Published: September 2013 by Samhain Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: A Charm of Magpies #1
Genres: Historical fiction, fantasy, romance (m/m), erotica.
Available: Samhain Publishing (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo
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.
If you know Memory from In the Forest of Stories, you might know she’s very vocal about what she likes. It’s one of the things I love about her. Early in the year, she was full of excitement because Amazon was offering The Magpie Lord for free. Having heard her wax lyrical about it, how could I resist? Especially when Amy Rae Durreson–another of my favourite fantasy m/m romance writers–chimed in. And let’s face it, my willpower has never been that good when it comes to books.
It has taken me a little while to get to it, but I’m making up for lost time now. Because wow, what a ride!
The book keeps up a brisk pace and begins in the immediate aftermath of an attempted suicide. Readers who find suicide problematic might like to know that while the attempt isn’t directly shown, it is pretty clear what happened. The details are laid out without being dwelt on. I found it deftly handled, but your mileage might vary.
Lord Crane is a man of contradictions. He was raised as nobility but forced to scrape a living among the poor in China as a young man. He is clever, resourceful and used to getting his way, one way or another. He also allows his servant, Merrick, to bully him into getting help. Merrick is really more a friend than a servant. In fact, the dynamic between these two characters reminded me of the one between Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen in Scott Lynch’s The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence. These two have been through a lot together, saved each others’ lives many times and don’t stand on formality. So it was a little bit disappointing to see Merrick take a back seat to Stephen Day.
But only a little. Stephen Day is an odd little man who is very intense about his work–and with Stephen, it is all work and no play. It’s no surprise, then, that he finds the passionate Crane quite overwhelming. To make matters even more confusing for the poor man, Lucien should be the enemy. The previous Lord Crane, Lucien’s father, effectively destroyed Stephen’s family. Stephen works so hard not just because he takes his duties seriously but in the hope of salvaging some vestige of his father’s reputation.
The chemistry between these two is excellent. Set in Victorian England, Crane and Stephen swing between making sure to mind their manners one minute and all over each other the next. Yet despite this fantastic tension, I found the two sex scenes (or, rather, one sex scene and one almost) a bit lacklustre. Perhaps Pia Foxhall has corrupted me with her excellent erotica, but I found the BDSM elements both bland and unnecessary. However, it was a very small blemish in an otherwise awesome tale.
I should also emphasise that the story’s focus is not the romance between Crane and Stephen. It is far more about the supernatural threat the pair of them face. The majority of the action takes place at Piper, the decrepit Crane family estate, which makes a wonderfully atmospheric setting. The mysterious magical attacks on Crane and the addition of a ghost only contribute to the creepiness.
All in all, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. A big thank you to Memory for introducing me to what may soon be a new favourite series.