A Charm Of Magpies by K J Charles

MagpiepieLord-The72lgRating: 10/10 ★★★★★★★★★★ 
Title: A Charm Of Magpies
Author: K J Charles
Genre: Alternate worlds, Victoriania
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: US $4.50
Other Information/warnings: violence, explicit sexual content, reference to incest and suicide, supernatural content
Summary [from the publisher]:
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.

My review:
A friend strongly recommended this book, and though I’ve become jaded on m/m to the point of reading nothing in the genre for months, I took a chance on this.

Very glad I did. This novel grabs you by the throat in the very first page and doesn’t let go to the very last one. It’s strongly plot driven, which I adore in a book, but the characters are also vivid – extraordinary in their own ways – and you know from the first scene this is unlikely to be another ‘fey boy meets fey boy, angst ensues, kittens and rainbows for all by the end (with lots of hot sex scenes to liven the matter). In fact the author seems to go out of her way to place the plot elements ahead of the sexytimes, with Stephen the magician being described in frankly unflattering terms as a ‘ginger dwarf’ who is, unusually, well below average romance-predicated height at just five feet tall. We meet Crane’s gruffly efficient manservant, Merrick, before we meet Day, and the author is confident enough in her story to let Merrick make a powerful impression on us, before we get the second half of our m/m pairing.

But unprepossessing or not, Stephen is powerful, and cunning, and Crane in desperate straits, needing to mend his own situation and some horrible historical wrongs. The pace is fast, the action graphic and often violent – people bleed, are choked, hang themselves, are bitten and so on. The magic is no gentle thing but ominous, deadly and brutally executed, even by the good guys.

I loved it. The world building, in an authentic alternatve Victorian Britain is deft but not overwhelming. No info dumps, information delivered when needed and not before – this is story telling at its best, and rarest.

Ms Charles, a professional editor, clearly follows her own advice, because the writing is extremely clean. No padding, well used vocabulary that smell authentic and delivers a solid punch, and without such tics as excessive dialogue tags and the like which one often finds in debut authors.

There are a couple of short, hot sex scenes which drive the narrative instead of strangling it, and the sexual tension is used to flavour rather than dominate a delightful dish.

What can I say but ‘more please’? This is the most powerful novel I’ve read since I first read a book by Tamara Allen, and I’m as overwhelmed by the sheer skill and wonder just as I was with Allen’s. The perfect antidote to a jaded appetite.