So I finished A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

So this one was a fun find, actually. I picked this book up on a whim after browsing The Storygraph for recommendations to fill my Kindle with, and this cover and title caught my eye. After giving the summary a quick read I added it to my list along with a couple others, for me to decide upon for what to read after The Hollow Places--Ah, sorry, Metro 2033. You're still just sitting there abandoned on my nightstand because it's harder to hold and transport this massive book than a Kindle. I suddenly understand my sister's obsession with the damn thing... but I digress.

I kept glancing at my to-read "pile" and I kept staring at this book. A hidden society plot? Magic in the real world? Gay? Sign me the fuck up. So I moved it up the pile until it was my very next book to read after The Hollow Places and, honestly? It took me a month to get through due to Reasons, but oh boy I'm quite glad I did pick this book up.

Let's see here then.

What I liked

I am quite a big fan of secret society stories. Be it magic creatures living amogus, hiding magic from others, what have you, I love the ways you can play with it. I am, also, a fan of seeing older eras in fiction with said elements added in. The book takes place in England in the 1910s and, while it felt like a safe choice for a book about magic, it still managed to be pretty impressive. With the world barely opening up to most people, one of the protagonists, Edwin, actually has an interest in books imported from other countries detailing their own magic systems and whatnot. I found that utterly fascinating.

And that's the thing--the worldbuilding and magic system are both quite lovely. Magic exists in the world, and you're either born with the ability or you're not. To cast a spell, English mages must "cradle" a spell between their hands, sort of like making figurines with string. From what I understand other countries have their own systems and ways of casting, although it's not fully explored. Likewise, while England has its own source of magic via a legend involving fae and whatever, it does seem that other countries have a different origin story. I so badly wish this was explored further, but the distinction made it fun to follow and think about. The worldbuilding is straight up lovely, like I said.

The characters were also fun. For the most part we follow Edwin Courcey and Robin Blyth, a mage and a nonmage respectively, with Robin being cursed and Edwin needing to help him break it. I liked Robin a lot--the way he's such an open book while simultaneously being closed off, the way he uses masks, and his loyalty. I do feel like he took on a more passive approach to the story and his own plight, even if he has his moments and he definitely tried his own hand at problem solving, mostly because Edwin is the obvious narrative darling.

And to be honest, why wouldn't he be? Edwin is interesting. All ice and evasion and high walls and defrosting him is more or less the entire premise of the romantic subplot between him and Robin. I did find myself more interested in Edwin and his own set of issues, and I liked how his flaws actually set in motion a series of events in the second half of the book. Still, he vastly overshadowed Robin, which is a damn shame. Not to mention Edwin is very much intrinsically tied to the narrative and the worldbuilding itself--which is, of course, magic and its society.

It definitely felt like this was the first book of a series, and that Robin was the necessary fish out of water to explain most of it. At the very least he is used quite fantastically and doesn't ever feel dull, nor does he ever act like a helpless audience surrogate. He has his own abilities, his own personality, his own desires, priorities, and conflicts. He's led along by the narrative, sure, but for sure he does kick and shout at it, and that's where his charm lies.

Damn I sure had a lot more to say about Robin than I thought.

Oh, I do have to say that there's a couple of sex scenes in this book. I'm not against smut nor am I looking for smut, so I usually tend to avoid it if I can help it, but I surpisingly got along with these scenes. There's three in total, with only one making me roll my eyes because it just felt like guys, not the time or place or even rational reaction, but honestly I liked how the characters never really stop thinking about each other when they're at it. The final scene in particular was rather sweet to me and made me smile. It felt like each scene advanced the two's relationship in one way or another.

The story was enjoyable. It's simple, in the sense that you do know more or less what needs to happen after a problem is set, and it does not overcomplicate itself. Like I said, it feels like the first of a series, so we'll see what else is left to be told, but what was covered in this book was simple enough to follow along and understand. It sets up a lot but never loses track of what it has to do. I'll detail it more later, but also...

What I didn’t like

Yeah, I liked the story, but it is also a little too meandering for my taste. A long time is spent in one place doing one thing, and yes I do imagine it was to further Robin and Edwin's relationship, but I kept finding myself hoping they would, at least, throw me more of a bone with more stakes or lore or anything really. We have a couple of mysteries to solve and we're sitting around! Yeah, we're solving one thing, but c'mon. I'll detail it more later in the spoilers section.

The problem is that because of how meandering the story felt, I found myself wishing the stakes would rise. There's a couple of scenes where the characters are in danger, sure, but I never really felt any tension? The problem was simply dealt with and resolved and the characters then moved on to something else. I didn't exactly sign up for action, but I did want to see more of offensive magic being used, or at least a couple of fights more, or some higher stakes, is all.

The Spoilers Section

I don't think I have much to say for this section, but I do have a couple in mind.

So. In regards to the story meandering--I do understand that Robin has a curse to fix, but I did not expect the entirety of the book to focus on going to one single place and solving the mystery with plentiful reading. I honestly hoped and expected the curse to drive Robin forward to find at least one of the items, and then be broken somehow by Edwin as he said he'd try, and I certainly did not expect for the curse to take a turn for the deadly so goddamn fast. I thought the author would take a little longer with it, weave it into the story... but no. Instead, Edwin and Robin go on what feels like a vacation, play games with the Courceys, and spend days on end locked in a library. It was fine, don't get me wrong, but oh my god do you see what I mean by meandering?

It was only after the visit to Flora Sutton that the plot kicked up at all, and that took like half the book to get to. Suddenly we care about what happened to Reggie again! Suddenly we want to know what happened to him, and why! Suddenly the fog masked people matter again! Suddenly we are in danger! Jesus Christ. I'm not nearly as mad at this book as I seem, I just think that it was a woefully wasted opportunity to have Edwin and Robin move through England, traveling, getting to know each other, fighting together, doing literally anything else than sitting around reading.

One thing I did find quite pleasing and I wish we had gotten to explore more of is how the Courcey family line seem to all just straight up be villains. Maybe Edwin's mother isn't, but only time will tell. Walter sure as fuck is and seems to have no problem with nearly disfiguring his own little brother. I actually kind of liked that Edwin was the black sheep of the family and that there was a very, very clear abusive dynamic going on with his siblings and even his father, because I thought it set up some interesting things. Unfortunately, not much comes of it, but I'll give the book kudos for the way it handled Walter. Only time will tell if he deals with the rest of his family, though, but I have a feeling he might just not, if the next book is going to be about Maud on a ship.

The inheritance thing between Flora and Edwin was... actually brilliant. I loved it. I wanted to see more of the estate, but unfortunately that got relegated to the ending. I thought there could be so much more to do and explore in there--I actually thought that Edwin inheriting an estate rich with its own magic, that seemed to be sentient and reacting to him, would affect his magic output. I thought that he would be powered by it, even if only while in Sutton land, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. I'll let it slide if only because the house literally coming to his rescue when he was terrified of Walter was unbelievably satisfying and actually made me go "ohhh fuck him UP Ed boy!!"

Well! Looks like I did actually have a lot to say for this section!

Final Thoughts

A Marvellous Light was really, really good. I loved it a whole lot, I found the romance lovely, and I was caught in its pages in a cozy manner. I had a couple of gripes with it, but the book was lovely enough on its own and delivered in other ways that I let it slide off me like water to enjoy the rest of it. You can definitely tell this was the first book in a series and as such it had the very difficult task of setting up the world, magic system, and its inhabitants, but I think the book achieved it with only a few bumps on the road. So I am excited to try the next two books in the series, but I will give myself a short break with a couple of other books before I go through with A Restless Truth.

See you then!