Rating: 5 stars
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It has been four months since Stephen Day saved Lucien Vaudrey’s life after evil warlocks attempted to kill him for his power. Lucien, Lord Crane, is the Magpie Lord, the descendent of an incredibly powerful shaman. And although he has no powers of his own, he is a channel that amplifies the powers of others, and as such is in high demand by those who want to use him to amp up their own abilities.
Stephen and Crane have returned to London and settled back into everyday life. Crane continues to manage his Chinese trading business long distance while he attempts to settle the affairs of his estate after the deaths of his father and brother. And Stephen continues his work as a justicular, sort of a law enforcer of other magical practitioners. Although the men spend many nights together and their feelings for one another continue to be strong, Stephen’s work often takes him away unexpectedly. Crane finds this surprisingly frustrating, since usually he enjoys independence with his lovers. But he finds he misses Stephen a lot when he is not around, and the attachment he feels to the man continues to grow.
Although the men are happy together, there are some issues they are facing. First off, an old acquaintance of Crane’s from China is trying to blackmail Crane, threatening to disclose his relationship with Stephen. Although Crane is wealthy enough to bribe his way out of jail and flee home to China, he knows Stephen’s life is much more precarious should word about his sexual interests get out. This is especially true now that Stephen is under watch for being a potential warlock. People have started to notice that Stephen has an unusual amount of power lately, power that is coming from his sexual connection with Crane. But of course, to explain that means to disclose their relationship, so instead Stephen must endure his partner and other justiculars watching his every move to ensure he is not stealing power from someone for evil gain.
Crane wants to protect Stephen, to take care of the younger man. But Stephen is independent and doesn’t want to always be taking from Crane. The men struggle, because as much as they care for one another, Crane’s time in London is limited. He never planned to do more than stay long enough to settle his affairs. And while Stephen cares for Crane deeply, he is clear he can not risk his livelihood on a relationship with a clear end point. If he is forced to choose between protecting his job or his relationship, sheer self preservation will make him choose his work.
One day Stephen calls Crane in to help with a case. Their usual translator is not available and they need someone who can speak Chinese after two shaman are found dead. Not only that, but found with the body of a gigantic, four foot long rat that seems to have killed them. And that is not the only rat attack lately. A swarm of enormous rats also killed a number of people in a local boardinghouse. As it turns out, Crane knows about a story one of his other friends from China once told, one about giant rats from Sumatra who were summoned to do evil. Soon, along with Crane’s man Merrick and Stephen’s partners, the men are digging deeper into a world of giant murderous rats, vengeful shaman, murder, and spiritual possession. As they get closer to finding out who is controlling the rats and for what end, they more their lives are put at risk. If they can’t figure out the mystery soon, none of them will make it out alive.
A Case of Possession is the second book in K.J. Charles’ incredible A Charm of Magpies series. The Magpie Lord was one of those fabulous stories that totally caught me off guard and made me fall in love with Stephen and Crane and their magical, historical world. This story picks up a few months later and I found it equally wonderful, with a lovely relationship between these two men, great world building, and a thrilling mystery and suspense plot.
So first off, I totally love Crane and Stephen. Crane has lived his entire adult life as a trader and smuggler in China. He is big and rough and about as opposite your typical lord as you can get. He is used to life on the wild streets of Shanghai and has no interest in becoming a refined man attending balls about town. Crane is wealthy and powerful and a man who can take care of himself in just about every situation. And Stephen is this poor, tiny man who seems like he should be overpowered by Crane easily. Yet I love that the power here is all Stephen’s. He has incredibly strong abilities and when you see him barrel in at full strength it is just breathtaking. Crane often remarks that despite the fact that he has all the outward trappings of power, the true strength of the two of them is Stephen. Any control he has is what Stephen gives him, and Crane is at his mercy, both physically and emotionally.
In this story we really see the growth of that emotional side of their relationship. These men are falling hard for one another, even as they know their time together is limited. They are so sexy and romantic together. Stephen, who is so powerful out in the world, loves to turn over control to Crane. There is such a hot dynamic between the two of them, with all the twists on power and strength and dominance that come into play. Here we also see the growth of their romantic side. The scene where Crane declares his love is so incredibly beautiful and moving, one of the most romantic scenes I can remember. So I love these guys, and their relationship is the true heart of this series.
But along with that, Charles gives us a fabulous magical world and incredibly thrilling story. This series is unusual in that it combines both the historical and paranormal, something I rarely see. On one hand we have a very traditional historical setting, but interwoven within it is this magical world of shamans and warlocks and justiculars who police it all. This story is full of magical lore, especially that surrounding Crane himself. I love that we have the bigger picture of the magical world and the case these men find themselves on, and how that combines with the little magical elements between Stephen and Crane. With the help of Crane’s blood, Stephen can harness incredible power. And every time they have sex, there is a little burst of energy. My favorite part is how Crane’s tattoos animate whenever these guys have sex, fluttering back and forth between them. It is such a clever little detail that showcases both the magic and the connection between the men. (As an aside, if you want to learn more about the tattoos, Charles has a lovely free short called Interlude with Tattoos that takes place right after the end of The Magpie Lord and gives more details on the shifting tattoos.)
Once again Charles gives us an incredibly thrilling mystery here. First off, can I tell you how much I hate rats? And gigantic, carnivorous, murderous rats? Holy cow, they were awful! And so incredibly clever. Slowly what starts out as an investigation into two dead shaman builds into so much more. All the little pieces begin to connect, people from the past start to play a role, and the evil becomes more deadly and terrifying. As each piece comes together, things that at first seem mundane turn out to be key pieces of the puzzle. And as the story draws to a climax, it is just a breathless ride.
I also want to spare a moment for the fabulous side characters here. First off, I continue to love Merrick, who is sort of Crane’s manservant and just about everything else. He has been with Crane since they were young men struggling to survive the streets of Shanghai and is both dedicated to Crane and incredibly tough. Along with him we meet Crane’s good friend Leonora Hart, another of his friends from China. Leo grew up running fairly wild on the streets, and is pretty much a bad ass in her own right. She is not your typical society lady and I love that she is fearless and ferocious. Added to that are Stephen’s team of justiculars, especially his partner Esther Gold. Esther is another incredibly tough woman, full of power and heart. You don’t want to mess with either of these ladies, and I totally love that. Women so seldom get to be awesome in m/m romance, especially romance set in a time where woman had little power. But these ladies are both strong, tough, fearless, and non traditional. I loved them both.
So I really can’t encourage you guys enough to give this series a try. You really need to read them in order for the overarching plot issues to make sense, so start with The Magpie Lord. Even if you aren’t usually into historicals, the suspense and paranormal aspects are so wonderful that I really believe this series will appeal to anyone. It is romantic and sexy and full of magic and fabulously thrilling. Definitely highly recommended.