JOINT REVIEW: Flight of Magpies (A Charm of Magpies, book 3) by K.J. Charles
Danger in the air. Lovers on the brink.
A Charm of Magpies, Book 3
With the justiciary understaffed, a series of horrifying occult murders to be investigated, and a young student who is flying—literally—off the rails, magical law enforcer Stephen Day is under increasing stress. And his relationship with his aristocratic lover, Lord Crane, is beginning to feel the strain.
Crane chafes at the restrictions of England’s laws, and there’s a worrying development in the blood-and-sex bond he shares with Stephen. A development that makes a sensible man question if they should be together at all.
When a thief strikes at the heart of Crane’s home, a devastating loss brings his closest relationships into bitter conflict—especially his relationship with Stephen. And as old enemies, new enemies, and unexpected enemies paint the lovers into a corner, the pressure threatens to tear them apart.
Warning: Contains hot-blooded sex, cold-blooded murder, sinister magical goings-on and a lot of swearing.
Dear KJ Charles,
Sirius: I still remember when I finished the first book in this series. I sent an email to one of my best friends, whom I met in m/m world, demanding she should read this book and read it now. And I still remember her writing back that the book was the best thing she read that year. And now here we are at book three. I reviewed the first book here and the second book here.
I worry each time a new book comes out in a series which features the same romance couple as main characters. I worried when the second book came out and was happy to see that my worries were not justified. I worried again before I read this book, and sadly I have to say that some of my worries have come true. While I still love the writing and the characters and mystery/suspense plot (although I’m not sure how whether this one could be called a mystery at all since all but one potential suspects were revealed pretty quickly during the course of the story), I had that annoying feeling during the time Stephen and Lucien quarreled, because they already had been through that in the book one and especially book two and it seemed to me that even if they did not resolve their issues in the previous books, they seemed to come to peace with it at the end of book two.
Kaetrin: I enjoyed the book but I also agree that it was the weakest book of the series. In The Magpie Lord, I was impressed by the novelty of the world – it felt refreshingly different to what was available in the genre. A Case of Possession struck me as beautifully structured, with all the parallels of the personal and the suspense plots and their various twists and turns. Flight of Magpies, in terms of the personal, goes where I thought it would. The remaining tension between Crane and Day was over Stephen’s job. Crane did not want to stay in England and Day’s role as Justiciar kept him there. I knew this was the last book in the series so I expected some resolution there.
As for the magical suspense plot there were some surprises for me and I did think it neatly tied the trilogy together. It may have been my reading mood or it may just have been that this third book had a kind of familiarity to it, but the upshot was that I wasn’t quite as engaged as in the earlier novels.
Sirius: We catch up with Stephen and Lucien during stressful times for both of them, especially for Stephen – his stress from working as a Justiciar has clearly increased and Lucien is thinking again about wanting to leave England with Stephen.
“Not that he had ever wanted to stay in England in the first place. That was all down to Stephen. Crane had promised he wouldn’t leave the country without him, and meant it, but his thoughts had undeniably turned from how he could stay in England to how he could make Stephen leave it”.
Very quickly a situation Stephen has to deal with escalates to the point where one of the members of his team is accused of theft and he has to figure out if the accusations have any merit. Lucien wants them to leave the country together and Stephen thinks that their resources as Justiciars are stretched so thin that he cannot do so any time soon.
Eventually all of this stress and the theft of a certain item from Lucien’s home escalates to an ugly fight. I actually had no problem with the fact that they fought. Stress can make people do that, it happens even between most devoted couples. No, I had a problem with what they fought about, because I thought that they mostly rehashed already resolved issues.
For example I really did think that Lucien was okay with Stephen being utterly devoted to his job even if his superiors do not value him as much as they should. Apparently he is not. I do not like it when the characters regress in their development, but I continued reading, I just pretended that I misinterpreted book two. I thought that Stephen’s propensity to lie when necessary was discovered and accepted by Lucien in book one and I was unpleasantly surprised to see Lucien shocked, *shocked* that Stephen lied to him to protect him.
