I’d read and enjoyed the previous two books in this series, The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick, so was pleased to see this third one was available – I love the depth of this enchanting world, where Christianity didn’t sweep through and wipe out all the pagan religions, which now exist in this Regency era alternate history.
BLURB: Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison…
And that’s as much of the chatty blurb I’m prepared to include. I firmly advise you to read the previous two books in this series before attempting this one. The world where the UK and France are still fractured into a number of states, where the Roman and pagan gods exist side by side, which provides a complex backdrop to the action.
Things have moved on for Sophie and Gray and in this book, there is far more in the viewpoint of Joanna, Sophie’s feisty younger sister and her very close friend and the love of her life, Gwendolyn. I really liked their relationship, which is sparky as they also have to negotiate the social norms of the time, which does not approve of, or acknowledge their love.
What worked really well for me was how Lucia and Roland’s relationship had to unfold. It’s an arranged marriage, providing peace, stability and more prosperity for the population of two kingdoms and it’s unthinkable that it won’t go ahead. But when they meet, Roland in particular, is underwhelmed at Lucia’s attitude. Reading how they had to negotiate this issue, I was aware that it isn’t often an arranged union is looked upon as anything other than a bad thing in fantasy novels. I also was delighted just to once more sink into this unique world Hunter has created and which I really love, given the care and detail she provides in her magic-making and the political strains that a fractured kingdom causes – nicely done.
Any niggles? I’ll own to being a tad frustrated that poor old Gray and Sophie were once more wrenched apart – I do enjoy seeing them together. Though it did underline just what danger everyone is facing when the threat from the continent becomes clear, that he is sent on such a hazardous mission. I also found the pacing towards the end of the story a tad uneven, in that the build-up was brimful of tension and the denouement did wrap everything up rather rapidly. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. And if Hunter decides to turn this trilogy into a quartet, I’ll happily read the next one, too. I just love the world she has created. Recommended for those who enjoy interesting alternate historical settings with their fantasy adventures.
I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, The Midnight Queen, which charts the fortunes of Sophie and Gray and if you haven’t yet read this first book, then I recommend you do so before plunging into this one.
BLURB: In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magickal knowledge can finally be nourished. But she must put her newly learned skills to the test sooner than expected. All is not well in the Kingdom of Alba, and before long the Marshalls find themselves beset by unexpected dangers.
And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to divulge – I read a stream of reviews complaining on how the pace dragged in the first half of the book, which I found rather surprising. Until I read the blurb after I finished the book and realised that it gave away a major plotpoint that occurs just over halfway through the book – which the author clearly intends to come as a nasty surprise to the reader. However, not if you started the book expecting it to crop up from the first page…
Hunter does a good job of depicting a world where Christianity didn’t gain ascendancy, so there are a variety of religions, including some of the Roman deities and a lot more, besides. Latin is the lingua franca and magic is part of the everyday, though not everyone has magical ability and as we are in an alternate Regency period, women don’t have much agency, though if they are particularly magically gifted they do have more opportunities.
Hunter is a beguiling author – when I’m in the middle of her tales, I find I’m swept along by the intensity of her writing and the nuanced characterisation. It wasn’t until I put this one down with a sad sigh and had cleared my head a little, I realised that the lassitude that afflicted two of the main characters did flatten the pace of the story at times – and I’m not sure how that could have been avoided.
I did thoroughly enjoy watching Joanne coming into her own and finding her feet, after all the hardship and emotional turbulence of the last couple of years. I do like the spiky relationship she has with her sister, and also the sense of loss she feels now that Sophie is no longer there. She is the character who comes to the fore and is by far the most successfully depicted in this book, I think. Not that any of the characters fail to convince – apart from her portrayal of a complex, conflicted world, Hunter’s strength is her characterisation.
While I don’t agree that the pace drags during the first half, I do think that the game-changing climactic scene in the grove near the end is a tad rushed. But I am definitely going to continue reading this enjoyable, engrossing series – it’s worth it for the worldbuilding alone… Recommended for fans of Brit-based fantasy with roots in our rich, historical past.
I’d like to take credit and claim that I was the one that stumbled across this gem – but it was Himself, once again, who unearthed this enjoyable read, though if I’d come across it, I certainly would have succumbed, given the gorgeousness of that cover…
In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented – and highest born – sons of the kingdom are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover . . .
Gray’s Britain is a fragmented kingdom of many tongues, many gods and many magicks. But all that concerns Gray right now is returning as soon as possible to his studies and setting right the nightmare that has seen him disgraced and banished to his tutor’s home – without a trace of his powers. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.
That is the start of this story – we’re tipped right into the middle of the disastrous expedition that impacts so badly on Gray’s life, to the extent that I did wonder a couple of times whether this was the second book in the series. I’m conscious that some readers don’t enjoy this approach, but I happen to love it – so long as I’m not left floundering for too long – and I wasn’t. While I enjoyed the characters – Gray’s diffidence and cleverness are well portrayed in third person POV – what particularly enchanted me is the world.
This version of Britain doesn’t have Christianity sweeping through the country and wiping away the variety of pagan religions that proliferated before. So there are mentions of the Roman pantheon, along with several of the old Celtic deities and magic is also tied up with the worship of them. The historical era is Regency and while the story isn’t particularly original, there are plenty of twists and turns that held me right to the ending.
There is a slow-burn romance bubbling away throughout and if the book had been all about that, then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but as the viewpoints swing between the two main protagonists, Sophie and Gray, with a few extra characters giving their points of view from time to time – we get to see their relationship mature. This is a main subplot to the narrative driving the story – that of a shadowy conspiracy against the Master of Merlin College, that, perhaps goes even higher than that…
I found this one difficult to put down as the sense of tension held me throughout and while many elements of the plot were familiar, I enjoyed how Hunter played with our expectations and tweaked some of them. The climax of the story was suitably exciting and all the dangling plotpoints were all tidied away very neatly – a tad too neatly for the first book in a series, I felt. Because there is no way that I believe His Majesty is going to be content to let things lie as they’ve been arranged – but I’ll have to read the next book to see if I’m right, which I’m looking forward to doing. Recommended for fans of British-based fantasy with a splash of romance.