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REVIEW: A Case of Possession (A Charm of Magpies book...

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Magic in the blood. Danger in the streets.

A Charm of Magpies, Book 2

Lord Crane has never had a lover quite as elusive as Stephen Day. True, Stephen’s job as justiciar requires secrecy, but the magician’s disappearing act bothers Crane more than it should. When a blackmailer threatens to expose their illicit relationship, Crane knows a smart man would hop the first ship bound for China. But something unexpectedly stops him. His heart.

Stephen has problems of his own. As he investigates a plague of giant rats sweeping London, his sudden increase in power, boosted by his blood-and-sex bond with Crane, is rousing suspicion that he’s turned warlock. With all eyes watching him, the threat of exposure grows. Stephen could lose his friends, his job and his liberty over his relationship with Crane. He’s not sure if he can take that risk much longer. And Crane isn’t sure if he can ask him to.

The rats are closing in, and something has to give…

Product Warnings
Contains m/m sex (on desks), blackmail, dark pasts, a domineering earl, a magician on the edge, vampire ghosts (possibly), and the giant rats of Sumatra.

Dear KJ Charles,

I reviewed the first book in this series here. Now that some time has passed I can say that it was probably my favorite m/m book last year. I am usually wary of reading the sequel to a beloved book, because I worry whether the sequel will live up to the high bar that the first book raised. I am glad that for me this sequel definitely did. Now I can worry about the third book.

This book should not be read as a stand – alone. If you do read this first, I do not think you will be terribly confused, because the adventure/mystery plot is a new one, but the book continues to build up the relationship between the main characters, Lucien Crane and Stephen Day, and most importantly it once again develops their characters in the midst of all that danger, magic and mayhem.

One of the main reasons why I often scoff at the possibility of a sequel (or series developed) to a book I loved is because so many authors seem to be so very fond of creating artificial conflicts between the couple, just to break them up for the sake of another book and then putting them back together at the end. But there is absolutely nothing artificial in the tension between Stephen and Lucien in this book, because it arises out of who they are, and the unresolved issues in their relationship are believable because their relationship is only several months old. And of course there is a nice external danger to both of them, which made perfect sense in the context of the mystery/adventure plot.

More importantly, the unresolved issues between the men do not make them act like idiots. For example, in the very beginning of the book somebody has decided to blackmail Lucien over his relationship with Stephen and made his demands known to Lucien. It is part of Lucien’s nature to try and protect Stephen (even though he is aware of Stephen’s abilities to protect himself). I was very pleased to see that it did not occur to Lucien to hide the blackmailer’s visit from Stephen, and he let his lover know as soon as possible about the blackmail attempt. I do not know why I was even worried for a second that this would be the source of a quarrel between the guys and a reason for manufactured conflict/breakup/angst (take your pick). I really must start trusting this writer not to lead me towards silly plot turns.

I was also pleased to see both men becoming more and more aware of each other flaws, but still loving each other more, not less. It was refreshing to see Lucien realize (with a little push from Merrick) how much Stephen’s pride means to him and try to curb his own “wanting to rescue” tendencies. At the same time Stephen would at least attempt to ask for help, hopefully because he understood that asking for help sometimes did not make him weak. And their declaration of love was so appropriate and so suited to both of them. When we see Stephen’s desire to protect Lucien at all costs despite what it seemed to have cost him in terms of his cherished job, it made me wonder whether these men are really that different inside. I decided not.

I must praise the adventure/mystery/magic storyline – I loved it just as much as I loved it in the first book. It made the characters shine, but more importantly it made me hold my breath wondering what would happen next and I read without hesitation the creepiness that I am usually more likely to pass in many other books. I did not want to miss a word; I had to know what was going on. I was also pleased to become more acquainted with Stephen’s partner Esther and other practitioners from his team. I am really hoping that I will see more of them in the next book of these series. I liked Esther a lot, but I think she could have used more fleshing out. Merrick, Crane’s manservant and friend was just as awesome in this book, and I while I was a bit scared to see the extent of his ruthlessness, I am glad the writer did not shy away from it. I liked that we learned more about what Merrick and Crane did in China as well.

The writing was just as wonderful as in the first book. Here is an example to give you a taste, so that you can decide whether it works for you. Lucien was asked to do a little translating work for Stephen and his team ;).

“Crane knew from Stephen that Mrs. Gold was the senior member of the team, and that she resented the common assumption that she was subordinate to the men. He addressed his next words to her. “Please don’t think this is a vulgar curiosity, but if you want me to translate when someone arrives, it would help to know what I need to discuss. What’s the problem?”
The practitioners glanced at each other, quick fleeting looks. Esther Gold said,
“Rats.”
“Rats?”
“Rats.”
“We got a rat problem.” Saint wore a malicious grin.
“I suppose you know you can hire a man and a dog in any pub in this city,” Crane offered blandly.
“It wouldn’t help,” Stephen said. “Joss, show him.”
Janossi put a toe under a fold of the sackcloth bundle and flipped it over. Crane walked over and looked at what lay within.
It was undeniably a rat. It long yellow teeth were bared in death. Its eyes were blood-filled and bulging, which Crane attributed to Stephen, since he had seen a man dead that way at his hands. Its matted, dirty brown pelt was stiff with filth and dust, its claws were grey and scaly, its naked tail pinkish. It was a rat like any other, except in one respect.
It was about four feet long, not counting the tail, and would have stood perhaps a foot high at the shoulder.”

I cannot wait for the next installment in this series. Oh and what a refreshing idea it is, to choose not to end every book in the series with the cliffhanger.

Recommended.

