A review by tachyondecay
A Restless Truth by Freya Marske

adventurous emotional mysterious fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


Earlier this year I delighted in A Marvellous Light, by Freya Marske. She wove a finely balanced tale of murder, magic, and intrigue. I was so excited for the sequel and pleased when I received an eARC courtesy NetGalley and Tor. I knew the sequel was going to be good. I was not prepared for it to be this.

A Restless Truth follows Robin’s sister, Maud, on an ocean voyage from the United States back to the United Kingdom. A murder most foul catapults Maud from the role of companion into detective. Out of her depth, Maud nevertheless resolves to rout a murderer and retrieve the piece of the Last Contract that her companion had been protecting. Fortunately, she collects some allies, including Lord Hawthorn from the first book, and a new character/love interest in the form of Violet Debenham, intentionally described socialite-turned-performer. That’s right—after the m/m pairing of the first book, Marske gives us a f/f romance here.

As with the first book, the romance/sex scenes are far steamier/spicier than I tend to seek out in my non-erotic fiction. But I loved the development of Maud and Violet’s relationship every bit as much as I did Robin and Edwin’s. This one is different because Maud is only gradually realizing her sexuality. Violet’s consequent ambivalence—she isn’t sure she is the right person to be Maud’s first, to guide her through this—is sweet and tender. There’s so much discussion of consent, fights over things both silly and significant, and then make-up sex. I love a book that just has some joyously normalized queer romance even though romance is not in and of itself my genre.

Fortunately, A Restless Truth has a lot more to offer than romance. This book presents a mystery, but unlike the first book, it’s much closer to a locked-room mystery. We’re on a boat! In the middle of the Atlantic! So the killer can’t exactly go overboard at any moment, and while magic is a factor, everyone who knows this is also motivated to keep the rest of the boat unaware—to avoid “unbusheling” them, if you will. This gives Marske quite a lot of room to escalate the drama and tension gradually. What begins as a straightforward mystery with a side helping of romance blooms into a tense, explosive, seditious plot that has Maud and her allies making plans, breaking plans, and eventually just fighting for survival. Whether it’s exposition or a climactic confrontation, Marske’s writing is tight and so satisfying to read. I had a busy week, so I did end up putting this book down more than I wanted to, but I didn’t want to put it down!

Maud is a delightful protagonist, though I think Violet ultimately stole the show for me. The way that Marske balances contrasts their upbringing—Maud’s sheltered life, Violet’s more worldly experiences—is beautiful. There’s a scene two thirds of the way through the book where Violet considers opening up and sharing more of her concerns with Maud and ultimately doesn’t, and it’s that withholding, and Maud’s sense of understanding, that is so heartachingly good. Sometimes, no matter how whirlwind a romance is, you just aren’t ready to divulge your most intimate secrets yet.

The supporting characters have so much to offer as well. Marske has a talent for foreshadowing, for laying out the pieces on the board in such a way that you know they are all going to come together before the end of the book, but you can’t quite see the final layout. It’s very satisfying, watching these minor characters who were introduced in the first chapters show up here and there to help nudge the plot along without it feeling too contrived or heavy-handed. Because we’re on an ocean voyage, Marske has the ability to introduce a quirky but limited cast and then work with them to advance the story.

I also love how Marske continues to build this world, its magic, and the mystery around the Last Contract. I had no idea that this book would take us away from Robin and Edwin—and it is a sign of how much I am coming to appreciate Marske as a storyteller that I found myself relishing their absence. Now I’ve met so many other characters I’ve enjoyed, and I can’t wait to see what the third book brings!

A Restless Truth was not the book I was expecting as a sequel to A Marvellous Light—it was better. That’s no mean feat for a second novel. Also, because this book is very “contained”—both in setting and characters—you could dive into this one before you read A Marvellous Light as long as you don’t mind general spoilers for the first book. Nevertheless, I would recommend you read both.

Originally posted at Kara.Reviews.