Cover Image: A Restless Truth

A Restless Truth

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I received an eArc of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I need to give some context to my next statement: A Marvelous Light was my fifth favorite book I read last year. A Restless Truth is better than its predecessor.

I was initially very apprehensive about Maud as a protagonist, I found her to be a weaker part of the previous book as she felt a bit like Eloise Bridgerton: the plucky young woman character who's there to highlight that things were bad for women in the past. But I've been proven wrong, Maud is an amazing protagonist, she's desperate to prove herself, she's curious without being annoyingly naïve. And don't get me started on her glamourous love interest Violet who's deliciously layered.

The plot is an intricate mystery that I couldn't manage to predict. However the book truly shines in its sexual comedy and (much like it's predecessor) extremely well written sex scenes.

I can't wait for the next book in the series especially if that means we get to see Edwin and Violet interact.

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I enjoyed A Restless Truth, but nowhere near as much as I'd hoped, or expected, to.

All the things that I loved about A Marvellous Light are present in its sequel, except that they feel smaller somehow, less developed or else more subdued. The writing is still great: Marske has a real knack for charming, playful narration, and her storytelling always feels buoyant and lively, leaning into the chaotic-but-fun-hijinks-ness of it all. The way she crafts character and dialogue are especially impressive: her characters think and act and talk like real people, so it's no surprise that when they're all together in a scene, plenty of fun and quippy exchanges ensue.

All of this is to say, a lot of the groundwork underlying Marske's writing in A Restless Truth--the narration, the character work, the dialogue--is solid, just as it was in the novel's predecessor. Where I think this novel let me down, then, is in the bigger-picture stuff, namely the plot and the romance. The plot of A Restless Truth, a whodunnit, has a kind of sputtering quality that made it really hard to be invested in; it felt like the narrative equivalent of trying to start a car and having its engine stall over and over again. I like a story that slowly builds up to a crescendo--like A Marvellous Light's did--whereas whodunnits, by their nature, tend to have a stop-and-start style of storytelling. You investigate clues, but nothing turns up; you chase down leads, but they turn out to be dead-ends; you get closer to figuring out the mystery, but your attempts are thwarted by something or someone. It was too episodic for me, and the fact of the matter is, I just don't like that kind of storytelling all that much.

None of this is helped by the fact that the entire novel takes place over 6 days, and in one singular location, too. These two things only work to make the narrative feel too small, too limited. I usually love stories set in some kind of enclosed space or area--most of A Marvellous Light took place on an estate--but A Restless Truth took it too far. For this reason, its story ends up feeling a bit stagnant, not dynamic enough because everything in it is just stewing in this one small space and in this very short time frame.

This issue with the limited setting and time frame affects the characters too, and, by extension, their romance. I pretty much immediately loved Maud: she's stubborn and a little foolhardy, but she cares so deeply about doing good, and is so earnest and compassionate, trying not to let down the people she cares about, that it's impossible not to be endeared to her. My problem with the character work, then, isn't with Maud, but with Violet, the other main lead of this book, and Maud's love interest. Violet is, like Edwin in A Marvellous Light, emotionally closed off, reticent to reveal any real part of herself to others. And I absolutely love these kinds of characters; the fact that they're closed off means that they have that much more room to grow, so that when they do open up later on in the novel, it feels so much more rewarding to you as a reader. Thing is, we never really get to see Violet open up in A Restless Truth. Like I said, the novel only takes place over 6 days, so there's really only so much character development that can happen without straining plausibility. It would've felt disingenuous if Violet had done a complete 180 over the course of 6 days and become totally open and emotionally trusting, but at the same time the limited time frame of the book puts it in a bind because we barely get to see Violet open up at all. There is a little development, to be sure, but it feels so paltry. Maud goes through such a strong character arc in this book, but Violet is kind of left in the lurch; her character arc is less arc and more...slight curve. By the end of the novel Violet is only beginning to consider opening up, but it's too little too late: the novel is over, and we won't get to read from her POV again.

