A MARVELLOUS LIGHT by Freya Marske (BOOK REVIEW)
A Marvellous Light is Australian author Freya Marske’s debut novel of Edwardian magicians. It’s a beautiful story of self-discovery, featuring sumptuous prose, that I burned through in five days. I absolutely loved the world, it was like being in one of my favourite costume dramas, but with magic and visions and curses.
The story follows Robin and Edwin. Robin is having the world’s worst first day at a new job; discovering that his new job is in fact liaison between the Home Office and the very secret world of magic that co-exists alongside his own. It doesn’t help that his counterpart for the Magical Assembly, the prickly Mr Edwin Courcey, reveals this life-altering information rather bluntly. To top it all off, Mr Courcey is not the only one put out by Robin’s sudden appearance in this role, and he’s attacked and cursed on his way home!
All plans to attempt to correct what has clearly been a mistake are now swept aside as Robin is dependent on Edwin to break the curse placed on him before the agonising attacks kill him. In their attempt to do so, they uncover a conspiracy Robin’s predecessor was caught up in. They of course also very much get caught up in each other, too.
The characters were hands-down the best element of this story for me. Marske has created a cast of characters with depth and complexity, whom by the end of the story you really feel as if you’ve come to know them as friends of your own. It’s easy to imagine them continuing in their lives long after you’ve turned the last page, and I feel that’s a true testament to character creation. There’s a large cast of supporting character, and each have as much care to their portrayal as Robin and Edwin, without it ever feeling overwhelming. My favourite was Robin’s sister, Maud. A fiery suffragette who just wants to be able to go to university, and will do anything for her brother. I can’t wait to hear more from her in the sequel!
At the heart of this book is the romance between Edwin and Robin; Marske handles its development expertly, with all the difficulties you’d expect from opposites falling for each other, without it ever feeling cliché or unbelievable. Robin is instantly easy to love, he’s charming and vivacious; but Edwin is surrounded by walls (which in turn are full of bookshelves…). It was wonderful following the way he thaws, his learning to trust someone. Robin is the easy one to love, but Edwin is the rewarding one to do so. Marske also builds up the sexual tension between the pair well; she isn’t afraid of adding a little spice!
“It wasn’t the physical act alone. It was the way he felt watching Edwin read; it was the feeling he had every time his eyes sought Edwin in a room and landed on an angle of the man’s face, any movement of those delicate fingers: There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.”
I’ve made it sound quite serious so far, but this book really made me laugh at time, and times it had me crying. Marske was able to draw out so many emotions as I devoured this story. I haven’t read anything like it before. The closest I could maybe get is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. Perhaps closer yet would be Downton Abbey. But with a steamy gay romance, and magic, and hedge mazes that come to life, and posh people being horrible to each other in parties… I don’t know how she did it, but Marske was able to perfectly blend a page-burning action plot with heart-warming characters into a truly unique, truly marvellous, story. It’s certainly a story I can see myself re-reading again, a future comfort-read.
“On the contrary, stories are why anyone does anything.”