books

Freya Marske

Books: Fantasy | Mystery | Queer

The Last Binding: A Marvellous Light (2021), A Restless Truth (2022), A Power Unbound (2023)

The Last Binding 

A Marvellous Light (2021)

A Marvellous LightSet in England prior to The Great War. Maybe 1906 or 1907.

After his parents were killed ina car wreck, Robin Blyth has to pick up the pieces of the life they left him and his sister.

“You don’t talk about your parents much.”

“I am— trying very hard not to speak ill of the dead.”

So he is grateful for the Civil Service job he has been given–until he arrives at his new office.

He was to comb through complaints, letters, and hysterical newspaper stories, working out which of them might represent real magic.

Edwin Courcey is a bit of a magical dud. His siblings might be powerful but he still needs cradle strong to cast any magic. So to escape his family he works for Civil Service, checking out reports of magic that might be seen by the general populace.

But the man who held the job before Robin is dead–and those who killed him think that Robin knows the answers the dead man couldn’t tell them.

Although Robin’s parents were objectively terrible, he had his sister to help him become a decent person. Edwin just had to struggle and try to escape as best he could, which made Robin the less damaged of the two, with his sister’s love and faith to keep him going when he’d rather give up.

Edwin has been told he is weak and useless, so even if he is precise and knowledgeable, that gets him nothing from magical society–or his family.

One of the things I appreciate about MM historical romance is that the reluctance of the two characters who actually talk about their feelings is not only understandable–it makes logical sense, given that homosexuality was a serious crime at the time. But even though Robin knows this, he still wants to find a way to reach out to Edwin.

Robin didn’t want to press against what seemed a deliberate drawing-back. Should he assume that Edwin would say something, if he wished the topic to be broached at all, or was Edwin waiting for him?

The romance is very good. I loved the world building, and the mystery was very good–and although there will obviously be further adventures, we aren’t left wanting at the end, unknowing of the safety of the characters.

Really lovely.

Publisher: Tordotcom

Rating: 9/10

Reread: September 2023 | Rating: 8.5/10

A Restless Truth (2022)

A Restless TruthSet in England prior to The Great War, around 1907 or 1908.

Maud Blyth went to America to find Elizabeth Navenby and warn her she is in danger.

Unfortunately, barely before the have left port, Mrs Navenby is killed, and Maud feels partially to blame. Luckily, her brother is a farseer, and was able to give her some hints as to what the future might hold for her.

Including a young blonde woman her brother took to calling Harriet, as she appeared in so many visions of Maud’s trip.

“A distant relative of ours recently passed away and named me as her heir. A rich relative. So my dear, concerned aunt and cousin took it upon themselves to come to New York and deliver me from treading the boards in that pit of dissolution known as the Bowery, and restore me to the bosom of my loving family. I am eternally in their debt. Or so”— with a rich laugh—“ they hope.”

Violet Debenham got herself ruined and then fled to American where she trod the boards for several years. Now she is unexpectedly returning to England.

“A distant relative of ours recently passed away and named me as her heir. A rich relative. So my dear, concerned aunt and cousin took it upon themselves to come to New York and deliver me from treading the boards in that pit of dissolution known as the Bowery, and restore me to the bosom of my loving family. I am eternally in their debt. Or so”— with a rich laugh—“ they hope.”

I had been a little worried because I didn’t remember many details from the previous book. I realize it’s only been a year, but I have read quite a few books in the interim, so I was a bit worried.

Luckily, didn’t matter, because although Maud appeared in the first book, and her brother and Edwin are mentioned repeatedly, you don’t need to know the precise events of the previous book in order to enjoy this one (although I did recall more than I thought I had).

And there were some marvelous secondary characters.

“I had thought of becoming a naturalist, but I suppose you need to study at a university to be taken seriously by the Royal Society. Do you suppose there are any unmarried dukes or viscounts in England who might be interested in also becoming intrepid explorers?” she asked hopefully.

“Companionship,” said Mrs. Bernard. “Surely.”

“I prefer my peace and quiet,” said Hawthorn.

“Someone to manage your household for you.”

“I am self-managing, ma’am.” An ironic bow of his head. “And I employ an excellent housekeeper.”

“What about children, my lord?” Violet asked sweetly. “The continuation of your ancient line? Don’t you want a young future earl of your own, to dandle on your knee?”

“I have cousins,” said Hawthorn, exactly as one flattened a fly with a newspaper.

I even came to quite like Hawthorn.

“I am not a magician,” said Hawthorn.

Violet laughed. “Of course you are. Even if you—”

“I am not. A magician.” Each word was quietly and deliberately placed. “Or do you suppose I’ve been lying about the absence of my own power for the past fourteen years?”

“I don’t know.” Violet leaned back to rest her elbows on the railing. The breeze played with the feathers of her hat. “Have you?”

Hawthorn smiled at her. It was a smile searching for bruises with the intent of pressing down.

I think what I liked best about this story is although Violet is brash and says outlandish things, it is Maud who is truly brave–and that includes doing and saying what she believes is right.

He stalked across the room— narrowly avoiding Chapman and the furniture— and turned Maud’s face in his hands, somewhere between clinical and avuncular, frowning down at the split lip. “Maud Blyth. You are a terror and you should not be allowed to run loose in the world.”

I very much enjoyed this, and am betting the third book will have Ross and Hawthorn. And I can’t wait to read it. (I have to wait. At least a year.)

Publisher: Tordotcom

Rating: 8.5/10

Reread: November 2023 | Rating: 8.5/10

A Power Unbound (2023)

A Power UnboundSet in England in 1909

The final book in the Last Binding Trilogy centers on Alston, Lord Hawthorn who has been arrogant and supercilious throughout the series, but here becomes Jack, and Alan, Alanzo Rossi, who met Alston, Maud, and Violet on the ship from America back to England.

Now Jack needs to keep his cousin and Edwin’s brother from stealing the Contract–and the magic of all the magicians of England.

“Crisis,” said Jack, “is an excellent justification for the seizure of power.”

Alan Ross was unbusheled aboard the Lyric, and found himself curious about magic–and what crazy aristocrats were willing to do to protect it.

But the only thing Alanzo holds precious and worth saving is his family.

Alan Ross was a sharp, careful Londoner with an employable accent, who just happened to turn a nice burnished colour in the sun. Alanzo Rossi now existed only under this roof, with these people.

So yes: Alanzo Rossi slipped into Italian when he could, if only to savour the feel of it in his mouth.

The book opens with the events that caused Jack to lose his magic–and his twin–and turned him into the careless arrogant man we met in the first book. Starting with that lets you see him as Jack, rather than Alston, and as a far more sympathetic man than in the previous books.

The past had a heavy fist around his heart. What he was waiting for was for it to physically hurt.

The year of limbo between the loss of Jack’s magic and the loss of his twin had been like walking with a large, sharp pebble embedded between sock and shoe, and afterwards—even worse.

It’s also, of course, the romance between Jack and Alan.

Alan’s fine-tuned nerves told him that there was no real threat in this conversation. They were tossing a grenade back and forth, each of them pretending that it was primed to explode, but it wasn’t.

As with the previous books, the writing and language is delightful.

He watched the invitation being weighed as Alan Ross weighed all gifts: as if suspecting them of being hollow and containing Greeks.

And there were the bits that were a punch.

There’s only so much fight in a person. If it never lets up, if they can never rest—it gets squeezed out of them, forever.

I will need to read this again, later. But I am very content with how the story went and ended.

Publisher: Tordotcom

Rating: 8.5/10