Book Reviews

Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

This masterful queer historical fantasy romance is a hot contender for my favourite book of the year… It’s getting crowded at the top!

Book: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Publication date: 26th October 2021

Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Tor UK via Black Crow PR. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: Violence, injury and death; discussion of emotional and physical abuse of children by family.

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.

I actually read this book earlier this summer, but I’ve been waiting until we’re only a month out from release to write this review, and I’ve needed every moment to try to condense my thoughts into something more useful than AAAAAHH IT’S SO GOOD. It’s so hard to write about this book without giving too much away! I keep wanting to point out specific moments of dialogue or characterisation that I adored, so I guess if you’ve also read this, please come and yell with me in my Twitter DMs, because I have so many feelings about particular scenes of this book.

It hit so many of my buttons – interesting magic, fabulously drawn characters who feel so real both in themselves and in their interactions, an Edwardian house party full of horrible rich people, and so much more. It’s funny and sweet and dark and fluffy and emotional, and all of this is completely seamless. In parts it’s like if Wodehouse was gay and also magical (and also a lot more perilous). If you’re a fan of KJ Charles and her brilliant historical fantasy m/m romances, then this will almost certainly be up your street; it’s not as dark as Charles’s work, but they share a certain quality of character work and wry wit. I’m a huge fan of Charles, as I mentioned yesterday, but I think I actually slightly preferred this, so hopefully that says something about how utterly fantastic this book is. It feels like the best kind of fanfiction, the kind that knows characters intimately and throws them into ridiculous situations just to show off how perfectly they have the characterisation down. (There’s an ‘I’m drunk and your hair looks soft so I’m gonna touch it’ scene, for goodness’ sake!)

Ugh, I just loved everything about this book.

I love stories that capture that sort of golden Wodehouse-y atmosphere, that slightly silly but terribly formal sense of British society. The scenes at Edwin’s ancestral home, with his charming but awful siblings, are an absolute delight – there’s such delicious tension between the ridiculous (magical house party games that rival the Pall Mall Bridgerton scene!) and the dark (how badly those games can go wrong). If you’re a fan of social comedy, this will be right up your street, and if you love sentient estates and family house magic, even better (this would definitely suit fans of The Lord of Stariel). The darker aspects are great too – this isn’t all fluff, but it’s all immensely enjoyable even when the tension is high. Oh, and the dialogue is absolutely killer – I found myself reading with a smile so wide my face hurt, and shouting or laughing in several places, and stopping to explain great scenes and why they were great to my (very patient) husband.

Robin and Edwin’s relationship is central to the story here, and I loved watching them grow from prickly distrust to something intensely important and healing. Both men have internalised so much trauma from their families, and watching them work through that is joyous – and the fact that the character work is so spot on that we can tell in their every action why they are the way they are, and how it affects them, is masterful. I can’t sum it up more than saying that these two people feel completely real, and beautifully drawn in their emotions and backstories. But the side characters are impeccable too! I loved Robin’s capable assistant, Adelaide Morrissey, who knows his job better than him, and her sister, who’s somehow even more capable, and Edwin’s sarcastic ex, and loved to hate all Edwin’s siblings and their horrible friends. There are going to be two more books in this series, and though I’m terribly sad to leave Robin and Edwin behind as main characters, I’m so excited to delve into some of the secondary characters as they come to the lead.

Listen, I could rave about this book for hours, but I think you’ve got the gist – I love everything about this and need more from Freya Marske immediately. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to pick a favourite book this year, but I know that A Marvellous Light will be jostling hard for that top position. Basically, if you like historical fantasy, queer romance, sentient estates, adventure, magic, good characters, or just plain fun, preorder this immediately. I loved it so much – it’s getting the elusive ten out of five cats!

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