Publishing: November 2, 2021
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.
Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles–and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.
I loved this! It reminds me in a lot of ways of KJ Charles’ The Magpie Lord series, but with a completely different relationship dynamic.
I saw other reviews that described this as ‘like top tier fanfiction’and ‘a himbo and a librarian’ and really I don’t think I can top that. Because this is those things, and more.
You know how sometimes a story has that indefinable characteristic that just makes you go “ooooooh this is gonna be good!” as soon as you start reading? That’s what happened here. I picked it up because it sounded good; I read it in a day because it was excellent and sucked me into the world completely. Also the writing is just gorgeous.
I love how Freya Marske took the ‘secret society of magicians’ trope and flipped it on its head. Robin has spent his whole life knowing nothing about magic. Then he finds out the dead-end civil service job he’s been shuffled into is actually a magical liaison job that includes daily reports to the Prime Minister. Then he’s accosted in the street and cursed over a missing object he knows nothing about… And things spiral from there. Edwin has always been the weakest magician of his family, forced to use actual string for his cradling as a crutch, bullied and laughed at and retreating into books his whole life, and now he’s stuck with a liaison who is cheerfully oblivious to what the actual duties of his job are and comes across as a dumb jock. It doesn’t seem like a promising start to a relationship, but it certainly is delightful.
Ooh, and the cradling! First, a magic system built on cat’s cradle is unique and genius. It made for such a visual experience of spellcasting, with the fluid (or clumsy) movement of fingers through positions, and a shimmering or color change of the air between the fingers. Having Edwin be forced to use an actual string (the horror!) was also great.
But the inventive magic system doesn’t stop there! Later they encounter a secret magic system developed by girls who were shut out of the traditional magic world, this time based on liminal spaces. And that is genius, really. Because liminal spaces are magic, and it makes perfect sense that one would be more open to magic while in one.
The slow-burn relationship was lovely and I look forward to more adventures of Edwin and Robin in the future, as the ending sets them up for this perfectly.
The narration was good though it took a bit of getting used to. The narrator speaks very slowly with such long pauses between sentences that I bumped the audio speed past where I comfortably keep it, but then the words were too fast and I slowed it down again. So the optimal listening speed ranged from 1.25x to 1.75x and I’m not sure if it was the narration itself or my processing speed at different times I was listening that made the difference. The narrator did a fairly good job with the different voices although some were a bit too similar at times and it occasionally made it hard to keep track of who was speaking.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an e-arc for review, as well as Macmillan UK Audio for providing an audio arc for review.
The only other woman was Trudie Davenport, the sharp-featured brunette with a da Vinci nose and an actress’s high laugh, who even on ten seconds acquaintance gave off the air of a marble set loose in a bowl — always trying to return herself to the centre of things.
“Bel and Charlie surround themselves with people who are in love with them,” said Edwin. It didn’t sound like malice. It sounded like tired statement of fact. “They can’t stand not to be loved.”
“I don’t want to intrude.”
“You’re not. You can’t It’s extremely irritating.” Edwin stepped close, very close indeed.
Edwin said, “Every time you touch me it’s exactly what I want.”
“One doesn’t need to define the individual if the contract includes all of us.”
All of us. Every living magician in Great Britain. Flora Sutton’s words were the final piece; Edwin’s mind shook itself like a tablecloth and laid the solution out, flat and clear and horrifying. If every British magician truly was descended from the Three Families, then it defined them all on the bloodline level; even more horribly, it negated the need to rely on an individual’s consent, if you constructed the spell properly. A contract was consent, even if it was given on your behalf by your ancestors.
Usually he’d have been tense enough to snap, standing this close to Walt, but his fear had washed out of him. He’d never outgrow it entirely — he’d grown up with it woven into his nerves, a spell cast on a sapling — but he also didn’t think it would ever return to the same extent.
Robin gave him his hands back. Robin gave a grin of open affection and pure relief that brought the sunlight back into Edwin’s mouth for a fleeting moment.
Something about that cracked Robin’s heart into pieces and rectified it with the next beat.
“You,” said Robin. Every time it was easier. It was carving its own groove in his mouth. “I want you.”
And he paused, in the space between inhalation and exhalation, and invited magic in.