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REVIEW: The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies 1) by KJ...

A lord in danger. A magician in turmoil. A snowball in hell.

Exiled to China for twenty years, Lucien Vaudrey never planned to return to England. But with the mysterious deaths of his father and brother, it seems the new Lord Crane has inherited an earldom. He’s also inherited his family’s enemies. He needs magical assistance, fast. He doesn’t expect it to turn up angry.

Magician Stephen Day has good reason to hate Crane’s family. Unfortunately, it’s his job to deal with supernatural threats. Besides, the earl is unlike any aristocrat he’s ever met, with the tattoos, the attitude…and the way Crane seems determined to get him into bed. That’s definitely unusual.

Soon Stephen is falling hard for the worst possible man, at the worst possible time. But Crane’s dangerous appeal isn’t the only thing rendering Stephen powerless. Evil pervades the house, a web of plots is closing round Crane, and if Stephen can’t find a way through it—they’re both going to die.

Warning: Contains hot m/m sex between a deeply inappropriate earl and a very confused magician, dark plots in a magical version of Victorian England, family values (not the good kind), and a lot of swearing.

Dear KJ Charles,

The blurb of this book appealed to me – I love when magic of any kind is part of the setting (if it is well done of course – same as with any setting).  I also love when magic is combined with a mystery, and when there is a romance building on the top of that, I can be a very happy reader if I am pleased with the execution.

This book was a wonderful surprise. I had never heard of this writer before, but I will certainly be on the lookout for more books from her. It looks like the second book in this series will be out in January 2014, but I do not know if more books are planned in this series beyond that.

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies 1) by KJ CharlesThe story is set in a Victorian England where the magic is part of everybody’s everyday lives. Not everything is revealed yet as to how this world works, but even in this book I did not feel disoriented in time and place, if that makes sense. I felt that my feet were firmly on the ground and this is how I want to feel when the writer throws me into a world which is at least partially of her own invention

Let me tell you a little bit more about the set-up of the book.  The blurb is a nice teaser, but it does not tell you why Lucien needs magical help. Basically, somebody has already tried very hard to murder him, or more precisely to induce him to commit suicide by magical means. It became more and more difficult for his trusted servant, Merrick, to stop him, and both he and Lucien are afraid that next time the attack will succeed and Lucien will die. So they ask for help from a shaman, at which point Stephen appears on their doorstep.  He was a magical practitioner and more than competent for that job, but whether he was a shaman or not I am actually not sure yet.  He is able to figure out what was is to make Lucien kill himself, but then he realizes that something bigger is at work and the three must travel to the Cranes’ ancestral home and confront these forces.

The pacing of the story was impressive to me.  The first couple of chapters threw me right into the middle of danger Lucien faces and I never felt that the story dragged, not once. But the writer let me take couple of breaths with the main characters, if that makes sense, in between all of that danger. I thought she achieved a very nice balance with that.

I loved both characters almost from the get- go – as you can tell from the blurb, Lucien did not have the best relationship with his family (to put it mildly: otherwise he would not have been forced to go to China). The best way to describe Lucien is that he is a survivor. The hardships that he and Merrick encountered while in China are only briefly mentioned in this book (hopefully we will learn more later), and the fact that they survived and even thrived was very impressive to me. But now when both his horrible father and even worse brother are dead, Lucien is back in England dealing with the title he inherited and the mess they left behind.

Stephen was also a great character. I am actually not a big fan of the setup where the two main characters in an m/m story are very different in size, but only because in so very many stories that difference in sizes signals that the smaller character is a damsel in distress. If this is not the case, I really do not care about what size the guys are, different, same, etc.  And in this story Stephen did not remind me a damsel of any kind. Quite the contrary, because the magical threat to Lucien’s life looms over them for the majority of the story, Lucien has to depend on Stephen’s skills and Stephen seemed to me to be a *very* gifted, very strong magician, who dealt with the danger and excitement very well. Not that he was omnipotent, as Stephen himself said at least once, and it took all of them to deal with the final danger, but I thought he did more than ok. I do not want to imply that Lucien was the damsel in distress either, he was an extremely strong character, but I liked that he had to let Stephen take the lead several times no matter how much he would have preferred not to.