I was pleased though that the fight and consequences of the fight did not last that long and that both men came to their senses and realized that disagreements or not, they should deal with whatever life throws at them together.
Kaetrin: I don’t think Stephen and Crane had finally resolved their issues about Stephen’s job in the second book. My memory of it was that they had resolved one of the tensions, at least temporarily – that being the sudden influx of power Stephen experiences as a result of the blood and sex bond they shared from the Magpie Lord, and the suspicion of warlockry this brings upon Stephen. Crane had never made a secret of the fact that he wished to leave England. He didn’t want to deal with the hypocrisy and the hiding necessary to fit in with England’s laws. He wanted an open relationship with Stephen – they could have that in China and perhaps other places but not where they were. It made sense to me that the personal aspects of the story revolved around the pair coming to grips with this tension – Stephen’s job or Crane’s wanderlust and, in some ways; in the closet or out of it. Crane wants Stephen to want to leave and he sees that Stephen’s rigid sense of duty is actually doing him harm. He works too hard, for little reward. That all made sense too.
Like you, I did love that even though they fought and had said things they each regretted, they were both still committed to one another and to sorting things out. That showed a maturity in their relationship which I enjoyed.
“Good.” Crane pressed a hard kiss on his lips and pushed him off his lap, in the direction of the kitchen. “Let’s get Merrick. Come on, adai.”
“I am aware that means idiot.” Stephen was trying to sound pointed, but the golden light was returning to his eyes at last, and Crane felt a deep tension finally dissipate at the sight.”
“It’s a term of affection,” he assured his lover, following him to the kitchen. “You are an idiot, of course. But it’s mostly affection.”
For their relationship to work out long term, one of them had to make a fundamental change. And whoever it was, also had to make that change freely and without resentment. On reflection I think the way it was resolved in the story did this very believably.
Sirius: Maybe “resolved” was a poor word choice on my part, because you are right – those issues were not *resolved*. I suppose I thought that Lucien already accepted these issues being part of what Stephen is and what he does, that it would be the part of their relationship, you know?
I don’t know, it felt to me that they already had been through this and it felt to me as if the characters regressed a bit, thankfully for relatively short period of time. I do agree though that Lucien always wanted to leave England and take Stephen with him, I just thought that after book two he accepted that it won’t happen for a long time. Maybe I indeed misinterpreted book two.
I really enjoyed the mystery/suspense plot our heroes had to deal with in this book. It is fun, it is creepy and it brings the unresolved ends from the previous books to a very satisfying conclusion – some uncaught villains get caught and dealt with. There are also some very interesting developments in the magic surrounding Stephen and Lucien. I think these two are such a good team.
Kaetrin: I think the magical suspense plot was a bit weaker for me. I admit I was a little confused at the end with the thing that happens with the ring. I’d have liked a little more exposition. But then, I am a reader that likes things to be spelled out a bit more.
I was a bit surprised at the developments for Merrick and Jenny in this book. They kind of came out of left field for me. What did you think Sirius?
Sirius: I do not have any problems with magical suspense plot. I was a little surprised by what happened with the ring, but only a little bit and I cannot really talk about it unfortunately due to spoilers.
I was surprised about Merrick’s story, sure, but I really liked it. I thought Merrick was just so *him* in that storyline, I loved it.
Kaetrin: I think Jonah Pastern, who is introduced in this book, was an interesting and somewhat morally ambiguous character. His book, Jackdaw, which is out next year, promises to be really interesting.
Sirius: I cannot wait to read that one myself.
Kaetrin: I liked Flight of Magpies very much but it didn’t have quite the magic (pardon the pun) of the first two books. While it wrapped up the trilogy in many ways, I didn’t feel the series ended with a “bang”. I’m going with a B.
