A Restless Truth, by Freya Marske

Is there a word for nostalgia over something you’ve never personally experienced? Because I think I have that about modes of travel that either aren’t around anymore (ocean liner travel) or that don’t really exist in my part of the world (passenger trains). At one point, the protagonist of Freya Marske’s A Restless Truth, Maud Blyth, describes the feeling of traveling between two distant points as liminal. It feels like you’re in a place that isn’t quite real, because you’re literally neither here nor there. On a train ride across the country or a long flight or on a boat headed for a distant city, with no one who knows you, you can be whoever you’d like to be. Maud feels that, too. As she steams by ocean liner from New York, Maud seizes the opportunity to not only become a detective but also one-half of a pair of soulmates.

Maud is in deep trouble at the outset of A Restless Truth. The woman she was supposed to protect has been murdered and the object she and her deceased protectee, Mrs. Navenby, has been stolen. (Readers of the first book in the series, A Marvellous Light, will know that the object is part of a magical MacGuffin that could change everything.) If Maud can’t find the object and work out who killed Mrs. Navenby, all of the magicians of England run the risk of having their magic stolen. At first, Maud has to work alone, with only her skill at manipulating people to aid her investigation. (Maud learned how to manipulate people by watching her mother, a master of the art, but she has vowed to only use her powers for good.)

All this makes A Restless Truth sound like a nail-biting, grim, reading experience but trust me when I tell you that this book is funnier and sweeter than the setup might lead you to expect. One of the things that changes the tone of the novel from supernatural thriller to supernatural-romance-comedy-thriller is the introduction of Violet Debenham. Maud can’t take her eyes off Violet from the first time they met over a communal dining table. No one else can, either, but that’s because Violet is a fantastically outrageous woman who refuses to put up with fussy society. I laughed more than once at Violet’s arch observations and devil-may-care antics. The other ingredient that makes this book such a fun read is Lord Hawthorn. Hawthorn appeared briefly in A Marvellous Light but gets a lot more stage time in this outing. Here we learn more about why he is so ferocious about not getting involved in anything. It takes a lot of effort on Maud’s part to convince him to help with her quest. Between Violet’s acting skills and Hawthorn’s privilege (and the assistance of a light-fingered socialist/journalist), Maud ends up with a formidable little force to take on her enemies.

A Restless Truth is the kind of book that you can really only describe as having everything. There are chases, romance, fights, foul-mouthed parrots, high jinks, double-crosses, hilarity, eroticism, Edwardian atmosphere, and emotional honesty. This book was a delight to read and, I think, I enjoyed it even more than the series opener. I’m very eager to see what comes next in this series.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley and Edelweiss, for review consideration.

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