“I’m all right,” he said, muffled.  “I’m all right. Get off me, you lump.”
“Don’t,” Day said from the end of the room. “Keep him down.”
Crane angled his neck uncomfortably. Day was also on the floor, kneeling by the fireplace. His left hand was held right, just above the  floor,  its fingers contorted into splayed claws. Under it was something Crane could not quite see. Day had the abstracted look again, his lips were slightly drawn back from his teeth, and from where Crane lay, his eyes seemed to be pure darkness with a ring of white.
“Let me up,” Crane snapped.
“Don’t let him up,” Day repeated. “Don’t let him move. Break his arms if you have to.”
“Day—“
“I’m having a certain amount of trouble holding this thing.” Day’s voice had a slight tremor of tension to it. “And I need it held, but the nodes… I’m making this too complicated. This is craft. Wood,  blood and birdspit. Where’s my bag?”

If you are wondering about the actual romance, do not worry.  The romance builds throughout the book, but no, they do not end up in bed until the end of the story. As the blurb indicates Stephen has a bad history with Lucien’s family, and even though he figures out very quickly that Lucien is not like his family, this makes him understandably mistrustful and averse to sleeping with Lucien right away. Several times during the story they end up almost having sex, but not quite, and I thought the reasons made perfect sense. I also really liked how author used those “almost” times to build and build the sexual tension between them until it exploded at the end, and at the same time made sure not to make a mockery out of the investigation and showed that investigation was their first priority no matter how attracted they were to each other.

I liked couple of female characters we meet in the village, but I am especially looking forward to meeting Stephen’s work partner Esther. I have a suspicion her magical skills are also very good.

Oh and magpies are indeed important part of the story!  Grade B+.

~Sirius

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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.

32 Comments

  1. hapax
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 12:34:26

    “Oh and magpies are indeed important part of the story! “

    Oh, yummy. I’m embarrassed to say that I was sold pretty much by the title alone. Crows, ravens, magpies, jays — pretty much anything in the Corvidae family is my Kryptonite.

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  2. Janine
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 13:14:01

    This sounds good, but I have a couple of questions. Does the dialogue have a period/Victorian feel to it? Also, how well is the historical aspect of the setting portrayed and how well did you feel it meshed with the fantasy/paranormal aspect? I’m asking because these are factors that can make or break historical paranormals for me.

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  3. pamelia
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 14:33:35

    Sold! This sounds really good. I’m with hapax about the Corvidae Kryptonite effect. :)

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  4. Julie M.
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 16:06:30

    This does sound good and so my tbr pile grows ever larger. I love this blog!

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  5. Susan
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 16:46:05

    Great review, Sirius. Sounds like my kind of book–it’s now in my pile.

    Corvidae–didn’t even know there was a name for this group of birds. Are there many books that feature them? For magpies, I can only think of that children’s book, The Little Lame Prince. And for ravens, Patricia Brigg’s Raven duology.

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  6. lawless
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 16:59:29

    This sounds good. I’ve also seen it recommended elsewhere — forget whether it was at Jessewave or Joyfully Jay. I also appreciate the slow build up to a relationship. It’s going on my Samhain wishlist along with Jo Myles’ Junk.

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  7. Sunita
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 17:18:26

    There has been such great word of mouth for this novel, and your review just sealed the deal for me. Now I just need the time to read it!

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  8. Sirius
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 19:26:41

    @Janine: Dialogue does have a period feel IMO. Whether it is exactly Victorian, close imitation, or not an imitation, I really can’t say. There is plenty of dialogue in the sample (if as somebody told me sample is the first two chapters, I have to check that), so I am sure it will give you a sufficient feel.