Sirius: I actually did not know that the book was going to be wrapping up the series when I read it for the first time. I read the interview with the author stating that after I finished the book. To be honest with you I was sure that based on the ending at least one more book is planned. I mean I know that there would be guest appearances and she did not rule out novellas, but main series is complete now and the ending did not indicate it for me. I think I agree that it did not end with a bang for me either. B for me as well.
Sirius & Kaetrin
Great review. I read this when it came out and I don’t remember a lot of this details – which probably says something about it’s staying power. I did enjoy reading it. I agree with both of you – this was good but not quite as good as the first two.
I didn’t realize it was the end of the trilogy, but it felt like the end – although
I wanted maybe one more chapter to fee like everything was settled. I wanted to see a little bit more about Stephan’s new role and how that was going to work out.
I felt like the Merrick relationship came out of left field too. It felt a little too plot driven to me.
I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time I read this book. Like you Sirius, I was anxious about it and I agree with the general feelings you and Kaetrin express. I still enjoyed so much about these characters I loved the bits of business with the tattoos and that Merrick manages to surprise everyone. However the ending left me a little lost. There is no way it can be considered conclusive, it felt like a blurred compromise and this in a series that has always been uncompromising in it’s strength of line. Nevertheless these books have been a real joy and the first one is now one of my favourite rereads.
I think you got this review exactly right.
The author is somewhat the victim of her own success. If the previous two book had not been amazing I would have been very happy with this one. It is a bit unfair to expect every book she writes to be her best book ever, but unfortunately I also felt this one was a bit of a let down.
Thanks guys. This is so true that if I have not read the first two books, I would have been happy with this one without any niggles. Actually, wait, no that would have been a different story. If this book maybe was a continuation of the weaker previous books? I don’t know – it is still above and beyond tons of other books I have read and I am looking forward to Jonah’s book, but I am pleased the main trilogy ended as trilogy. I want it to remain amongst my favorites and I worry that if another full book about them would appear I may not have.
Raine, I loved tattoos business too :).
I’d already purchased this book, but haven’t yet read it. I have been putting it off due to fears of some of the things you’re all describing. That said, the review and comments have reminded me that while the third book may not live up to the experience I had with the first two, it’s still a good book. I’m now looking forward to reading it, while trying to control my expectations.
I saw a Goodreads review for another book that the reviewer said they tried because they were in the mood for something similar to A Charm of Magpies. Even though this other book is independently published, which means for me that the quality could be hit or miss, I decided to give it a shot. The Courtship of Julian St Albans (and its recently published sequel) by Amy Crook is pretty different from Charles’ work, and the reviews are mixed, but I really, really liked it despite some of the “flaws” other readers pointed out. Anyway, I only bring this up to point out that I think I was able to really enjoy it and its sequel partly because my expectations weren’t as high as they are for the CoM series. This is a prime example for me how my initial expectations can really influence my experience with a book!
I guess I need to go back and reread, because I thought the second book was the weakest in the series, and this one almost as good as the first, which I really, really liked.
Re: Merrick and Saint: there was some foreshadowing in the short story between book two and this book, A Case of Spirits. Their relationship was teased; part of the plot involved them going out drinking together, “off-shift.” The story is available from Samhain – I think it’s a freebie.
Hope this helps! If you missed it, btw, it was a great romp – interesting magical dilemma, sexy and sweet scenes between Crane and Stephen.
@Sirius: +1 from me as well. I waxed rhapsodic about A Case of Possession. It would have been almost impossible for Flight of Magpies to live up to it.
@JPeK: I think this is so important. I found it recently with a Joanna Bourne book. When I read The Black Hawk, I was so full of anticipation, even though the book was great, I felt a little let down. It was really mostly about me and my unrealistic expectations in that case. When I listened to the audio, I had no such expectations and I enjoyed the second time round more than the first. There were other reasons as well but I’m sure expectations was a big part of it.
