Title: A Marvellous Light
Author: Freya Marske
Series: The Last Binding #1
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.
This book was…fun. The magical mystery part was even great fun. The mystery itself was cleverly intertwined with the magical worldbuilding which was intriguing and full of unusual ideas without being so complicated that I felt I needed to make notes to keep track. I also loved that Edwin was great at magical theory but simply didn’t have much magical power. It was a nice change from characters that are either very good at everything or very bad at everything. (And unrelated to magic: Edwin came up with his own library classification system as a kid. As a library-adjacent nerd I am delighted).
The non-mystery bit, i.e. the romance, was just…nice. I liked Robin. I liked Edwin. I even liked their developing friendship and how they helped each other with their vulnerabilities. But there was simply no spark between them that made me really care about them as romantic couple. In fact, when the big break-up due to an unfortunate series of misunderstandings/stupidity on both sides came my first thought was “Noooo! You’re both going to mope now instead of investigating the mystery further and that’s what I’m most interested in.” which was probably not the reaction the author intended.
The side-characters were a bit hit-and-miss for me. I adored Edwin’s colleague Miss Morrisey and hope to see more of her in future books. But his siblings/friends of his siblings mostly stayed somewhat one-dimensional and I did have some trouble keeping them apart (admittedly I also took my time reading this book and perhaps it would have been easier if I had read it quicker). Robin’s sister was very much the quirky enlightened/progressive female character that seems to be required in (historical) m/m romance and while I wouldn’t call her annoying she simply didn’t leave much of an impression.
Overall it was a fun read and I will pick up the next book because I do want to know how the mystery continues.