Series Review: Noctis Magicae by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Genre: historical fiction, fantasy
Series: Noctis Magicae #1 - #3
TMQ: 417
LoM: 448
ASoS: 432
September 2014
September 2015
expected December 2016
Source: bought the first two, third from NetGalley via publishers

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…

With three solid books in a now-finished series, Sylvia Izzo Hunter has built a viable, envisionable world of magic and manners. Part fantasy, part historical fiction and also part romance, these three books have been entertaining if not the most original the subgenre has to offer its readers. Starting with The Midnight Queen, which serves as a good first introduction for this alternate version of history, the story of Gray is further continued and complicated in Lady of Magick. Finally, definitively concluded with the third novel, A Season of Spells, this is a series that has lead readers and its characters in unexpected but engaging directions.

Combining the Regency period in England with magic is not precisely a new idea, but Hunter's adaption of the premise is centered on main character Gray and his love interest Sophie. The era and culture of the 19th century they live in is familiar but still distinct with the author's own spin on reality.  Each successive book sets out to test the two in ways both magical and mundane; admittedly this conceit wore a bit then by the end, but theirs is a strong bond and believable relationship. Gray may be the intentional main character for the Noctis Magicae books, but Sophie and her personal arc nearly steal the show from him numerous times in the trilogy.

Though the plots of each book were strong and independent of one another, they are somewhat forgettable once that individual novel is finished. I was the biggest fan of A Season of Spell's main plotline (Sophie's goal in particular worked for me) because the new mix of intrigue provided a nice balance to the magic and rules that govern the rest of the narrative. The fast-paced nature of these stories also work both for and against the books as a whole; the narrative moves so quickly from plot point to plot point that things can get lost in the headlong rush. I appreciated that the story doesn't waste time connecting the dots but the clarity of the story was sometimes sacrificed.

This is a well-rounded and solidly executed trilogy. Perhaps they feel a bit longer than necessary at 400+ pages, but each book in the series provides plenty of entertainment and unpredictability. The series wavered a bit with the slower and more sedate Lady of Magick, but found its footing well in time to end satisfactorily with A Season of Spells.


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