Monday, 4 August 2014

Sing the Midnight Stars by C.M.J. Wallace - Reviewed by Anna Belfrage

We are pleased to pass on that Sing the Midnight Stars is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree.

It must be stated right from the start that Sing the Midnight Stars is not an easy book to get into. It requires of the reader to grasp a meticulously constructed world, complete with a healthy dose of magic, an insane king and a number of characters fighting for good against encroaching evil. Obviously, all of the above are hallmarks of good fantasy, and Ms. Wallace delivers just that in this, the first book of the Rift series.

At the centre of the tumultuous events described in this book stands Andrin Sethuel, the Aleph Sinistrus or Chief of Police. Andrin is a deliciously complex character with more than a little darkness in him – a consequence of a devastating childhood. He is also a drug addict – once again, due to the events of his childhood, where Andrin was abducted and sold as a slave. The drug was administered to keep the child docile and obedient.

Andrin is a man who keeps a tight rein on most of his emotions, preferring to concentrate on work and duty rather than play and pleasure. But there is a sadness in him that resonates with the reader, and I find myself very affected by this man who won’t allow himself to feel when he so desperately needs to. His drug addiction – and his struggle to attempt some dominion over it – adds further dimensions to this enigmatic character, complete with a braid of dark hair that reaches his waist and two-coloured eyes.

It’s not as if handsome Andrin doesn’t have choices when it comes to female companions, first and foremost his capable second-in-command, Cloelle, who is very attracted to her boss and who, at times at least, allows herself to touch upon the fantasy of being with him. And then there is femme fatale Elarin, an up-and-coming member of the police force who uses her female wiles without compunction to achieve what she desires. Andrin recognises the temptation Elarin offers, but is rarely tempted – there is something about the young woman he finds disconcerting. This reader wholeheartedly agrees, despite being incapable of putting the finger on just what it is that makes Elarin seem off – but I do have my suspicions.

The cast is further augmented by Larisse, an impressively powerful witch (or delorim, as they are called in this book), Andrin’s best friend Prince Cor, Cloelle’s grandfather Raynor and a handful of other characters, including the self-centred, manipulative and rather eerie Queen Morra and her husband, King Yulgrim, who is far from mentally sane.

In Sing the Midnight Stars, Andrin and Cloelle become involved in a complex murder case. Someone is killing off people at an alarming rate, and there are very few clues to work with – well, apart from the fact that it seems as if all the victims have been sucked dry of their inherent magic. Is someone collecting their magic, growing in power at the expense of the dead men? An inconceivable thought, but as the story progresses, a theory that gains in strength.

The murder investigation continues despite other threats to the Kingdom of Carvel, foremost amongst them the impending invasion by the Mistrin Empire. In Mistrin, the emperor Ulgreth d Ylled has had his eyes on Carvel for quite some years, but it is only now, when his astromancers have released the evil force called Rift into the world, that the emperor judges the time ripe to make a move. He intends to subjugate Carvel, and having correctly identified King Yulgrim as a person who only thinks about himself, he has seduced the king into betraying his country with promises of a pleasant and leisurely life.

Andrin and his colleagues are suddenly fighting on two fronts – no, wait: three. Not only is there something decidedly sinister about all those murders, but there is also the advancing Mistrin fleet and the horrifying insight that the king intends to hand over his entire country – and its people – to the cruel Mistrin emperor. To be the Aleph Sinistrus under these circumstances is not exactly a sinecure – in fact, it is bloody dangerous.

Presenting a brand new world is a daunting task for an author. One must balance between giving too much description and giving too little, and while there is an overload of information in the first few chapters – hence the comment at the beginning of this review as to the worthwhile challenge this book presents to the reader – a more comfortable balance is achieved in the second half of the book. The end result is a world that has taken on shape and form, where buildings of granite merge with sad wooden shacks, where the magnificent library stands in pride of place, surrounded by parks with giant lily pads. It is a world with its share of dark and dangerous places, of seedy back-alleys where the unsuspecting person can easily be clobbered – or drugged – to death.

Throughout, the writing is excellent, as is the dialogue. I also like how Ms. Wallace presents her interiors to us. There are casual references to swords and whetstones, to rumpled beds and furnishings, which create a strong sense of place for the reader. I also enjoyed how some of the magic worked. By passing a stone over a darkened lantern, an entire passage was illuminated as multiple lanterns sprang to life – like a magic switch. Or how Andrin could create a miniature creature that was inserted into uncooperative suspects, there to rummage through the darker corners of the suspect’s brain and soul. Very intrusive, one could argue, and Andrin agrees, finding it somewhat distasteful when he is reduced to using such methods to extract information.

The true strength of this novel lies in the beautifully developed characters – and in particular in the quartet consisting of Andrin, Cloelle, Prince Cor and Raynor. By the end of the book, I have developed strong emotional attachments to all of them – especially to Andrin, this vulnerable, proud and intriguing man, brought to such vibrant life by Ms. Wallace – and am somewhat frustrated by the inconclusive ending. Nothing is really resolved in this book. Instead, Ms Wallace has laid an impressive groundwork for the future installments of the series, testament to this being that both Rift 2 and Rift 3 are now to be found on my Kindle.

About the author: C.M.J. Wallace has been working on her Rift series since 1992, when she created the rudiments of her fantasy world. Other than submerging herself in a make-believe world defined by magic and power-hungry despots, she is also a freelance medical editor who lives in Oklahoma with her husband. More information about C.M.J. Wallace can be found on her webpage.

There is a chance to win a FREE copy of Sing the Midnight Stars. To get your name in the hat, simply comment on this review or at our Facebook page's associated thread.

Sing the Midnight Stars is available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Anna Belfrage is the author of six published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and on her website. If you would like Anna to review your book, please see our submissions tab above.


  1. Although this sounds like a difficult book to get to grips with, is sounds, by Anna's review, that it would be well worth the effort, especially as she has placed the other two books on her Kindle. High praise indeed, and for this reason I will place it on my TBR list.

  2. Good fantasy is always a bit of a challenge initially - it goes with the description of a new world. In this case, it was well worth the effort!