Grade A-

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Sirius

Sirius started reading books when she was four and reading and discussing books is still her favorite hobby. One of her very favorite gay romances is Tamara Allen’s Whistling in the Dark. In fact, she loves every book written by Tamara Allen. Amongst her other favorite romance writers are Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Josephine Myles, Taylor V. Donovan and many others. Sirius’ other favorite genres are scifi, mystery and Russian classics. Sirius also loves travelling, watching movies and long slow walks.

19 Comments

  1. Kim W
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 08:36:13

    I finished this last night. I think I liked it even better than the first one.

  2. Isobel Carr
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 09:20:50

    I wasn’t sold after the review of the first book, but now I’m curious. I think I’ll go download a sample of book one …

  3. Jenny PK
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 10:22:59

    I also finished the sequel yesterday and can add a third endorsement for the series!

  4. Lindsay
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 12:32:16

    I remember the previous review and have had it on my to-buy list, and this convinced me I need to pick it up!

  5. Allison
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 13:42:08

    Oooh, thanks for reminding me that I pre-ordered this! I was DYING that I couldn’t read the sequel right away.

  6. Sirius
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 13:54:39

    Kim and Jenny PK – so pleased you guys liked it. As for those who are still not sure – eh, I am afraid of sounding too enthusiastic if you end up disappointed, but at the same time there had been few books I have read this and last year which I could recommend with at least such strong degree of confidence. Go, try it, try the sample at least – if you feel settings are to your liking of course.

  7. cleo
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 16:24:11

    I really liked this one too. It was the perfect read for polar vortex II. I agree with you Sirius about the relationship development and character development – it felt natural and that’s so rare in a series that features the same couple in multiple books.

    After reading it, I realized a couple plot points didn’t quite work for me, and I don’t remember that in the first book. I’m still not clear on why the villain waited so long to wreck havoc. That didn’t totally make sense to me. But when I was reading it, I was happy to go along for the ride – it was fun and fast and totally engrossing.

  8. Marianne McA
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 16:47:41

    I went back and reread The Magpie Lord after finishing this one, and I think they’re both equally great reads. (There’s a free short story somewhere as well, but I didn’t download it, so haven’t reread it.)
    I completely agree with you that it is lovely not to have a cliffhanger ending – it may work for some readers, but I tend to just stop reading those series.

  9. Julia
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 17:07:20

    I didn’t love the first book in this series as much as most people – the romance got a bit overwhelmed by the plot for me. This one however, I really liked. I agree, the writing is wonderful and I really like the author’s vocabulary. I adored seeing Stephen and Crane act like a couple in this book.

    @cleo: Re: the villain waiting so long, I understood it as he didn’t know until then exactly what had happened. But they never did find out how he had figured it out, unless I missed it. Like you, I enjoyed reading it so much that it didn’t bother me that much.

  10. Sirius
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 20:22:41

    @cleo: I did not have an issue with the villains, but I am interested which one of them you are referring to? The one who started the ball rolling?

  11. Sirius
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 20:23:59

    @Marianne McA: I loved the “Interlude” :).

    I do not do cliffhangers, that is why I wait now any time the possibility of those comes up to know. Or move on to something else.

  12. Kaetrin
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 21:16:32

    I loved it too. It’s early in the year but I expect A Case of Possession will make my Favourites of 2014 list.

  13. Sirius
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 22:10:54

    @Kaetrin: Yay – another convert :).

  14. cleo
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 09:23:29

    @Sirius: I don’t want to get too hung up on this or sound too cranky, since I really did love this book. But honestly I don’t understand why either villain waited. Wouldn’t the, er, non-human villain have been wrecking havoc earlier? And wouldn’t he already know who to go after?

  15. Li
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 10:19:44

    I finished this last night – thought the fantasy/mystery side was really strong, and am looking forward to the next book. I picked up the first book after the original DA review, so thank you for that!

    What did niggle at me during this one was Esther calling Stephen Steph as a nickname – it kept on throwing me out of the story because (a) I’m more used to Steph being a girl’s name and (b) I didn’t see how you get Steph from Stephen (Steven pronunciation-wise)?? Did that bother anyone or was it just me…

    @Cleo

    POSSIBLE SPOILER

    I didn’t pick up on the time lag, but it could have been something to do with the manner in which the corpse was disposed of (lead lined box, deep water etc). Possibly.

    END SPOILER

  16. Sirius
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 18:18:17

    Hi Cleo – I was confused so I went to the book and reread. I think the reason for my confusion is that I initially did not think that currently non-human villain waited at all. I think, I think that different rules apply to him – that he did not know whom to go after right away – maybe the plane he was on has different time and space rules? I guess the way I saw it that this was the time for him to appear in London and execute whatever he needed to? Do you know what I mean? Basically the idea that he actually waited for anything was not something that occurred to me. He existed on another plane ( remember what Stephen said about hell?) – maybe only minutes or seconds since his death passed for him? Of course maybe the writer just did not think about it – that’s another possibility :).

  17. Sirius
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 18:34:43

    @Li: oh I am glad you enjoyed the book overall :).

  18. cleo
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 18:40:34

    @Li: @Sirius: Ok, that kind of makes sense. At least there wasn’t some completely rational explanation that I just missed.

    And Sirius, thanks for mentioning the free short story – I found it at Smashwords and really enjoyed it. I also read both of her other short stories, which are not related to the Magpie series, although – I think they’re both free, and I loved them too.

  19. Sirius
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 20:48:13

    @cleo: You are very welcome. I think one of the shorts was from Torquere and was not free, but second about the same guys was free? I could be wrong though – but yes, I loved all three of them.

    And no, I do not think you missed anything , I just wanted to check my own reaction – because sometimes when somebody asks a question, I can totally see myself answering exactly that – Oh I was so engaged with the story that it did not occur to me. In this case though I definitely did not feel like that happened, so I wanted to double check.

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