A Marvellous Light – Freya Marske

A fun mixture of historical fantasy, mystery and romance, with lots of wit, entertaining characters and my favourite use of weaponized holly. Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy, all opinions are my own

RELEASE DATE: 02/11/21 (US) 09/12/2021 (UK)


SUMMARY: 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.

OPINIONS: After an introductory chapter, the main story starts with Robin Blyth, an easy-going, charming non-magical person suddenly and without warning finding out about the existence of magic when he has been spitefully put into what his supervisor thinks is a dead-end, out of the way job deep within the Civil Service.  The highly prickly (although not without good reason) Edwin Courcey is his liaison and guide to the previously unknown world of magic.

The writing for this reveal is particularly effective. Whilst it grounds the rules and parameters of this world’s magic, it does it in a natural way without the dreaded info dump. The magic in this world is straightforward to understand- based largely on patterns and “cradling”  i.e winding string (or in this case energy) in shapes and lines to produce a result.  How magic is revealed to Robin is particularly effective at highlighting his character to a T. Instead of the expected horror or apprehension he’s charmed and a little bit delighted with what Edwin shows him. Edwin on the other hand, whose magic is significantly weaker than is expected in his otherwise magically powerful family gets to bask in Robin’s enjoyment and show off a little. This pattern of Robin appreciating Edwin for what he can do, and illuminating how spectacular it is when viewed in a different light to one his family uses is repeated again and again throughout the book – my favourite one is when Edwin has effectively recreated a magical version of the Dewy decimal system and brushes it off as not worth mentioning. He’s not being modest, it just doesn’t seem to him to compare to his family’s achievements or what was expected of him.

Although it’s set in a version of Edwardian England where queerness is still secret and undesirable, hiding their feelings both from each other and society as a whole is not a key part of this book. Both realise the other is interested in men fairly on in the book and in a low key, undramatic way. This gives the story time to question what it is that they both want from each other and how their characters play off each other. Whilst at its simplest it is the sunshine happy-go-lucky and the gloomy withdrawn misanthropist pairing both Robin and Edwin are more than that very simple definition. Although Robin is definitely the golden retriever he appears early on in the book, he’s a person who is at home in himself, unlike Edwin who is all sharp edges and elbows. Both have been strongly shaped by the expectations and abuse of their families albeit in very different ways  

The mystery side of this book is also strong. As Robin has been cursed by the same people looking for the mysterious object mentioned in the first chapter, he’s dragged through half of Southern England’s libraries looking for answers. As a book lover, the description of the library at Edwin’s family home is the thing of dreams and the maze Robin and Edwin end up trapped in is one of my favourite parts of the book where plants come to life and holly becomes a somewhat unnerving weapon. The book also sets itself up well for the remainder of the (presumed) trilogy without feeling like nothing is resolved.

All in all a fun blend of historical fantasy and romance with a mystery added for good measure. Perfect for fans of KJ Charles.

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