books

K.J. Charles

Books

Sins of the City: An Unseen Attraction (2017), An Unnatural Vice (2017), An Unsuitable Heir (2017)

A Charm of Magpies: The Magpie Lord (2013), A Case of Possession (2014), Flight of Magpies (2014)

Rag & Bone: A Queer Trade (2015), Rag and Bone (2016)

 

 

Sins of the City

 

An Unseen Attraction (2017)

Set in London in 1873

This is a MM boinking book.

Clem Tallyfer is the keeper of his brother’s lodging house in London. It’s how he makes his living–surviving on the sufferance of his brother.

He’s also different, and that makes things even more difficult.

Would you like to keep looking? I’ll wait.” That was the sort of thing people said and then it turned out they hadn’t meant that at all. Clem knew he didn’t recognise sarcasm because he had been told so, repeatedly.

Clem was not a man you could read like a book, or if you could, the book was in an unfamiliar typeface, with no page numbers.

Rowley Green is a preserver who chose Clem’s lodging house because it was right next to his shop. He prefers to create life-like creations, but sometimes has to sell the … unusual.

“What is it?”

“A badger presented as the messenger god Hermes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Presumably someone ate toasted cheese before bed.”

I really liked the characters. Clem is neuroatypical, but he is also smart. And kind, which makes him a very complex character. Especially since he is quite aware of how his problems cause him to be viewed by society.

Clem tightened his grip. “Rowley, there are lots of people who think I’m worth looking at. Not so many who think I’m worth listening to.”

That helps to make him an incredibly compelling character. I also very much like that Clem does have friends who look out for him.

The other thing I really liked is the mystery. One of the lodgers is found brutally murdered on the doorstep of the lodging house, and events spiral out of control from there.

As I said, this is a MM romance, and that makes this very different from other historical romances, first and foremost because homosexuality was a severe crime at that time, and it made normal relationships almost impossible for such men. But what I also like is that both characters being male allows the story to ignore the limitations placed upon women (such as the lack of basic rights).

The murder and mystery were icing on the cake, especially since Clem’s mindset made it almost impossible for him to see many people in a negative light. Rowley’s struggle with that makes for a fascinating struggle, and a completely believable one.

Another note: the story isn’t completely resolved. But the next book has already been published. So that helps.

Publisher: Loveswept
Rating: 8/10

An Unnatural Vice (2017)

Set in London in 1873

This book follows–and in some cases overlaps–An Unseen AttractionClem’s brother is dead, his heir has been made a bastard, and now Clem’s friends are trying to keep Clem’s cousin from throwing him out of his home by searching for another possible heir–the children on the first wife.

Justin Lazarus is known as The Seer of London, and plies his craft with skill and cunning, caring only about the few under his direct care, and more than willing to take money from the rich and willing.

Justin used innuendo and throaty moans in the same way he used stolen information and a fanatical level of planning: as weapons.

Nathaniel Roy, a crusading journalist, had been to see one of London’s leading spiritualists in an attempt to prove fraud. He hates spiritualists and would like nothing better to prove Justin a fraud, but when Justin comes to him with a lead on the possible heir, he determines he has to work with him, if only to save Clem’s home and living.

For a man to set himself up as a false prophet and lay claim to more than mortal powers struck Nathaniel as profoundly blasphemous, even though he believed in neither prophets nor powers.

The first thing I particularly liked about this story was Nathaniel’s past: he’d had a partner and love, but after that mand’s death Nathaniel was left to struggle with his grief, having to hide it from all but his closest friends. How impossible that must have been for so many men, to never be able to show their true feelings of the loss of their loves–to have to hide such a loss from the world.

The second thing I liked was that although Nathaniel despised what Justin did, I found it easy to sympathize with Justin, who worked his way up from nothing and took from the wealthy without a second thought. I understood why Nathaniel was opposed to Justin’s trade, playing on grief and despair was it did, but Justin is pragmatic and we see his does look out for those in his care, making him as good a man as Nathaniel.

It was a couple of decades since he’d slept on the street and five years since he’d been able to afford a bedroom of his own, yet he swam back to consciousness with a sense of incredulous relief every morning. No lice, no noise, no hands on his body, no dirty floor or sacking scraping his skin. Nobody whose approach he need fear, and nobody whose absence he need fear, either.

The third thing was the mystery. Clem still isn’t out of danger, but he also isn’t out on the streets. And there are still people being murdered for the sake or the Earldom.

Plus Clem really is lovely.

“For heaven’s sake!” Clem slapped the table, making Rowley jump. “These are my niece and nephew! Edmund’s children, his legitimate children, running away from home and their mother to God knows what, and Repentance is the earl— and that poor girl, poor Emmeline, she was sixteen years old, on her own, miles from home, with child, and this—”

Rowley put a hand on his forearm. Clem put his own hand over it. “It’s not right. What Edmund did, what they all did. All of them, from my father on. Using people and not giving a damn for the consequences. It’s so greedy.”

It’s a fun series, and although there is a LOT of boinking, I really like the mystery AND the characters.

Publisher: Loveswept
Rating: 8/10

An Unsuitable Heir (2017)

Set in London in 1873

Mark is a private enquiry agent. He and his mother came to England, fleeing Poland after his mother got in trouble one too many times for her anarchism. Through the lawyer who often defended his mother, he came to know Clem and the others at the Jack, so he is willing to help Nathaniel search for the missing heir to help keep Clem from being thrown out of his home.

