Title: Flight of Magpies
Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 212 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: Danger in the air. Lovers on the brink.
A Charm of Magpies: Book 3
With the justiciary understaffed, a series of horrifying occult murders to be investigated, and a young student who is flying – literally – off the rails, magical law enforcer Stephen Day is under increasing stress. And his relationship with his aristocratic lover, Lord Crane, is beginning to feel the strain.
Crane chafes at the restrictions of England’s laws, and there’s a worrying development in the blood-and-sex bond he shares with Stephen. A development that makes a sensible man question if they should be together at all.
When a thief strikes at the heart of Crane’s home, a devastating loss brings his closest relationships into bitter conflict – especially his relationship with Stephen. And as old enemies, new enemies, and unexpected enemies paint the lovers into a corner, the pressure threatens to tear them apart.
Review: Flight of Magpies is another brilliant addition to KJ Charles’ magnificent A Charm of Magpies series. Reading the book was one of those instances where I was so deeply immersed in Lucien and Stephen’s world that I actually got upset when I realized how far I’d gone and how little I had left to read. It’s an experience that’s not new to me; it began with The Magpie Lord, and it had yet to show signs of fading or slowing down. That said, I don’t want it to happen, considering how much I adore this series.
Though each book in the series is partially episodic in approach, there’s still a good deal of continuity from the first book to this one. Stephen’s insane devotion to his work at the expense of his fledgling relationship with Lord Crane, as well as Crane’s rapidly fraying patience, serve as the main thread linking these books together. The effects of both come to a head in Flight of Magpies, the simmering tension bubbling over till the inevitable blow up happens. And it’s something that never catches you off-guard; in fact, as far as I was concerned, I was wondering why in heck it didn’t happen sooner. Then again, that’s also the appeal of Charles’ writing. Even with all of the nutty unpredictability of magic, she still manages to sustain a superb balancing act by juggling the personal with the greater, larger picture. And that means a lot of time and especially care devoted to every aspect of the plot and character development.
It’s this care that manifests itself wonderfully in this book. Even the minor characters are given their quirks and eccentricities, regardless of whether or not they’re on the side of good or bad – or even in between – which is a common theme in this series. I love how every character is firmly in the gray, though perhaps Stephen is a touch too moral. But his characterization is skillfully handled, his history clearly established in the first book, and it’s easy to see how the tragedy of past events, the exhilarating but dangerous present, and the frightening uncertainty of the future all coalesce in the here and now. They dog his steps continually, no matter where he turns, and Stephen – who’s been alone for so long and has learned to fend for himself at the expense of a better quality of life – has to have his nose rubbed rather painfully into a choice he desperately needs to make. And that’s to learn to give up some control before he succumbs to his self-destructive, workaholic nature.
And that also brings me to a curious point I took away from this book. That this particular alternate England simply has no room for good, moral people. That every person, rich and poor and everything in between, needs to straddle the dark and the light in order to survive the dangerous randomness of a dark, gritty, dingy London. Even relationships between good friends and colleagues – Dr. and Mrs. Gold, Saint, and Stephen – are constantly strained to the breaking point. Quarrels erupt, sometimes for the silliest reasons, and we’re shown how each character reflects the daily strain on his or her nerves as the book progresses. It’s almost a depressing, nihilistic view to espouse, but magic – good or bad – is incredibly unpredictable, and the entire Magpies series highlights that constantly.
Merrick is just as nicely developed as an important side character, though we see a little less of him compared to the previous books. If anything, the shining star in this entry is Lord Crane. Intelligent, handsome, wealthy, and, above all, amoral – he steps over Stephen easily as the hero of this book. Armed with a razor tongue that won’t quit and his bloodline of powerful and deadly magic, Crane deftly makes his way around dangerous situations and turns into a kind of mouthpiece for us. He becomes our representative, almost, as we see events unfold through his cynical, embittered point of view. He’s no-nonsense, a streetwise aristocrat who has no patience for England’s hypocritical laws and its homegrown idiots, and that includes practitioners of magic. Even Stephen isn’t immune to his well-aimed and justified barbs.
If you don’t mind an English Lit nerd moment, I almost liken Crane to an 18th century Juvenalian satirist like Jonathan Swift – there to mercilessly expose and reduce people and their behavior to their smallest and most contemptible elements. And then, of course, kicking them in the balls when they’re down. His acerbity becomes a thing of sublime beauty in the climax, and I admit to laughing my way through a pretty dark, violent, and bloody scene. Utterly inappropriate, maybe, but that confrontation between Crane and his enemies was so brilliantly written, with Crane’s gallows humor a vivid thread woven throughout. Looking back at the previous books, I don’t remember a similar climactic scene unfolding, which only made this one a logical step forward. That is, it’s really indicative of Crane’s patience wearing thin and finally tearing along the stress points, and God help whoever plucks at the last of his nerves. If he were truly a mouthpiece for us modern readers, it’s pretty damned cathartic listening to him spew, even with Death staring him in the face.
One character that’s just as well-written as the protagonists is alternate Victorian England itself. Without having to wear us down with description after lengthy description, Charles still manages to create a country, especially a city (London), that seems to live and breathe alongside its human inhabitants. There’s so much character in every grimy alley, muddy cobblestone, and dark-paneled room – magic-soaked, in a way, to the point where I can’t really say if London created that magic and infused everyone with it or if it’d absorbed the fantastical through the centuries from its citizens. At any rate, you can’t help but see how London and its people are really mirror images of each other in a gothic symbiosis of sorts. The setting in a story is an easy element to brush off or dismiss perfunctorily by writers, but you never see this in Flight of Magpies, nor the two other books in the series. No detail in this series, no matter how little, is left to chance, and for KJ Charles to maintain that amount of loving attention in three books so far is an amazing achievement worthy of all the praise it receives.
You can pre-order Flight of Magpies here: