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