A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske is utterly delightful and one of the best books I’ve read in 2021. I am blinded by the joy this book brought me, and I can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy all over. I know it’s cliche but Marske’s story is truly magical and conjures all the right stuff. The thoughtful characters, unique magic system, and intriguing plot make this book shine from cover to cover.
Robin Blyth’s parents have passed on, and he’s left with a daring young sister, a household he can’t manage, a baronet title, and a job post at a seemingly odd civil service department. Day one proves to be difficult after meeting the prickly Edwin Courcey, who informs Robin his role is to aid a hidden magical society. The situation only worsens when Robin is magically cursed by an unknown group of people who believe he knows the location of a secret magical contract. Robin’s life is on the line until he locates the contract, and he begins to experience physical attacks and visions from the curse mark on his arm. Edwin reluctantly agrees to help Robin sort out this mess if only to speed things along and return to his normal, quiet life. Both gentlemen travel to Edwin’s country estate to consult his family’s extensive library and solve a mystery that begins to threaten the entirety of magical society.
There’s a lot that makes A Marvellous Light good, but the characters are what makes it great. Edwin and Robin are gems that steal the show immediately. They have an endearing cat-dog dynamic with Edwin’s withdrawn prickly scholar vibe offsetting Robin’s happy-go-lucky charm. It’s incredible how their every thought and action seemed perfectly placed to elicit emotion and aid the plot. Their interactions are compelling, and I was engaged beyond measure every time the two of them shared a room. I especially loved seeing how they both evolved throughout the story without sacrificing the foundational essence of their characters. Marske did a fabulous job bringing Edwin and Robin to life in real ways that established deep emotional connections with the reader.
The magic system was unique, and it made for an interesting exploration of the world. Spells are generated by a technique called “cradling.” A magic user will hand sign a set of complex motions that are reminiscent of the game cat’s cradle sans string. These gestures infuse power into the spell, and the cradle combinations determine its ability. We don’t understand the specifics behind the technique, but Edwin’s research hints at a complicated and scientific method for the creation of spells. Magic in Marvellous is kept tightly under wraps and the general population is unaware that it exists. Power primarily runs through established prominent families. However, the amount of power varies from person to person and some members never receive a drop of magic at all. This makes for some interesting family dynamics and it’s an intriguing element in the story to see in action.
Magic and society play a huge role in Edwin and Robin’s self-exploration in the book, but I enjoyed the ways Marske focuses on family dynamics. The relationships are so varied but powerful, and one’s family really can make or break a person. Edwin’s lack of power put a target on his back and his family pushed him to the side. While Robin was raised by socialite parents who saw him more as a shiny object to parade around than an actual human being. It’s fascinating to see how these men were shaped by their unique upbringings. The implications of their family life bleed over into adulthood as they struggle with not only magic, or the lack thereof, but the secret selves they carry as gay men in the early 1900s. There is so much at play and Marske brilliantly captures the struggle of young twenty-somethings coming to terms with their past while changing their future.
Freya Marske surprised and delighted me throughout A Marvellous Light. The story is engaging, the magic is inspiring, and I couldn’t help but become deeply intertwined with Edwin and Robin’s lives. I experienced all of the emotions while reading, but Marske artfully wraps up the story and gives us a sweet and satisfying end. It could have easily ended here, but I’m glad it didn’t and I look forward to seeing what Marske has in store for the series.
Rating: A Marvellous Light – 9.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.