Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya MarskeA Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
Series: The Last Binding #1
Published by Tom Doherty Associates on November 2, 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: the library

An International Bestseller!
Winner of the 2022 Romantic Novel Award in Fantasy!
Locus Award Finalist!

An Indie Next pick and LibraryReads pick—with four starred reviews!
A Best of 2021 Pick for NPR | Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble

Red, White & Royal Blue meets Jonathan Strange & 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.

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With a winning combination of magic, intrigue, and romance, A Marvellous Light is sure to please fans of historical fantasy. 

When the non-magical Robin Blyth is mistakenly assigned to a governmental job wrangling magical incidents, he is officially “unbushelled.” Unbushelling is the process by which non-magical people learn about magicians, spells, and magical society in general, and it’s typically an unpleasant experience. Stuck managing the newly-aware Robin is Edwin Courcey, a genius with magical theory and a complete dud when it comes to casting spells. Edwin has enough to deal with trying to prove himself – the last thing he wants to do is deal with a random non-magical guy, even if he is handsome as hell. 

But completing the necessary paperwork is easier said than done when you’re trying to deal with the inner workings of a magical bureaucracy. And the coincidences are too strange…why would someone arrange for Edwin’s previous colleague to disappear unless they wanted to create a vacancy for Robin? And why have so many nasty magical accidents been occurring in the jurisdiction of the new duo? The nasty incidents are piling up, and Robin and Edwin will need to learn to work together if they want to make it to Friday alive.

It turns out that working together isn’t a problem, but keeping their hands to themselves…that’s another story. The sexual tension between Edwin and Robin practically jumps off the page, and sparks fly fast and furious. The setting in A Marvellous Light may be somewhat twee, but the romance is decidedly mature. I haven’t seen any fantasy romance fans talking about this book, so I was surprised by the prominent romantic plot and the steamy scenes. Marske certainly doesn’t shy away from sex and sexuality in her writing.

"The setting in A Marvellous Light may be somewhat twee, but the romance is decidedly mature." 

Marske’s version of Edwardian England contains the glittering ballrooms, charming country estates, and the seedy underbelly of London that so many appreciate in a historical setting. Of course, there’s the small matter of magic to attend to as well, and I thought Marske pulled it off beautifully. I loved reading about Edwin’s strategy for spell casting using thread in a cat’s cradle (even though other magic users considered it juvenile). I also enjoyed reading from Robin’s perspective how wondrous the magic seemed to someone uninitiated and without magical power themselves. The hints that non-typical, suppressed ways of performing magic might be ready to make their way into broader society made me excited, too.  Marske seems poised to expand the known magical world of A Marvellous Light in the sequel and I can’t wait!

The other major change to the typical historical setup that Marske included is a wide swath of diverse characters. Of course, the romance between Edwin and Robin is a prominent feature in the story, but there are other diverse characters too. We see black and brown characters, queer folks, and people with disabilities – a couple of them in key narrative roles. We see them among average folks and among society’s upper crust, including those with important positions in government and magical society. The world of A Marvellous Light isn’t one without prejudice, but there are still a great number of possibilities for marginalized characters. That’s a win in my mind.

Highly recommended.