Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 189 Pages
At a Glance: Jackdaw is a wonderfully written romance between two all-too-human young men.
Reviewed By: Rena
Blurb: If you stop running, you fall.
Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser s life. Until his betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.
Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah s chaotic existence all over again, and they re running together – from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.
Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, can they find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them?
This story is set in the world of the Charm of Magpies series.
Note: If you haven’t read the entire Charm of Magpies trilogy, this review contains what could be considered a spoiler.
Review: As a big old fan of KJ Charles’ Charm of Magpies series, I was thrilled to see a new novel whose events take place in the same universe and timeline. If anything, the book is a kind of a sequel to Flight of Magpies, and not only do we enjoy the adventures of a completely different couple, we also get to see Stephen Day and Lord Crane as side characters who peripherally affect Ben and Jonah’s predicament, and also bid goodbye to England for better lives in the East.
The main difference between Jackdaw and the Magpies series is that Ben and Jonah’s story is a lot more grounded than Stephen and Lucius’. And that’s because our POV character is Ben, who’s an ordinary man who’s suffered horribly as a consequence of Jonah’s errors in judgment. And, yes, Jonah – who first appears in Charm of Magpies – is a windwalker, but he’s not a justiciar like Stephen nor is blessed (cursed?) with a bloodline steeped in deadly magic like Crane. Both Ben and Jonah are, in truth, simple men who’re deeply, deeply in love with each other and are desperately fighting for nothing more than a chance to live quietly and happily together. But as the blurb notes, not only are they up against some pretty dangerous sorts – law enforcement and justiciars – they also struggle against questions of trust, forgiveness, and second chances.
Just like Day and Crane, Ben and Jonah are made out to be very complex characters who, unfortunately, are up against some pretty overwhelming odds. Every difficulty in their relationship and past actions isn’t easily resolved because nothing’s in black and white. Painful questions regarding choices made in reference to sacrificing innocents in order to save one’s love are constantly thrown at both of them, and it’s pretty heartbreaking watching them deal with their conscience, especially when hard, inescapable facts force them to make ultimate sacrifices for each other in the climax of the book. They don’t have the benefit of a support group, unlike Day and Crane. They’re both outcasts on so many levels – both dirt poor, rejected by their families, and unemployed, with Jonah completely illiterate – swimming against rough currents without any hope for help, save from each other.
And because their relationship takes center stage in this book, one can’t help but wish the worst for Stephen Day sometimes, as he goes about his usual stick-up-the-butt, moral way. That said, I appreciate the fact that, again, everything’s laid out in so many different shades of gray that despite my resentment toward Stephen in some scenes, I’m also shown how human he is as a man who simply wishes to see justice done – and it’s so in character for him to hold on to the case like a little red-haired pit bull. Stephen’s heart’s in the right place, but he doesn’t get to see the truth as clearly as we’d like him to. As always, Crane gives us the much-needed spark of dark humor and clarity when things seem so bleak – the triumph of amorality, I think, in a world that can never be dealt with in black and white terms. It’s also a triumph in that it’s a concession, a willingness to see the good in imperfection despite the risks.
The plot takes us away from London and into a more bucolic environment: a village in Cornwall. At the very tip of southwestern England, it’s just the perfect place for two ordinary men to find the peaceful sanctuary they desperately need. Simple and rustic, filled with fishermen and other poor locals whose day-to-day concerns are nowhere near the bizarre, metaphysical events that shadow Stephen’s life as a justiciar and drive Crane batty as Stephen’s lover. There are so many parallels that can be drawn between the two couples and their respective environments, as well as the manner of, and reasons behind, their self-imposed exiles. As with the Magpies series, this book offers us something much more than just a surface reading of two lovers’ struggles, so a big hat tip to Charles for keeping up the complexity in her books.
Jackdaw is a wonderfully written romance between two all-too-human young men. With its less colorful and relatively quieter conflict compared to the three books in the Magpies series, we get to be brought down to earth in a sense, enjoy a more old-fashioned love story despite its darker, bloodier, and more magic-soaked past. The shift in focus toward an idyllic backdrop in rural England also serves to complete Stephen and Crane’s story in a bittersweet yet triumphant way. While Charles could’ve easily written a full novel about their departure from England, I’m glad she chose to approach it in this manner. There’s no complicated melodrama, no craziness, no destructive magic shrouding them this time – just a simple, quiet exit that lends them a certain melancholy dignity, bolstered by the rustic perfection of Ben and Jonah’s new life together.
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