@etv13: Not at all! There are probably many readers who feel the way you do – they just haven’t commented on this thread (yet). Your reactions to the book as just as valid as anyone else’s. What did you like best about Flight of Magpies?
Elf I know she did several shorts in Magpies universe but I thought “A case of spirits” is scheduled to be out in January 2015? I am pretty sure I preordered it :). Maybe another title? I am asking because not sure which one . Thanks.
Sirius – Well, now I’m really confused. I know it’s Case of Spirits, but I can’t find it available anymore. From what I’ve seen, it’s *going to be* a freebie. Okay – that matches. I’m pretty sure I got it through Smashwords, though. I get most of my stuff from there. But… Hm. Maybe it was available for a short time, by accident?
Well. I’m so sorry. I feel like I’ve teased, and I know how much I hate when others do that to me!
@Elf: It sounds like the story will round things out for Merrick and Saint – which will be welcome. :)
Oh, and to the point – I agree about Crane’s reaction to Stephen’s lying… in book one, he noticed right away that Stephen was an ‘unrepentant and fluent liar.’ But I came to the conclusion that Crane was so frustrated by Stephen’s job, and also scared for Stephen, that he dug up all his past issues to throw them on the table. When I get that mad, I know that I tend to reanimate old issues. After I’ve vomited them all out, I do feel kinda bad though, because I didn’t mean to loose the zombies that are now crashing the conversation. I thought Crane’s reactions during that fight – when he was already strung tight – seemed to match my experience. I didn’t think there was a genuine issue regression – I thought it was a very human reaction.
I also wish we knew more about the ring’s effects!!
But I also see, in the Jackdaw blurb, that Stephen Day will return in that novel. I hope we get to see more of this couple, period.
I really loved this book. The whole time I was reading it I was thinking how much I loved it. This book felt a bit open-ended and I wasn’t ready for it to be over and then it was suddenly over pretty quickly. I’m disappointed there won’t be more but perhaps seeing these characters in Jackdaw will give me some closure.
@Kim W: There *might* be some novella about Crane and Stephen and who knows? The author might change her mind and be inspired to write more Crane/Stephen books. I would *LOVE* to read one set outside of England. I’d be fascinated to see how Stephen takes to a different culture and how that “freedom” changes the way Crane does things. *hint hint*
“A case of spirits” is available for preorder on Amazon :).
Maybe you read one of the other shorts she did in the book verse? Just curious because this one does not appear to be out yet and I really want to read the other one.
Re: Lucien’s reaction in the fight. I had been thinking about it on my way back from work when I saw your comment on my phone. I can definitely see what you mean if we are talking about real people. And here I may start rambling, so bear with me.
I always say that no matter what genre, I want to see the characters who like real people would act or at least close to how real people would act – no matter how escapist the plot is. Is it contradictory with what I am going to type next? I am not sure, but here it is.
In fiction I feel that the character’s arc should go up and not jump back and forth, be it the single character growing and changing or two characters working on the relationship. He may have just throwing back old issues at Stephen, but to me it felt like he never completely accepted those issues and to me that was in contradiction with previous books.
I am trying to think of the m/m books I actually reviewed here where the characters actually went through significant changes. Okay, I recently reviewed “Bloodraven” by PL Nunn, and while the book has violence in it almost till the very end, Bloodraven consistently becomes less and less violent towards Yhalen and more accepting of the fact that he is falling in love. There had been several situations in that book where I am sure it would have been realistic for Bloodraven to revert back to his old self (especially since he never becomes a fluffy bunny) because he was stressed, or for whatever other reason. I however would have been annoyed – the character was changing consistently and to me this would have broken the character arc.
I am just trying to explain my reaction, I completely respect yours and everybody else’s :).
Oh, another example “Mark of Cain” by Kate Sherwood. If Lucas decided to revert back to his old drunk self who wasted his life in bar fights and actually killed somebody there, I am sure there would have been a lot of realistic reasons for that. But to me character arc should go forward, not back. JMO of course.
