A Delight From Start to Finish: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Posted 29th October 2021 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1) by Freya Marske
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: M/M, secondary Desi character
Published on: 2nd November 2021
ISBN: 1250788870

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 received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~cat’s cradle, but magic
~smart magic > big magic, assholes
~how to tell your crush you’re queer & Interested: ‘I’ve read that book too’

This book deserves every bit of the hype it’s been getting.

It’s incredibly, addictively readable – but it doesn’t skimp on the introspection or depth. There’s just enough worldbuilding to make the premise of a magical society hidden within our own believable, but not enough to bog down readers who aren’t interested in the cogs and gears under the hood of the story. The main characters – who you’re about 90% sure will get together by the end of the book – are strikingly different in personality; the contrast between them is great, and works to make them interlock like puzzle pieces, not clash. The cast of secondary characters are excellent; even if you despise more than one of them, there’s no denying that they feel very, very real, and Miss Morrissey and Maud (Robin’s badass sort-of-secretary and sister, respectively) are worth the price of admission all on their own!

It’s a ridiculously good book, is what I’m saying here.

A major part of what makes A Marvellous Light so marvelous is in how closely Marske sticks to some very well-beloved tropes, keeping the arc of the plot relatively predictable (and therefore comfortable), but surprising (and delighting) the reader with the at-first-glance minor details that end up subverting expectations. Robin, one of the main characters, is a pretty good example of this – at first glance, he’s the quintessential English Chap, fairly jolly, enthusiastic about cricket and rugby, to the point that bookish Edwin distrusts him. Heck, I distrusted him; I think most self-declared bookworms are a bit wary of That Type, because at best they’ll try and drag you away from your books, and at worst, they’ll bully you for preferring books to sports. But Robin does neither; in fact, our impression of him does a 180 almost immediately, when he’s enchanted (not magically) by his first glimpse of magic. He’s not shallow and sporty; there’s a lot more going on there. There’s a capacity for wonder that his public persona doesn’t hint at.

Edwin is very much the same: he also goes completely against our expectations within a page of our meeting him. He presents himself as cold and snooty, but he works a delicate, beautiful piece of magic to introduce Robin to its existence – he creates a snowflake. That’s not what I expected, when he was about to demonstrate a spell; I thought it would be something bigger, flashier. So did Robin.

I prefer the snowflake, though. That moment – Edwin’s choice and Robin’s reaction – really embodies the whole of the book. Everything you need to know, you can sum up with that scene. It’s wonderful.

I’m not sure what I can say that hasn’t been said better elsewhere. A Marvellous Light is just the right kind of readable to suck you in completely, so that before you know it you’ve read ten chapters and it’s time for bed but damn it you can’t go sleep now!!! It’s a book that makes you want to keep turning pages, not so much because it’s incredibly fast-paced – it’s not an action-thriller story, although I wouldn’t call it slow either! – as because of all the delicious Feels that are going on just beneath the surface. We alternate between being in Robin’s head and Edwin’s, which is perfect, because they’re such different people – and coming at this scenario from such different perspectives – that we really do need the insight into them both; there are many times when Edwin doesn’t understand Robin, and vice versa, but we know exactly what’s going on, because we get to see both sides of it.

There’s the best kind of fanfic-y feel to it all. You know? The warmth, the yumminess, the Feels, the certainty that everything’s going to work out but you’re still biting your nails because AHHH THE THING, AND THE OTHER THING, AND THE OTHER OTHER THING!

And I have to write a quick bit about Edwin specifically. I have an immense love for characters who use brains over brawn when it comes to magic, and Edwin is exactly that kind of character; having very little magical power has made him precise and creative with what he has. He’s the only magic-wielding character we meet interested in experimenting with magic and what it can do – he even creates his own spells, which we gather is very rare indeed. I loved seeing him be clever rather than powerful, and the way that that creativity and curiousity interacts with Robin’s I-don’t-know-what-is-and-isn’t-possible to get them out of some pretty bad scrapes. And although it broke my heart, the exploration of how his small amount of power has affected his relationship and standing with his family and society is incredibly well done.

The Marvellous Light had me turning pages as fast as I could, sighing, gasping, and holding my breath. It made me laugh way more than I thought it would, and also left me with the strong urge to stab quite a few fictional people. The quiet, subtle details that added new life to familiar tropes, or completely subverted them, delighted me. Even the aspect of the worldbuilding that made me roll my eyes at first (women aren’t taught proper magic, YAY FOR MISOGYNY) was more than redeemed by the time I reached the last page. Really, any doubts you have – about the world, the plot or the characters – will be reassured and resolved before the end.

Markse knows what she’s doing. Keep reading, and trust her.

And if you haven’t already, preorder The Marvellous Light – it’s out November 2nd!

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