My problem with Violet's character development, or lack thereof, carries over to her romance with Maud. Because Violet doesn't get to have that strong of an arc throughout the novel, the romance also isn't allowed to grow as much as it could have--or as much as I wanted it to. I mean, I liked the dynamic that Maud and Violet had, but their romance felt incomplete to me. It's not that it was bad, but that it didn't go far enough. And that's really the crux of my issue with the novel as a whole: it develops a lot of things, but it doesn't develop them enough. I was constantly left wanting more: more honesty from these characters, more intimacy, more time.

I hate to keep comparing this book to A Marvellous Light, but I keep doing it because that first installment did so well all the things that A Restless Truth stumbled on. And that's what's disappointing me about A Restless Truth, I think: all the components are there, but the novel as a whole feels like it could've been much better than it ended up being.

Thanks so much to Tor for providing me with an eARC of this via NetGalley!

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This was an utter delight and will please fans of the first book, even though it focuses on a new couple. The characters are extremely interesting and lovable and the world building continues to be fascinating. I also loved getting more Hawthorn in this book and I desperately hope he's a lead in book 3.

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I initially discovered Freya Marske's work with the first instalment of this series, A Mavellous Light, and was completely enamored. Her prose is delightful, witty, and fun to read, and her stories and characters are full of heart. I am also intrigued by the world she has created in this series, with its Edwardian/pre-World War I setting and all the social trappings and pitfalls that implies, and how she has woven the magic into this place and time seamlessly.

While I loved getting to know the world through the eyes of Edwin and Robin and loved seeing them fall for each other, it was also a treat to get to know the new cast in this instalment a little better: Maud and Hawthorn, of whom we got only brief glimpses previously, and new faces like Ross, Violet, and (our poor dearly departed) Mrs. Navenby. While I missed Edwin and Robin, it was worth taking a break from them to explore the greater world a bit more and see things from a few new points of view.

I thought it was also fun to explore Maud's sexual awakening with Violet. I admit that I was a bit skeptical going in that Maud was as gay as her brother, but I thought it was handled in a believable way, where Maud's sexual inexperience had not led her to the conclusion that she was gay prior to meeting Violet and having the possibility made clear to her. Even Maud's exposure to Robin and Edwin's relationship hadn't alerted her to the fact that sexual and romantic liaisons between women were possible, simply due to the different expectations placed on men and women of the time and the ways close female friendships and close male friendships, platonic or otherwise, were viewed.

Additionally, the expansion of the cast allowed for more exploration of other types of queer characters and relationships, which I thought tied in well with the themes of the story. Hawthorn, who holds everyone at arm's length, has no preference for the gender of his partners, but they are always strictly physical affairs, and commentary is made on his unwillingness to open his heart and make himself vulnerable. More important was the discussion of Elizabeth and Flora's relationship, and the lavender marriage that Gerald and Flora had. I felt Maud's pain listening to Beth's story of how chaste and distant her romance with Flora was, and I thought it tied in well with the endeavors of the newer generation (Robin and Maude, Edwin, and Violet) to right the errors of their predecessors, prevent the powers that be from hurting more people, and making progress to change their society for the better. The effects of the stricter roles and upbringing of the older women are contrasted with Maud and Violet's relationship, as well as with that of Edwin and Robin, in a bittersweet way. It made me think of earlier generations of LGBT+ folks in the real world and how important it is for younger generations to know what they went through to get to where we are today and to continue the good fight, and also to have their presence and stories as guardian/mentor figures to help build a lasting community with a known past and legacy. It was a sweet touch and I am deeply hoping we get to see more of that as Maud, Violet, Robin, and Edwin build their own family and create their own subcommunity.

(Spoilers!) I thought the inclusion of Seraphina Vaughn as a villain was an interesting choice. While the story seemed intent on keeping a general feminist tilt to the story—the main villains are always men, the mentor figures and sidekicks are generally women—I like the twist that one of the women who by all rights should have been a mentor and an ally turned out to be working against them. It points to group infighting and misaligning of goals; where Flora, Elizabeth, and Enid had been content with what they'd had, Seraphina was ambitious, and that turned her to her enemies' side, even though they still did not see or recognize her total worth, only saw her as a tool. I'm very interested to see where the story ends up going with that.

