A Restless Truth by Freya Marske (The Last Binding #2)

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.

TITLE: A Restless Truth
AUTHOR: Freya Marske
PUBLISHER: Tor/Pan Macmillan UK
YEAR: 2022
LENGTH: 392 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical, Romance

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Secondary Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Trans Minor Character(s).

A witty and enchanting follow-up, A RESTLESS TRUTH follows Maud Blyth as she tries to secure a piece of the Last Contract. 

This continues the general mission of collecting the pieces of the Last Contract and securing them to protect the other magicians of Britain, it also follows Maud (Robin's sister) who briefly appeared in A MARVELLOUS LIGHT. It doesn't completely wrap up anything left hanging from the first book, but it does move forward on a variety of plot points in a way that's suitable for the second book in a trilogy. There's an entirely new storyline related to Maud and Violet, as well as the mostly self-contained issue of the murder and Last Contract piece on the cruise ship. The restricted location makes this feel like a bottle episode in a way I wasn't expecting but is pleasant to read. Oftentimes the middle book in a trilogy can feel a bit neglected, existing only to bridge between the beginning and the finale, but partly because it changed narrators and has an entirely new location this feels fresh and can almost entirely stand on its own. Several major things are introduced and resolved, including but not limited to the immediate issue of figuring out who committed the murder and how to keep them from achieving their broader aims. 

The plot is a mix of complicated hijinks and social navigation as they try to find a missing item and solve a murder, all while avoiding the attention of the culprits even when they haven't yet figured out who is involved. This would mostly make sense to someone who hadn't read the first book, the relevant backstory is explained as needed and generally avoids feeling like infodumping. The corollary is that it doesn't spend much time explaining what happened in the first book, because at a certain point that isn't crucial to Maud's experience since it happened to her brother instead of her. Maud and Violet are new narrators to the series, and their perspectives feel very distinct. Violet is guarded even in her own head, in a way that means I came away understanding the shape of her reticence more than the details of her history. 

Maud and Violet's relationship has a lot of care and deliberate exploration of them as people. Maud wants to know everything about Violet, but Violet is a much more guarded person and isn't ready to show more of herself to someone she just met a few days ago. I appreciate how their levels of physical and emotionally intimacy are treated as two distinct things, both needing attention but not necessarily lining up precisely.

My favorite character is Lord Hawthorn (due mostly to my personal preferences and not implying any fault with the others), I was excited to see him playing more of a role here than he did in the first book, and I'm very hyped for the forthcoming third book which stars him and Alan Ross.

Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, grief, blood, violence, murder, death.

Moderate CW for classism, cursing, injury detail.

Minor CW for pregnancy, mental illness, vomit, car accident, suicide, slavery, parental death.

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