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REVIEW:  A Case of Possession (A Charm of Magpies book 2) by KJ Charles

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

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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