Review: A Restless Truth (The Last Binding #2) by Freya Marske
Magic! Murder! Shipboard romance! The second entry in Freya Marske’s beloved The Last Binding trilogy, the queer historical fantasy series that began with A Marvellous Light
The most interesting things in Maud Blyth’s life have happened to her brother Robin, but she’s ready to join any cause, especially if it involves magical secrets that may threaten the whole of the British Isles. Bound for New York on the R.M.S. Lyric, she’s ready for an adventure.
What she actually finds is a dead body, a disrespectful parrot, and a beautiful stranger in Violet Debenham, who is everything—a magician, an actress, a scandal—Maud has been trained to fear and has learned to desire. Surrounded by the open sea and a ship full of loathsome, aristocratic suspects, they must solve a murder and untangle a conspiracy that began generations before them.
Dear Freya Marske, I loved the first book in these series so very much, in fact it was probably my favorite m/m book of the last year. I preordered the second book the minute I saw that it was available on amazon, but when offered an ARC I could not resist and took it. Unfortunately the book ended up being a mix of good and not so good things for me.
Let me just be very clear, this is the case where I can absolutely see how this book can become a five star read for another reader. Of course every review is one person’s opinion, but sometimes one can see it and sometimes one can’t. This book is just as well written as the first one was, in my opinion. It has an interesting plot (when it was being suspenseful and I felt the stage was being set up for too long) and a deeper dive in how magic works in this world. I loved that part – how magicians in the world of these books *create* magic.
But these books are not just fantasy, they have strong romantic storyline and I would argue that the Romance was actually as front and center here as much as the fantasy if not more and in Romance I need to care for the main characters.
I ended up not particularly liking Maud and that was a pretty big issue for me – the blurb is vague enough so I have to be vague too but in order to investigate who killed the woman whom she was accompanying back to England and find some magical items for the reasons you will know if you read the first book, she needs to recruit some people to her cause.
I thought that Maud was a manipulator and I don’t like manipulative characters. I really, REALLY don’t like them even if they work for a good cause. I don’t care that she was gathering troops for an awesome cause. One of the characters she recruits does not want to do anything with magic. Does Maud care? No, not really. I know we are supposed to think that characters only needed a little push and they actually wanted to help, but I just didn’t see it this way.
I know that Maud’s plans often went amok and per her she was a terrible general, but that did not endear her to me more, quite the contrary. If she was still Albus Dumbledore in the making, to me that only meant that years later she would be worse towards other people who will be chess pieces in her plans. I am using Dumbledore as a short cut here to explain which character type I really dislike :)
Maud’s love interest tells her that she is preying on people’s weaknesses (paraphrase). To me this is a *horrible* character trait.
However both Maud and the romance interest were interesting and complex and weirdly I enjoyed the romance without caring much for her. It was an interesting dance from both of them and I know we were supposed to see the reveal of the masks both characters were wearing. I definitely enjoyed the sexual awakening from Maud and really it was easy to see that Violet’s mask would slip off very soon.
But even the romance felt a bit manipulative where Maud was concerned – if another woman doesn’t want to open up to you about the mysteries of her past after knowing each other for three days, who the heck are you to guilt her into it? I fully realize that we were probably supposed to see that Violet just needed a little push and all would be well. I did NOT see any consent issues that’s for sure, Violet was just as attracted to Maud as Maud was to her.
The adventure/suspense/ fantasy plot overall took a bit too long to set up in my opinion, but once it going it was fun. The mystery was fun till it was revealed in the middle of the book and stopped being a mystery.
I also find cover to be very pretty.