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A Marvellous Light


A Marvellous Light

There are some books that feel like a revelation. That crack the world open and give you something you’re not entirely sure you’d ever been brave enough to ask for. That make you feel like, Oh, there you are. I’ve been hoping I’d find something like you. An instant comfort read, one that you know, even while reading it, you’re going to revisit because it feels so deeply good just to be in. That’s what Freya Marske delivers in A MARVELLOUS LIGHT. This is a balm, though it’s also a romp. Propulsive magical intrigue is beautifully balanced with some of the most lush, tender and fiercely cathartic romance. It’s tons of fun and also extremely sexy, exquisitely written and one of my favorite books of the year.

A good-natured athlete with a heart of gold and a secret passion for art, Robin Blyth has never really wanted to properly prepare for the future, though now he has to in the worst way. The death of his parents, who never saw him as anything but an extension of themselves, has forced him into baronetcy, and now he’s tasked with tending to a paltry estate and his sister’s future. So he’s in no position to complain when he ends up in a civil service job, taking over for a man who’s disappeared under questionable circumstances.

"Propulsive magical intrigue is beautifully balanced with some of the most lush, tender and fiercely cathartic romance. It’s tons of fun and also extremely sexy, exquisitely written and one of my favorite books of the year."

Edwin Courcey, meanwhile, is understandably concerned about Reggie’s disappearance, not least because his distractingly handsome replacement seems to have been a mistake. Robin had absolutely no knowledge of magic prior to his appointment. Born to a family of highly powered magicians, Edwin was born with only the meagerest amount of power, though he has a deep intellectual curiosity for the practice the rest of his society could hardly be bothered with. Edwin has made a rather successful study of refusing to let anyone get to know him, as they typically only want to hurt him or make fun if they do. But Robin’s warm, easy smile threatens to crack through every last one of Edwin’s defenses. And as much as Edwin would rather ignore Robin, when Robin is attacked with a strange and dangerous curse, the two must work together to break it and unfurl a nefarious plot in time to save every magician in the British Isles.

What a sheer joy to read. Marske’s writing is exquisite, evocative and precise yet comfortably readable, and she constructs intricate worldbuilding that’s also easy to understand. A MARVELLOUS LIGHT features one of my favorite magic systems of all time, rooted in consent and enhanced by string, not unlike how one might play cat’s cradle. It’s a genius, fitting premise: an alternate magical Edwardian London in which magic brims just under the surface, the majority of the populace having no idea of the power that a select few hold. It slots in so perfectly with a queer historical --- magic, always present and always beautiful and powerful, even as it has to be kept secret. This book makes you believe that all through history there could have been magic like this, and makes you remember or recognize that all through history there were lovers like this.

I usually don’t like books that deal with period-typical homophobia in a comfort read, but I love how Marske wields it in this book, for two reasons. First, there is familiar, real-world, institutional homophobia, but neither Edwin nor Robin wrestles with serious internalized homophobia. There’s definitely a place for that work and that story, but we need stories like this too, and it suits the sweet, romantic tone of the book that it’s not present for them. Second, even before Edwin and Robin share their attraction to each other, they get to experience that sense of fellowship every queer person knows: they get to share this. It’s another secret just for the two of them, and in a world full of intrigue and adventure, terrible curses and terrible siblings, they get to go through it with someone else who experiences the world the way they do. And then they get to choose each other, with the full weight of knowing what that means. It’s deeply cathartic, and it makes me feel both seen and safe at once.

And the romance itself! An insecure nerdy magician librarian meets a himbo jock with a heart of gold who sees him more clearly than anyone ever has. It’s the best sort, each character growing and learning about himself in the process. Each touch and glance feels specific and weighted, and it’s woven so tightly into this wild and compelling magical plot. The romance is gentle and genuine, even and perhaps especially at its most steamy. Marske writes a dual POV expertly, which isn’t an easy thing to do. The result is deeply satisfying, allowing us to see both sides of misunderstanding and longing alike, and the many intricate ways the two men make sense for each other.

With its sheer tenderness, and the deep care and catharsis with which it was written for queer readers, A MARVELLOUS LIGHT absolutely dazzled me.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on November 5, 2021

A Marvellous Light
by Freya Marske