Review: A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding #1) by Freya Marske
Red White & Royal Blue meets Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in debut author Freya Marske’s A Marvellous Light, featuring an Edwardian England full of magic, contracts, and conspiracies.
Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.
Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.
Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.
WARNING . The book starts with the detailed scene of magical interrogation under torture and subsequent murder. I considered the torture to be rather graphic. There are two or three shorter scenes of magical torture , not gratuitous , but torture nonetheless.
Dear Freya Marske,
I don’t know why the publisher decided to sell your book by comparing it with “Red White and Royal Blue”. I can definitely see the comparison with “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”, but I think “The Magpie Lord” by KJ Charles should have been in that blurb. To me that’s much closer comparison, only because both books feature gay romances in England where magic is an important part of both worlds.
I loved this book. Readers, because of the high grade I am giving this book, I want to stress again, I am an ESL reader and I may not see problems with the language/copy editing which more trained eye will catch. The language worked *perfectly* for me, but it may not work for you and I hate to think that someone will pay this crazy price (fifteen dollars, really publishers?) on my recommendation and may end up hating it. I had been highlighting and highlighting quotes on my kindle. I had not done this with m/m book for months.
Of course even the most wonderful language would not necessarily make me fell in love with the story. As I said this one starts with the horrible murder and then the plot keeps moving and twists and turns just keep coming. I loved that the author threw me in the middle of the interesting world and did not dump all the information on this reader at once. Bits and pieces are shared as needed in the story, I thought that when the author needed to share more details about the settings, she did it at an appropriate time and place. Even a couple of dinner conversations about magic made sense to me.
I thought the building of the romance was mixed very well with action/adventure/ murder mystery storyline. I always say that I love when main characters have things to do and get to know each other when they are doing those things that the story needs them to do to move the plot along. I think this is exactly what happens here – Edwin and Robin get to know each other while they investigate what happened to Robin’s predecessor, but also I think the author managed to keep a delicate balance here.
The plot moves along at a nice pace, but the characters did not feel to me to be pawns of the plot if that makes sense. Their actions drove the plot and I rarely if ever had to question why they behaved the way they did even when I did not know these men too well yet. I loved Robin and Edwin, I also thought they had great chemistry and I believed in their future.
“Robin smiled at him and took his hand away before he could trample on the moment. He wanted to memorize the details of the friendliness. A crinkle at the side of Edwin’s eyes. A softening around the mouth. This was so deeply awkward. Usually one simply knew, when acquaintanceship was turning to friendship.
It wasn’t the kind of thing men discussed at length. Robin had no idea whether Edwin would characterise them as friends; quite possibly not. But all of Robin’s muddled feelings, which had been set on a giant fairground swing during the past two days, now churned and bubbled in his chest and finally announced that they were going to be vocalized, and Robin had a few more seconds to decide exactly how.”
I have to note that this book has several great secondary female characters. I am going to share with you a couple of moments where two of these awesome women are involved in helping our heroes – *do heroic stuff*. I did not feel it was too spoilerish and if in the next books of the trilogy their roles are expanded, oh I certainly won’t be complaining.
“Robin had a swell of fellow-feeling. “We haven’t had much luck at unearthing them. We don’t know how many men—er, or women—are involved.” “They’re men.” “Why do you say that?” “Because if even a single woman was involved, they wouldn’t have decided that a man who’d been working there one day was a more likely source of information than a woman who’d been there for years.””
““Blame me,” said Robin at once. One thick black eyebrow arched. Miss Morrissey leaned forward and smiled at her sister. “Would you say Sir Robert is a threatening figure?””““Er,” said Mrs. Kaur. It was the most diplomatic single syllable Robin had ever heard. “Are you afraid for your maidenly virtue?” “I’m married, Addy,” said Kitty Kaur dryly. “I have none.” She eyed Robin. “He does seem the kind of well-built, pugnacious fellow who would follow through on a threat of bodily harm.” “I beg your pardon,” Robin began to protest, and then the penny dropped. “Oh. Would it help if I raised my voice?””
““Yes, that would do nicely. Sir Robert strong-armed my sister into bringing him here to seek my help, and threatened us with harm unless I abused my access to the lockroom in order to locate Mr. Courcey. Overcome by concern for his friend, of course, but still. Most brutish behaviour.” “And we are but feeble women,” said Miss Morrissey. “Woe.” “Your sister is a magician,” Robin said, pointing out what seemed the largest hole in this story. “Woe,” said Mrs. Kaur firmly, and Robin recalled what Miss Morrissey had said about the assumptions made by men.”
I have read that this is the first book of the trilogy. The ending is not a cliffhanger. I am going to inject my mandatory fear of stretching out a good plot into too many books, but I guess I have to trust the author.
OMG I loved this too. It’s one of those books that you want to run around telling everybody about. I had a library ebook copy but bought my own copy, which is the highest compliment I can pay (and I do mean *pay*, oy that price).
I agree that the opening scene was disturbing. I guess the author wanted to start with a bang and show what our MCs were up against, but it took me a while to recover from the violence.
It felt very KJ Charles-ish to me. As I said on a FB group, there is a lower body count than in a lot of KJC books, but this is a debut novel so there is room for improvement. :-)
Can’t wait for the next installment. Do you have any idea if they will be released annually or (hopefully) more frequently?
Thank you for your review, Sirius; I’m eager to get my hands on a copy of the book and give it a try.
I suspect the comparison was made to “Red White and Royal Blue” because that has had, I believe, more popular success than the KJ Charles books.
@SusanS: Yes, definitely when I am reading book like this one I am always thinking – nope, I am not tired of m/m genre and its various sub-genres despite reading it for almost fifteen years. I am still just as excited as when I started. I just can’t find that many books that I want to read anymore. No, unfortunately I have no idea about frequency of the release.@Kareni: Thats a good point.
@Kareni: Red White & Royal Blue would have been more interesting if Henry had been a magician. Just sayin’.
@SusanS, I hear you and agree!
A straight A! I looked and you haven’t given one of those out for a few years, Sirius. The book must be really good.
@Janine Ballard: I loved it, I won’t deny though that I am seeing good writing in m/m so rarely these days that maybe part of it played a role. I don’t grade books by comparison with each other, but when good writing happens so rarely one may think oh how great something which is better by comparison. Don’t know, but I do know that I loved the story and the writing and cannot wait for the next one.
@Sirius: Yeah, I don’t grade books by using the grades I gave earlier books as a yardstick either. I tried when I started but it became unsustainable as time went on. My tastes changed, my grading philosophy evolved, and the genres changed too. Now I just go by the same factors that you mentioned as well as by using an intuitive internal meter that may or may not be reliably consistent (though I certainly hope it is).
For those of you who like audio, the narrator is excellent! Just a stellar production and story.
@Floating Lush: Thank you! I rarely get audio but for this book I just may.
@Sirius: It lists the price of $22.32 for me in addition to what I paid for the book already. I think pass for now for me :)
@Sirius: I borrowed the audio from the library, but will be getting a print copy of the book to keep. I wish pricing wasn’t all over the place for the various formats.
My library copy arrived recently, and I read this with great pleasure. I, too, look forward to reading more in this series!
@Kareni: I am very glad to hear this :). I am putting this one as book of the year on my favorites list.
I look forward to seeing your list, @Sirius! I don’t make a yearly favorites list; if I did, this book would be on it.
@Kareni: Thank you :).