*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMarvellousLightbookreview


I loved the look of this cover – and the fact it was a historical fantasy was a further inducement. So I was very pleased when I was approved for the arc.

BLURB – truncated: 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…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the very chatty blurb and my advice is not to read it before tucking into this one. Marske is a talented writer who immediately pulled me into the story right from the beginning with that shocking Prologue – and her assured characterisation of Robin, whose attitude and outlook immediately convinced me that he belongs in this particular era.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the magic. Marske effectively sets up the world where magic is largely hidden by those without any talent. And while her depiction of close-knit magical families who are highly protective of their bloodlines is a familiar device, she manages to weave it within the rigid class system of the time very effectively. There are some delightful touches of humour, particularly when Robin is visiting Edwin’s family home for the first time, where Marske’s writing is vividly sharp and funny. It would have been wonderful if that level of humour continued throughout, but as the stakes kept on getting higher, I wasn’t surprised that the tone became grimmer.

I thought the growing feelings between the two men was beautifully handled. It would have been all too easy to have lost pace and tension with the conflict powering the narrative by focusing on the relationship, which is a pitfall that Marske avoids. Indeed, until about two-thirds of the way into this book, I was rapt as the pages turned themselves – and convinced I was reading another 10/10. And then we hit the first sex scene. I was completely unprepared for the very graphic descriptions of the same-sex encounter, which went on for pages and pages. By the end of it I was a bit fed up.

These days, I’m not particularly interested in books with heavy sexual content – not that I think there’s anything wrong with them. But I’m not at a stage of my life where I find them enjoyable or diverting, so I generally avoid those types of reads. Most of the time, it’s easy – there’s a cover featuring a scantily dressed protagonist pouting in a perfume ad pose. Or the blurb includes words such as steamy, or erotic. I went back to check whether I’d missed those hints – and I hadn’t, because they weren’t there. There’s a thriving sub-genre of historical fantasy adventures with added romance where there isn’t a graphic anything. I know – I’ve been reading a fair number of them during the last year. And I assumed this was yet another of those. But this time around there are three extended, highly detailed sex scenes that I ended up flipping through.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I didn’t DNF the book – but I was hooked on the magical adventure, invested in the characters and wanted to know how it would be resolved. Marske provided some nice twists that brought a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. However, I have knocked a couple of points off my initial score, because the graphic sexual content significantly dented my enjoyment of the overall story and I would have appreciated more warning in the blurb about their existence. While I obtained an arc of A Marvellous Light from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

9 responses »

  1. Lovely review. I have very similar thoughts! Those sex scenes were so unexpected, I almost didn’t believe them. I feel the same way that you do. If I wanted to read graphic scenes like that, I would choose particular genres to read, and Tor doesn’t usually “go there.” But I did love the rest of it! My review will be up tomorrow.

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I’ve read loads of glowing reviews for this one, which have hardly mentions “those” scenes – which almost had me wondering if we’d read different editions!!! As you say – the rest of the story is outstanding and the inclusion of such graphic sexual content in a genre that doesn’t usually “go there” was very jarring. Looking forward to reading your review, Tammy:)).

  2. While I am quite far from being a prude, I don’t enjoy prolonged sex scenes in the stories I read – my theory is that they might be a sort of filler for lack of other ideas, and therefore they detract, rather than adding, from the substance of a story…

    • I know what you mean, Maddalena. But the maddening thing about this book is that it is BRILLIANTLY written. And if only those scenes hadn’t been included, I would have given it a 10. Oh well…

  3. I couldn’t help smiling when you mentioned flipping through the sex scenes. I have nothing against steam in books, but I prefer the prolonged seduction/tease than the lengthy depictions of the act itself—mostly, because it’s usually boring to me when it’s detailed. Recently, I’ve read a perfectly entertaining (=devoured in one afternoon) sci-fi romance that had a huge sex scene in about 2/3 of the book. I kept reading, but with each page I was more and more like “why is it taking so long?” 😉

    • I tend to agree. The run-up to ‘the deed’ is generally the entertaining, enjoyable bit, I find. And what really annoyed me was that I wasn’t expecting it in this particular book, so I felt a tad ambushed.

      • Now that could make a good comic strip: Sarah reading peacefully, and then, SUDDENLY, she’s ambushed by a sex scene. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist after your vivid description.)

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