The Magpie Lord Book Review

Review:

I enjoyed Think of England so much I went right back to Amazon and bought The Magpie Lord, the first in KJ Charles’s Charm of Magpies series. The Magpie Lord is m/m fantasy romance, set in an AU Victorianish England where witches and warlocks are real (though some prefer to be called “practitioners.”) I enjoyed the novel, but not as much as Think of England.

The story involves a wealthy British earl – Lucien Vaudrey, Lord Crane – who was shipped off to China by his horrendous father and older brother as a teenager, where he fell in with smugglers and traders and generally lived an extremely un-lord-like existence. Reluctantly returning to England with his loyal manservant after his father and older brother’s deaths, he nearly becomes the victim of magical murder, and hires a scruffy practitioner named Stephen Day to help him stay alive and find out who’s trying to kill him, and why.

The worldbuilding was pretty interesting, the creepy old manor house was near-palpable and a character in its own right, and there was plenty of tension, action, and mystery in the plotting to keep me turning the pages. I think I read the whole thing in under three hours. I also thought Lucien and Stephen themselves  were well-drawn.

However, the romance seemed almost perfunctory by comparison, and lacked emotional depth. It felt more like, “Oh, here we are, two gay guys thrown together by circumstances. Are we physically attracted to each other? Yes? Great! Let’s fuck.” Which is a perfectly plausible and legitimate progression, but not what I was looking for. Whereas Think of England made a scene as simple as asking for a spare collar stud incredibly sexy and dripping with UST, in The Magpie Lord our more experienced Lucien seems to think that foreplay consists of repeatedly telling the object of one’s lust that you’re going to fuck them. This might have worked well if the relationship were more dom-sub in other regards, but it really wasn’t, and the object of lust in question kept trying to squirm out if it so he could do his job, which didn’t exactly create the same sort of anticipation or UST.

All in all, I would recommend this book more for fans of historical fantasy than m/m romance.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Think of England Book Review

Review:

I’ve read quite a bit of slashy fanfiction, but not so much m/m original fiction, so since I’m in a little bit of a fandom drought right now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try some more gay romance novels, since I enjoyed The Captive Prince so much. I settled on Think of England, by KJ Charles, as my next m/m read thanks to its great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and the blurb, which caught my interest with its promise of a Gosford Park-esque house party in Edwardian England and some mystery/thriller elements.

The mystery/thriller elements turned out to be much stronger than the Edwardian house party elements (this isn’t a bad thing – I’d have been happy with either predominating), and some of the characters make that randy old war profiteer Sir William McCordle look practically saintly by comparison. Our intrepid heroes land themselves in a mess of blackmail, treason, torture, and murder within hours of arriving for their outwardly genteel house party and the plot kept me on the edge of my seat to see how they’d unravel it.

Coincidentally enough, the intrepid heroes in question actually reminded me a lot of The Captive Prince‘s Damen and Laurent, despite the completely different setting and plot. You have Archie Curtis, the sturdy, straightforward war hero a la Damen, and Daniel da Silva, the sharp tongued, damaged schemer a la Laurent. In this case, however, our war hero is wounded, not enslaved, and our schemer is a gay Portuguese Jew rather than a prince, which is hard luck on all three accounts in 1904 England! The set-up is very “opposites attract,” which truthfully is not my favorite trope, but it ends up working well in both The Captive Prince and Think of England. (It helps in both cases, I think, that the men find out they’re not as opposite as initial appearances might suggest.) For Curtis, as an old fashioned “stiff upper lip” type British military man, Daniel da Silva (a poet, on top of everything else) was definitely a case of hate at first sight, but I thought KJ Charles did a great job of showing his gradual change in feelings from dislike and distrust to growing respect and ultimately love. Daniel remains a bit more of a cipher, but a bunch of reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads seem to think Think of England is the first in a series, and if so, I’ll look forward to learning more about him in future installments. (Edit: KJ Charles has confirmed that she is working on a sequel.)

Luckily for us readers, Daniel is less damaged (and in different ways) than Laurent, so we get a bunch of steamy sex scenes in this novel, instead of having to wait for most of another book. (Not that I mind a good slow burn, but it wasn’t what I was in the mood for. Especially when the sequel hasn’t been published yet!) Curtis’s gradual realization that he was, in fact, one of “those types” was well-paced and made for a lot of great anticipatory buildup as he realized the extent of what he really wanted to do to (and with) Daniel.

I thought the secondary characters were also well drawn, and ended up especially liking Fenella Carruth and Patricia Merton. One of my frequent complaints about slash fanfiction is that it gets so caught up in the boys that it neglects the female characters entirely, or worse, commits character assassination in order to split up a canonical m/f romance in favor of a fan-favored m/m one. Without giving too much away, neither issue happened with this book at all. In fact, I think Fen and Pat would make great characters for a spinoff story or series, whether official or fanfiction.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Captive Prince and Prince’s Gambit Book Review

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Note: I read both Captive Prince and its sequel, Prince’s Gambit, in barely 24 hours, so I’m going to save myself the trouble of splitting them back into two parts in my head and just review them together.

Review:

Captive Prince is a male-male romance trilogy that was originally published on LiveJournal. It was later self-published by the author on Amazon but recently purchased by Penguin, which plans to re-release the first two books in trade paperback and will release the third in paperback and as an ebook. (The release date for book three has not been announced as of the time this review was published.)

A lot of people whose taste I trust have recommended this series to me but I’ve been avoiding it under the misapprehension that it involved a lot of BDSM, non-con, and other things that are not my cup of tea. I know a lot of people who love Kushiel’s Legacy, too, but I couldn’t stomach it and gave up less than halfway into the first book.

Despite some outward similarities (Vere, like Terre d’Ange, is clearly modeled after pre-Revolutionary France), Captive Prince was much more enjoyable for me, as it had all the scheming courtiers and much less of the kinky sex. (For others, of course, this will be a drawback.) The story follows Prince Damianos (aka Damen) of Akielos after he is sold into slavery following a coup by his half-brother and sent as a gift to Laurent, the prince of the nearby kingdom of Vere.

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In the first book, I particularly enjoyed the sense of being thrown, like Damen, head-first into an unfamiliar world and having to unravel the complicated relationships and history of the place clue by clue. (Unlike Damen, I have the advantage of not getting flogged for getting something wrong.) 

Things really picked up in the second book, on multiple fronts. Damen, who spends most of the first book in over his head at court, gets to come into his own. The UST, which was sporadic in the first book, takes on a life of its own, to the point that it’s practically a separate character. The plot thickens in spectacular fashion. (The wait for book #3 is going to kill me.) In a book where female characters are few and far between, I also appreciated the introduction of the rather badass Halvik.

All in all, a very pleasant surprise.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)