@Elf: I’d love to read more about them too – but only if the author has something she feels strongly to write. I’d hate to see her write due to demand (only) rather than because she feels she has an actual story to tell. Not that I think she would – she’s made that pretty clear and I respect her decision. I’d rather be left wanting more (as long as I get my HEA! LOL) than read on and end up breaking up with the series.
…which I’m pretty sure is what you think too of course! I realise “I hope we get to see more of this couple” is code for “I hope the author finds more excellent stories in her to tell about this couple.”. :D
Sirius: Oh, I think I know what you mean. Not to belabor our discussion above, because I don’t really disagree with you, but the measure of “reality” in books is interesting to me.
There must be a balance in writing, certainly; there is such a thing as too much “real life” in books. An author can’t recreate real life in totality, because most of real life is rather boring – and so is reading the tedious details! Also, some of “reality” is just off-limits. I’ve noticed how characters rarely, if ever, have to break off chasing a villain due to an attack of bad curry, or just to have a pee: real life, right there – but not in books. I know I’ve read books that I’ve deemed boring because of the detail. Do I really have to hear, again, about the heroine’s shoes? Or what the heroine is going to make for dinner, having to go to the grocery store, to the doctor’s office… if it doesn’t serve the plot?
At the same time, if characters’ *reactions* are too far off what we deem “reality,” that’s also a deal-breaker. Maybe the author has a reason, or has thought out why a character would react a certain way, but if there isn’t any support in the text, the reader can’t follow.
There’s also the issue that different people have a different view of what the character has done, or should do – it’s impossible to please everyone. And so, we get the difference of opinion: is Crane’s reaction a regression, or a point of reality?
In a book, we have to judge the text. Your point is well-made, that yes, in real-life Crane’s reaction makes sense, but in a book, the plot must move forward or else it becomes recursive… which tends to be boring. But I’d also argue that Crane’s seeming acceptance of Stephen’s lying… well, how many times do we lie to ourselves, that something doesn’t bother us – but it really does? I think the blow-up between Crane and Stephen had been coming. I felt the resolution of their argument resulted in progress that was necessary, and that the threads of their relationship were tightened, because of it.
…But I can also definitely see how another person would find it regressive, because that’s – ahem – the reality of human nature. Readers interact with the text with their own biases and backgrounds, and the outcome is enjoyment or dislike of a work. No one person is “right” or “wrong,” I don’t think. And that’s what makes book discussions worthwhile!
Wow, I wrote a screed. Well, I find this stuff fascinating, as I said!
Kaetrin: I agree, there’s nothing worse than an author that writes against their inspiration. For me, two great examples of this are, sadly, the final book in Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, and the resolution of the Sookie Stackhouse series. I’d love to see more Crane & Stephen, but only if it makes sense to the author. From a reader’s perspective, I see it as appreciation for the work; I don’t intend or wish to pressure the author, though, as you said. :-)
@Kim W: I liked it a lot too, just less than first two books, but I really like the trilogy overall.
Kaetrin, yes, what you said :).
@JPeK: I need to go back to Julian St. Albans. I put it aside because it dragged for me even though I liked the heroes – and my god I love food descriptions, but so very much of it :). I also downloaded second book when it was free on Amazon.
@Sirius: I was avoiding grading student papers when I read the two books, so that might also be why I was willing to overlook the parts that dragged ;) I will add that the books made me very hungry!
JPek – yep very hungry :).
@Elf: This is so weird, I missed your response. And I see the ones I responded to are later . Sorry. I agree that when we judge how real characters are in our perception, it is a tough balancing act. I am not sure whether Lucien’s reaction was too real or not real enough for me, you know? I just know that their fight bothering me, felt off. Definitely if Lucien was lying to himself and did not truly accept Stephen’s quirks/flaws, whatever, I can see how it makes sense.
Maybe the crux of the matter for me is not how real/not real it was but that it simply felt repetitive? I don’t know.