Magic Banquet is a middle-grade fantasy novel. One of the reasons I picked it up was for the table of contents, which is a menu. I suspected the menu might prove metaphorical, but no, the items on the menu do correspond to actual dishes served at each section of the book. The various courses of the banquet all have dangers and adventures associated with them, as the characters are transported from one locale to the next to enjoy or potentially get killed by their meal.
The mini-puzzles and adventures of each part add up beautifully to the overall arc of the book, and the different members of the cast are great fun to watch (especially the dark lord, whom one never knows quite what to make of). I'll give an 8 (mainly for the slow start), but definitely recommend.
I read Dark Lord's Wedding during my trip to Seattle. I had a great time with this right from the start. There was one jarring note for me: Magic Banquet, which immediately precedes it in the setting, is a middle-grade novel. Dark Lord's Wedding is an adult novel in tone and themes, but has much the same straightforward and charming writing style, so it kind of took me by surprise.
As it turns out, Wedding is the fifth novel in a different series that happens to be in the same setting, with some of the same characters. It works fine as a standalone, although there are various references to the previous books.
The story does revolve around the engagement and marriage of two of the protagonists, but it's not a romance. The plot is mostly fantasy-adventure in tone, with some politics and alliance-building.
I am ambivalent on the trope of the "not-all-bad bad guy", which is definitely the category that the Dark Lord and his bride fall into. Hiresha, the Lady of Gems and prospective bride, is clearly well-intentioned but still commits atrocities in the course of the book. Tethiel, the Dark Lord, is a more ambiguous character. I am not quite sure how Marling managed to sell me on these characters, but I definitely rooted for them despite their flaws. Tethiel in particular has a unique charm founded on his extraordinary outlook. I laughed aloud many of his deadpan remarks throughout the book.
One of the many things that's well-done about the book is the use of different magic systems, with just enough explanation of how they worked to make them intelligible to the reader, and not so much as to make them less magical or awe-inspiring. The protagonists are both tremendously powerful in their own right, far more so than the vast majority of the people around them, and it shows in the way they interact with others, this uncrossable gulf of power. They feel too large for ordinary morality, which is the sort of thing that often grates on me but worked well here.
The only thing I didn't like about the book was the climactic scene, which kind of felt like it came out of nowhere and was there mainly to add more drama and conflict to the narrative. Still, I had a good time overall and plan to check out the earlier books in the series. I give this an 8 too.