    Hm, the setting. I know I tagged it as AU historical and I definitely think it is rooted in Victorian and rooted well, but I also tagged it as historical fantasy and I go back and forth as to which word give more importance historical or fantasy, you know?

    Is it meshed well? Absolutely, IMO it is, but if you want to read primarily a historical, I don’t know – magic is such a big part of their lives that I would say some things became not very historical. Keep in mind though that some things in the world building are not very clear yet – like I mentioned Stephen’s partner Esther. She is not there in person yet, at some point in time Stephen is asking for her help, but help arrives from another corner so to speak without going in the spoiler territory. So, even by brief mentioning it is clear that Stephen holds her in a very high regard and she is also a very skilled magician. However, it is not clear to me yet whether as a woman she is respected widely in that world as a practitioner or not really. Although certainly there are women practitioners but witches had been the part of the culture for ages, so that’s nothing new.

    Also the treatment of homosexuality is not very clear to me yet in all details.

    Sorry I cannot be more helpful.

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  9. Janine
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 19:36:11

    @Sirius: Thanks. I don’t expect a historical out of historical fantasy but I do like for there to be little historical details worked into the fantastical setting, if that makes sense. The Temeraire books (though I only read the first couple) are a good example of historical fantasy where the historical fantasy worldbuilding works for me.

    ETA: I downloaded the sample since everything you’ve said about it does sound good.

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  10. Sirius
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 19:38:04

    Sunita, I hear you about word of the mouth – good friend of mine who is not very prone to gushing said that it was the best m/m book she read this year so far. I read the word “stunning” in another Good reads review and I do not think I ever saw that adjective in that person’s reviews before ;). I hope second book will be just as good, I really do.

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  11. Sirius
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 19:50:53

    @hapax: Thank you and I learned new English word today too :-).

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  12. Sirius
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 19:56:20

    @Janine: There are historical details there, I am just not sure if it is enough to satisfy you. Let me know if you liked the sample. Hmm, I also read first two or three Temeraire books and I cannot say whether these series would be of similar variety. World building in those books hinges on the fact that the existence of dragons changed the world but mostly the same historical events still happen as it happened in our history even if some outcomes could be different, right? I am not sure yet what happened/will happen in this series with that world.

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  13. Sirius
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 19:57:15

    @lawless: I do not follow Joyfully Jay, so I would not know, but it was definitely recommended at JesseWave by LenaLena.

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  14. Kaetrin
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 20:04:53

    I’ve heard such wonderful things about this book. I normally shy away from magical Regency/Victorian books (I disliked Mary Jo Putney’s books in that vein) but I’m thinking that I have to read this book anyway. All my GR friends who’ve read it are raving about it.

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  15. Sirius
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 20:18:07

    Kaetrin my buddies are raving about it too :). See magic is always a good thing in my book. I mean I won’t necessarily try a new writer based on book portraying magic alone, but I am such a fan of well integrated magic of all kinds in the book.

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  16. Elaine
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 05:27:57

    Thank you for recommending this. Dear Author B+ reviews are pretty reliable and since I desperately needed a good read last night I downloaded the sample. Then I bought the book and enhaled it. My only regrets are that it wasn’t longer and that I have to wait for January for the sequel. Great world building, great snarky dialog and a great relationship.

    My must buy list is pretty short these days but this author just joined it.

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  17. Elaine
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 05:39:54

    Just saw in twitter stream that Magpie 3 is under construction.

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  18. cleo
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 07:25:19

    I hadn’t heard about this book – glad to read the review. It sounds like I’d enjoy it.

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  19. Leigh
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 10:31:57

    This looks fantastic! I just bought it based on the review. Thanks!

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  20. cleo
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 13:08:55

    @Susan: Hmm, I never thought of stories about corvidae as a thing but, I can think of a couple that have shape shifter corvidae. Someplace to Be Flying by Charles de Lint is based on Native American myths and has many bird people / shape shifters. I remember liking it when I read it ages ago – it’s old school urban fantasy that has some romance in it, although not every couple ends well, irrc.

    And there’s Magpie by Kim Dare – m/m bdsm sequel to Duck! – which I thought was kind of silly. The main couple are a raven and a magpie shape shifters.

    And I know I’ve read at least one romance with a pet magpie (or some similar bird) that ended up acting as match maker by stealing something shiny.

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  21. Marianne McA
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 18:33:39

    Thanks, Sirius. I’ve stayed up just to finish it (it’s 12.30 here) which is always the sign of a good read.

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  22. Sirius
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 22:42:12

    @Marianne McA, Elaine: so glad you guys enjoyed the book.

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  23. Sirius
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 22:49:29

    @cleo: OOO I have read “Magpie” by Kim Dare too. I was not that enamored of it, but found it amusing. Did you like “Duck” more?

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  24. cleo
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 06:35:05

    @Sirius: I liked Duck a lot more – I believed in the romance much more and I thought the D/s dynamic made more sense than in Magpie. But I know I’m not very objective about Duck – I read it b/c of SaraF’s review, during my early, exuberant explorations of both m/m and bdsm romance, when much of what I read seemed new and amazing. Plus, it’s a re-telling of the Ugly Duckling and I’m kind of a sucker for fairytale re-tellings.

    It’s the only Kim Dare book I like without reservation. She has a lot of weird writing ticks and Duck has them too (especially the Dom’s tendency to speak in third person – “your master knows what you want and will it give to you”) but I don’t mind them in Duck. The emotions in Duck grabbed me and swept me past the writing and (somewhat ridiculous) world building.

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  25. Sirius
    Sep 22, 2013 @ 22:25:44

    @cleo: Interesting. I thought BDSM was done well in “Duck” (not from personal knowledge but it felt believable), but I thought sub (Ori?) did not have much of the personality. I felt that sub in “Magpie” had more spunk and I liked that more, although none of these books will be my favorite books of the year, etc. I guess none of her books that I have read satisfied me completely.

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  26. cleo
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 07:32:33

    @Sirius: Well yes, Ori was kind of a problem for me too – not only did he have no personality, he seemed almost childlike in his submissiveness. The magpie sub was a lot more fun – I liked his “ooh shiny things” response. I can relate. But I thought the chemistry between the two heroes was better in Duck than in Magpie.

    Kim Dare’s one of those authors that I kept trying because I wanted to like her work, but I finally gave up. I did try one of her Riptide books recently, out of curiosity, and I thought the writing was better – they’d edited out that silly 3rd person Dom speak – but she’s still not really for me.

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  27. BRNZ
    Sep 24, 2013 @ 00:05:40

    I was intrigued enough to give this ago and Im 25% into it and really enjoying it. The story and the mystery is well crafted, the magic is believable, the characters feel real and 3d and are engaging and Im looking forward to seeing where it goes, thanks for reviewing it DA :)

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  28. Sirius
    Oct 04, 2013 @ 22:25:09

    @cleo: Sorry – for some reason your comment ended up in my spam folder :(. Yes, she is not really for me either.

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  29. Sirius
    Oct 04, 2013 @ 22:25:40

    @BRNZ: I hope you enjoyed it when you finished the story :).

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  30. cleo
    Dec 06, 2013 @ 11:54:00

    I just read this (bought it during a black friday / cyber mon sale – yay wishlists and sales) and I LOVED IT! Thanks again for reviewing it – I would have missed it completely.

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  31. Sirius
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 10:48:17

    Cleo I am so ridiculously pleased that you liked this one :). Second book is also very good ;).

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  32. Sirius’ Best of 2013
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 11:02:07

    […] The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies book 1) by K. J. Charles. Magic, mystery and mayhem set in AU Victorian England. A building romance between two heroes begins in this first installment. The writing grabbed me from the first chapter and really never let go. […]

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