Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing A Restless Truth by Freya Marske, the second book in The Last Binding trilogy.
Magic! Murder! Shipboard romance! The second entry in Freya Marske’s beloved The Last Binding trilogy, the queer historical fantasy series that began with A Marvellous Light.
The most interesting things in Maud Blyth’s life have happened to her brother Robin, but she’s ready to join any cause, especially if it involves magical secrets that may threaten the whole of the British Isles. Bound for New York on the R.M.S. Lyric, she’s ready for an adventure.
What she actually finds is a dead body, a disrespectful parrot, and a beautiful stranger in Violet Debenham, who is everything—a magician, an actress, a scandal—Maud has been trained to fear and has learned to desire. Surrounded by the open sea and a ship full of loathsome, aristocratic suspects, they must solve a murder and untangle a conspiracy that began generations before them.
***Thank you to Tordotcom for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I loved A Marvellous Light so much, and I’ve been waiting for the continuation of this story for a year. I was a bit worried that the protagonists changed for this second installment. I don’t usually like when that happens in a series, but I loved these characters so much that it didn’t bother me at all.
This book was so different from the first one, but also felt incredibly familiar at the same time. The writing was still wonderful and did a beautiful job of bringing both the settings and characters to life. Marske excelled at creating witty, compelling dialogue and vivid descriptions that managed to make a rather claustrophobic setting feel grand. The pace was quick throughout, and I enjoyed following the adventures of these characters and getting to know them as the story unfolded.
The plot was a pretty standard whodunnit murder mystery crossed with a quest to find a magical item. The best part of it… EVERYTHING HAPPENS ON A BOAT! I just really loved this setting, and it worked so well to have the characters try to work out the identities of their enemies while being trapped in extremely close quarters with them. It increased the tension in all the right ways and created some unique opportunities for fun mayhem. The story also had plenty of twists and turns and added quite a bit to the lore introduced in the first book.
The characters were my favorite thing about the book. I liked the little bit we saw of Maud in the first book, and it was nice to learn more about her in this one. She quickly found herself in the middle of a mess soon after the ship set sail and began trying to get on top of the situation by recruiting allies to help her track down a murderer. She started out her sea voyage the picture of the perfect lady. She even had difficulty bringing herself to curse. Her journey was one of self-discovery (and some might say corruption…lol). This brings me to Violet, one of her first allies and the catalyst for much of Maud’s growth. She was probably the opposite of Maud in almost every way. She left Britain in scandal before establishing herself as a performer in New York and was widely known as a strumpet. She also has serious trust issues from being burned in previous relationships. The relationship that blooms between the two women was full of passion and drama, and the steamy scenes added to the character development of them both. I enjoyed getting to see Violet help Maud explore, understand, and accept her queerness.
The rest of the characters were all great, as well, and Maud gathered herself quite the crew of accomplices. My favorite, however, was Lord Hawthorn, who also appeared briefly in the first book. His mysterious grumpy bisexual self stole the show of so many scenes, even though he was almost always in the background compared to the other characters. I’m now so curious about him. Who hurt him? Does he end up happy? I NEED him to end up happy… preferably with the hot jewel thief introduced in this book. They had some smoldering chemistry and great banter that I’d love to see explored further. Luckily, the author confirmed on Twitter that Lord Hawthorn is getting star billing in the last book, which has me very excited. Now I just have to wait until the next book is finished…
If you enjoy sapphic romance, magic, historical fantasy, and/or murder mysteries, this is a book you don’t want to miss. It blew all my expectations out of the water, and Marske is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars and will definitely be taking this voyage again in the future because it was such a fun read.