suitably satisfying, while leaving room for more novels in this universe. Both fantasy readers and romance readers will enjoy this book, highly recommended!
The book was interesting with the use of magic and government fudes. A little slow and kind of drifty. The book starts out amazing but declines in interest. It transforms into a slow sappy romance and I will not read on into the series. I kind of regret buying this book.
The Midnight Queen is magical and elegant. It is a story of adventure, danger, betrayal, love, and murder. You do not want to miss this enchanting journey. The Plot: Gray has a great talent for magick. So great, that it landed him a place at the prestigious Merlin College. But that place is threatened when he is persuaded by a few fellow students to embark on a mysterious, midnight mission that ends in disaster. As punishment, and to recover his magical abilities that mysteriously disappeared during the mission, he is sent to stay the summer with Professor Callendar, to be kept watch over. He expects to be treated poorly and to do hard, manual labor, but he does not expect to meet the lively, curious Sophie. Sophie, who is forbidden to educate herself on the art by her father, the professor, has a profound interest in magick. She encourages Gray to teach her, unaware of the dangerous situation Gray has gotten himself in to. Together they uncover curious secrets about Sophie and a plot for murder. Can Sophie be taught to control the magick in time to help Gray uncover and save the target of the assassination before its too late? The Midnight Queen had a bit of a slow beginning for me. It took me a few chapters to really get in to it. Once I did though, I found it to be a cute, magical tale. It felt unique and enchanting. I liked that the main focus was the magick and uncovering the mission details, and that the romance was just the bonus but did not take center stage. I found the story to be a touch on the boring side, but different from what I have been reading lately, so still refreshing. The world building was nice but could have used a little more imagery and details. The story itself did have a few predictable moments, and besides having a bit too many character flashbacks, it read well. The characters seemed well though out, and complimented each other well, but I still felt like I was missing a little something in the way of development. Gray felt a little dull for me. He is supposed to be our main hero of the story, and he is quite brave and very kind, but he just lacked finesse in the way of a main, male character. He has an intricate part in the story, so he is much needed. I just feel like he could have had a better back story and more personality details. I did love the unique magickal ability he owned, and I loved how his opinion about a certain character's appearance changes for the better once he gets to her know. Sophie was a curious, interesting character. She seemed to have the most depth out of all the characters, and yet still felt a little predictable for the story. She was held back from learning magick and getting an education because of her sex, and yet, instead of outwardly disobeying her father like most book characters in her situation, she secretly studied while he slept. During the day she blended in to the room and was the perfect lady. She did this so well, that it was actually hard for her father to fully picture her in his mind when performing a finding spell later in the story. She is definitely brave, inquisitive, loving, and intriguing. Joanna was a fun, supportive character. Though acted much younger than she was supposed to be, she felt like the bravest one of the group. She was kind, intelligent, outspoken, and loud. I enjoyed reading her character throughout the tale and feel that the book would have lacked without her. After the slow start, and putting aside the slow pace and somewhat pred
I just finished reading The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter. It is the first book in the Noctis Magicae series (historical fantasy sort of book). Gray Marshall (has powerful magic) is a student at Oxford’s Merlin College (in an alternate England). He is coerced into a midnight errand with some fellow students that go awry. Gray ends up disgraced (even though he really did nothing wrong) and without the ability to use magic (though he does overhear a conversation and Gray thinks something sinister is afoot). His tutor, Professor Appius Callender (a pompous blowhard) orders him to take his Long Vacation at his home (more like keep an eye on him). Gray is put to work in the gardens and treated terribly by the Professor and his eldest daughter, Amelia. Gray meets Sophie Callender, the middle daughter. She is very welcoming and kind to Gray. They contrive to spend time together and soon Gray is helping Sophie understand magical texts (the Professor is against women learning about magic). After a visit from Viscount Carteret (an advisor to the Kind), things start to go downhill. Sophie was always told that she has no magical ability. Then one day she gets very angry and her magic just busts out (thankfully only Amelia was home and not the Professor). Turns out that someone had spelled the house and property with an interdiction spell (put a damper on her magic). That is why Grey was unable to do big magic (only little magic like lighting candles could be done). Sophie (who turns out to have strong magical abilities—even stronger than Gray) finds out from Mrs. Wallis (the housekeeper/cook and so much more) that there is something Sophie does not know (it’s big). Professor Callender is not her biological father (there is more). Sophie’s mother was a queen (I bet you can guess what kind). Sophie, Gray, Mrs. Wallis, and Joanna (Sophie’s little sister) all flee during the night to escape from Professor Callender (he will not handle Sophie finding out about her magic very well). They set out for England. They know the Professor is up to something nefarious and they are going to put a stop to it. Sophie needs to learn to control her magic as well. Can the four of them stop the Professor from trying to kill the head of Merlin College? What else is he planning and who are his co-conspirators besides Viscount Carteret (because Professor Callender cannot be the mastermind)? I found The Midnight Queen to be a very slow paced book (slower than snails). I did not think this book would ever end (I may have skimmed a little). I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. I like the idea, but not the final book. It just goes too slow and it is very confusing. The writing is awkward and stilted. The book does not flow easily (makes it hard to read). My favorite character was Joanna, Sophie’s little sister (she was lively and entertaining). I received a complimentary copy of The Midnight Queen from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are strictly my own.
I had not read any of Sylvia Izzo Hunter's books before this. I was thoroughly engrossed from chapter 1 with this book. It had everything you could possibly want in a book: history, mystery, romance, the paranormal. I just loved this book, and it's crazy story! Anyone who enjoys a story like this will not be disappointed, promise!