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.
Whenever I’m in the search of a good historical gay romance—it’s not that often—The Magpie Lord is recommended to me. I can see why.
Lucien Vaudrey, the reluctant Lord Crane, has returned home to untangle the mess that is his inheritance but finds himself sawing at his wrist instead. This is not a huge spoiler as it is the book’s opening scene. Crane enthusiastically attempts suicide and it’s only by the determination of his manservant Merrick that he lives. Because if there’s one thing Crane is not, it’s suicidal, a practitioner of magic is invited to the scene.
Stephen Day, a justiciar, has his own history with Crane’s family but also a strong sense of what’s wrong and right, which is why he agrees to help Crane and save his life. Of course where’s more to it than a simple death charm, so Crane, Day, and Merrick travel to Crane’s country house to find the would be murderer.
There’s a slight flavour of insta-love but it’s soon buried under heaps of proper character-driven plot devises. It isn’t only the propriety that keeps Crane and Stephen dancing around each other but their own actions. They keep poking each other hoping to find the worst—or the best—in one another and end up hurting each other. Luckily neither is the kind to hold on to a grudge and they actually discuss their problems. And the sex, it doesn’t feel like something extraneous rather than an intrinsic pay off.
The in-depth characterisations of several secondary characters and the magical woldbuilding are absolutely brilliant. I even appreciated the attempt add layers to the story’s villains. There is, however, one thing that stops me from giving this book a higher rating and that is the writing.
On the surface, Charles’ writing is perfectly competent. All the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. And yet… The word hard was used sixteen times in the book, which isn’t that many but it feels like more when most of those hards are cropped up in clusters. My limit was four times within the same scene.
There are one or two other questionable word choices that might have slipped past the best editor but unfortunately felt jarring to me as I was already paying attention. And then there are the downright sloppy bits. A few times, I had to stop and reread a paragraph several times to puzzle out what was actually happening or what the characters were saying. Like the time a hedge-witch was explaining her family connections and dropping names like a tit throws down seeds from a bird table.
As much as I liked The Magpie Lord, I hope that when A Case of Possession comes out these things have been smoothed out, but I’m not rushing to find out.