I was mildly disappointed that we were restricted to the setting of the boat all along; while we got to see glimpses of the wider world through Violet's backstory and those of Elizabeth and Sera, I had been hoping to actually go to those places. But it did make for a good boat murder mystery, so I can't really complain that much. I was also miffed that Hawthorn kept his shell up the whole time. I wanted him to crack so we could get to the creamy center since he played a much more central role in this story, but alas. We've got the threads of a few good mysteries surrounding him, and I'm willing to bet that he (and probably Ross???) will play the role of main protagonist (or maybe deuteragonist, if we swap back to Robin/Edwin) in the next volume.

Overall, I enjoyed this and I am very excited to see what happens in the next (final??) tale featuring this fascinating world and cast!

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I requested access to an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is the second book in The Last Binding trilogy. This follows different characters from the first book (A Marvellous Light) -- we really don't get to see Robin and Edwin until the epilogue.

Here we follow Maud (Robin's sister) who has become wrapped up in a murder mystery on a boat. The woman she is travelling with is murdered and she is working to uncover the murderer and find the very important magical object that was stolen from their room. Maud ends up pairing up with the beautiful and scandalous magician, Violet to unravel the mystery.

When I realized we weren't going to spend a whole book with Robin and Edwin, I was a little disappointed. However, I really enjoyed all of the characters we were introduced to here. Maud ends up building a small "family" of people aboard the ship to help her avenge her murdered travelling companion and find the missing artifact. I think the dynamics of all of these character's in Maud's party end up really making up for the lack of the first books protagonists.

The romance between Maud and Violet is perfection! The sex scenes were very steamy. And overall, Markse did a great job interweaving murder mystery plot with the smut I was expecting.

Something that I wish there was more of is the badass women magicians who are on the periphery of the story. We learn more about them for sure in A Restless Truth. But I just need this prequel from Marske. I want to see the generation of women before this series timeline being subversive and experimenting with magic!

I'm excited to see how everything comes together in book three!

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While I very much enjoyed the first book in this series, this book I thought was even better. It kept me needing to know what was going to happen next.

I also enjoy that the entire book took place in one location and still felt like an adventure.

The romance was amazing, the chemistry between Maud and Violet could really be felt. I also just love dual POV when it comes to romance that was a bonus for me in both books.

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Read this on vacation and it's a perfect vacation book! I'm not really a mystery person so the "solve a mystery while trapped on a boat" aspect wasn't the catnip for me that I expect it will for others, but I really enjoyed both heroines, the worldbuilding is delightful, and I am VERY excited for what I assume will be Lord Hawthorn and Alan Ross's book!

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A fun fantasy mystery on a transatlantic voyage! If you liked A Marvellous Light, this will not disappoint.

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Maud Blyth longing for adventure and to help her brother, volunteers as an old lady’s companion on an ocean liner. Within hours of sailing away from land, the old lady is found dead in her cabin. Left with a disrespectful parrot, a prying newspaper man, a fascination with the outrageous Violet Debenham, and above all a mystery. Luckily, Maud will have the entire journey to sort things out.

Why I started this book: Enjoyed [book:A Marvellous Light|53217284] and so I requested an ARC. When it arrived, it jumped over other ARCs that I need to read and review to the top of my TBR pile.

Why I finished it: This was a one day read. Compelling story, characters and journey. Plus, I'm pretty sure that I need to take a transatlantic cruise. And I'm already picking out who should be the next lead in the book. Markse left some tantalizing bread crumbs, enough to tease the reader with possibilities... even though Amazon and goodreads list this as a duology.

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Reading this as an ARC may have been a grave tactical error for someone as impatient as me. Now I have to wait *even longer* for the third book.

I’m happy to report that A Restless Truth does not seem to suffer from the dreaded Mid-Series Slump. It is as thrillingly phenomenal as its predecessor, and quite a long list of other adjectives as well. If I had to pick just three, I’d add opulent, mysterious, and breathtaking.

Maud Blythe was a engaging character to follow on this mostly self-contained new adventure that still neatly carries the arc of the larger story. (I think Freya has a knack for it.)

I look forward with great anticipation to what is sure to be a grand finale. The wait is going to be unbearable.

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