I decided to do some Valentine’s Day reading; I figured A Marvellous Light might be a safer bet than usual (I’m not a romance person) because a writer of a romantic novel that I did like had a positive blurb on the back. The basic premise has a lot of familiar elements: two people are forced to work together, don’t exactly get along, are forced into an investigation (how to cure Robin’s curse, and what happened to Robin’s predecessor who seems to have gone missing), and slowly realize they might actually like each other, and then face a variety of dangers on the way to facing the future firmly together.
The twist is that 1) this pseudo-Victorian world has magic (but that’s hidden; Robin only finds out because it’s his job to liase with the magical counterpart to keep some government folks apprised), and what little we get about the system is interesting. Edwin, Robin’s magical counterpart, is basically a scholar forced to endure people for the sake of his job, but his magic is not as strong as other’s so he has to rely on string to help him form a spell. Twist 2 is that it turns out both Robin and Edwin have similar backgrounds in that they have aristocratic families who are stereotypes of the worst parts of high society (gossip, casual nastiness, etc), although Robin’s family is titled older formerly moneyed (his parents were not terribly thoughtful about the state of their estate upon the demises) and Edwin’s is magical new wealth.
The relationship between Edwin and Robin is kind of fun since it’s almost a stereotypical jock-geek pairing, but those things end up being sidelined to other features Robin and Edwin start to appreciate about each other. It’s also kind of funny that they realize they are of similar inclination when Edwin is reveled to have hidden a dirty book inside of a dull scholarly one, and Robin recognizes the author; all the more interesting in a world where same sex relationship, at least for men, is illegal (kind of historically accurate on that). The part that was an interesting surprise is how directly they ask each other what they want and ask for consent to try various things, some magical, some not.
In this kind of tale, I’d expect a good deal more witty banter, and it’s just not there. It’s also kind of too bad that the two characters with the most personality are minor roles (and both happen to be women, go figure); the wise old lady Mrs. Sutton, and the overly competent secretary Miss Morrissy and her formidable older sister. It’s also too bad that there’s some much not explained about the magical ideas, since Edwin is supposed to be a scholar of these things; not that there’s no explaining, it’s just so scattered and inconsistent. It’s also mildly irritating that this novel is definitely setting up a series with so many threads left hanging, and yes, according to Goodreads, there is indeed a sequel forthcoming. I’m just not sure I care enough.