I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, Robin Blyth finds himself pushed into a desk job as he tries to make ends meet after inheriting his late parents’ failing estate. However, this boring desk job is perhaps not so boring after all—he’s been made the non-magical liaison to one of the secret magical branches of government. This is down to an oversight by his superiors, but it’s one he is stuck with when a mysterious masked figure finds him, demands to know where his predecessor hid an object of power, and puts a curse upon Robin. So Robin has to team up with Edwin Courcey, his magical counterpart in this bureaucracy, who doesn’t seem to like Robin much. However, the more the two investigate the origin of Robin’s curse, the more sinister truths they uncover. And these truths might put their entire world in peril if they don’t stop it.
It’s probably a bad sign that I had to look up the main character’s last names to write this review…
Okay, that sounded ominous. I didn’t dislike this book; it was decent! The main characters aren’t particularly innovative, but they have very good banter with one another and some adequate development throughout the story. The magic system is quite intriguing (but more on that later). The settings are vivid and often exciting. There is some good foundation to this book.
I think I just wanted… more.
As I said, Robin and Edwin make for fine protagonists, but nothing about their personalities really pulled me in; they didn’t feel layered enough to me, nor did their different points of view sound all that distinct (a pet peeve of mine). As for the other characters, aside from Miss Morrissey, no one really made an impression on me. It was just a cast of vaguely unpleasant people. And in regards to Miss Morrissey, she was really cool, but didn’t have much of a character arc of her own, seemingly existing in the plot primarily to help Robin and Edwin.
On a more positive note, the magic is pretty cool, as I mentioned. The way casting spells works in this universe is based on the game cat’s cradle, using string (or not, depending on how skilled a magician is) to shape spells in the air. It sounds like it would be a really compelling thing to witness if this had been created as visual media instead, and I think there was a lot of opportunity for the magic to have been explained even further, had we had enough time to do so. As it was, the magic was intriguing and mysterious, if a little confusing and vague.
As for the plot, it was fine, but felt a little too slow sometimes. I didn’t feel there was any urgency, even as the stakes technically did get higher. Instead of being worried, though, we seemed to linger in various places for longer than I expected. However, that’s not a bad thing—the settings were some of the best parts of this book. Being in Edwin’s childhood home, or the magical hedge maze, or even in the magical government offices, were so well-described. I could really picture the settings, from the wallpaper to the floating lights. The hedge was one of the best parts, and probably the main thing I’ll recall about this book; that was an excellent sequence.
In the end, though, A Marvellous Light actually felt pretty lackluster to me, which was a shame. There is so much potential in this story, this world, these characters. But instead, I was left wanting in most aspects, and despite there being a quite obvious setup for a sequel, I probably won’t be continuing to read things in this universe; I don’t have the time. That isn’t to say, though, that I’ll never read another book by this author again. For a debut, it isn’t the best, but I can see that Marske does have some talent, and will no doubt hone her craft over time.
But I still wish this particular book had been more fulfilling for me.
Overall rating: 7.8/10
(On another note entirely, I’m thinking about no longer including a number rating with these reviews. It’s become a very arbitrary number, not based on anything really quantifiable. I’ve simply been assigning a general score based on my overall feelings and in comparison to other books I’ve read, but not only do I think I rate things too high, they also don’t mean anything to me. I don’t know. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll design a different way to “rate” books for the new year.)