“Gone back off home now to bring down the Empire, trzymajmy kciuki.” He tipped his glass.

“What was that?”

“Polish. Means ‘Let’s keep our fingers crossed.’”

“Did you just drink to the fall of the British Empire?”

“I was brought up in bad ways.”

Pen and Greta Starling (Regret and Repentance Godfrey) have been working as acrobats since they ran away years earlier, when Greta was to have been forced to marry the old man who was head of the religious group their mother joined after running away.

It was working as showmen that Pen truly discovered himself: a person who didn’t always want to be male, but also didn’t necessarily want to be female, but instead wanted only to be himself, whoever that was on any given day.

Which makes him a really really unsuitable heir. I was honestly wondering how on earth things were going to work out, because Pen was completely unsuited to being the heir, but the heir apparent and his son would throw Clem out in a heartbeat, so that obviously would not work at all.

I think this is the first book I’ve read where a main character was trans. Which made it all the more interesting, since his sexuality was very much tied up in how he felt about himself at that time. It also made it impossible for Pen to live happily as the Earl, since his whole life would become a facade he could not maintain.

I also really liked many of the secondary characters, including Mr Hapgood.

“Edmund, Lord Moreton, was married to Emmeline Godfrey. Any son by that lady precedes all other heirs. It must be carefully assessed whether Mr. Pen is such a son.”

“Why are you taking his side?” Desmond demanded. His gnarled hands were tight on his cane. “You work for me!”

“I represent the Moreton estate,” Mr. Hapgood said, very coldly. “I have done so all my life. I do not take sides, Mr. Desmond.”

Also: Clem.

“Desmond’s been trying to throw me out of my house, you see. I keep lodgings, and the lodging house belongs to Moreton, and if he took it away that would be my home and my livelihood gone. Everything I’ve worked for, my future. I’d have to start all over again with nothing. It wouldn’t be pleasant.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because he doesn’t want me to exist,” Clem said simply.

Clem is the reason that who becomes the Earl matters so much. Without worry for Clem, you wouldn’t care if Pen walked away from the Earldom. Which of course makes both the mystery and the conclusion far more interesting.

Also: a locked room mystery!

“You can’t get into the house from the moat,” Tim said. “Clem and I never did and we spent summers trying.”

Additionally, I liked the conclusion. As I said, I didn’t see how it was ever going to work out, and then suddenly realized the solution had been there all the time.

It was a nice little series, despite all the boinking, and I enjoyed the characters and the mystery.

Publisher: Loveswept
Rating: 8/10

 

A Charm of Magpies

 

The Magpie Lord (2013)

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Eight for a letter over the sea
Nine for a lover as true as can be

Lucien Vaudrey spent 20 years exiled in China by his father. Now that his father and brother are both dead, Lucien has returned to England to inherit the title of Lord Crane and the earldom. But it seems like someone doesn’t want him to keep that inheritance for long.

Stephen Day is a Justicar–a magician who enforces the rules. He also has an unpleasant past with the Crane family, and wants nothing better than for the new Earl Crane to suffer has the old earl made others suffer. But he has to uphold the law, and that means he has to work with Lucien Vaudrey, who is… not what he was expecting.

“Murder?” Stephen knew he sounded scathing, couldn’t help it. “It is a crime.”

“Mr. Day, you know what they were,” Crane said. “If someone killed them, it was about bloody time.”

“No, it was murder,” said Stephen. “No matter what they were.”

“I dispute that. Hector did exactly as he chose— rape, assault, abuse— with my father’s protection and complicity, and he got away with it for thirty years and more because not one single person had the guts to stand up to them—”

I really like the world-building of these stories. And the characters. And the story.

So I guess I pretty much like everything, even if I could do without all the boinking. And even the boinking is kinda fascinating, because like magic use, homosexuality had to be hidden as well.

Also, for a self-published book, I very much like the cover. It’s extremely well done, giving you an idea of the time period, the characters, and the relationship between them.

A fun book, and I’m looking forward to the next.

Publisher: KJC Books
Rating: 8/10

A Case of Possession (2014)

The second Charm of Magpies books finds Stephen and Crane the subject of blackmail. Crane, being an Earl, would be fine ignoring the blackmailer, but Stephen, being poor, could easily be arrested for their relationship.

But then they suddenly have a much larger problem–giant rats are attacking and killing people, and those killed seem to be linked to China–and perhaps Crane.

The mystery was interesting, and it allowed Crane to talk about his time in China, and how he survived his first year there. It also explains more of why Crane and Merrick are as much friends as master and servant.

Plus, they’re fun.

Merrick came in with a bundle. “I beg your pardon,” he began, and then recoiled at his master’s appearance. “What happened to you?”

“Blame Leo. She bled all over me.”

“That’s the Hawkes and Cheney suit!” said Merrick, outraged. “I’ll never get that stain out.”

“I’ll bleed more carefully next time,” Leonora assured him.

There is, of course, boinking book. Just so you know. But I really do like the mystery and the characters and the world building.

Publisher: KJC Books
Rating: 7.5/10

Flight of Magpies (2014)

The third book of the Charm of Magpies series finds Stephen and Lord Crane struggling to come to terms with Vaudrey’s desire to leave England and Stephen’s dedication to his job–a job that offers little remuneration but a lot of danger.

Crane had promised he wouldn’t leave the country without him, and meant it, but his thoughts had undeniably turned from how he could stay in England to how he could make Stephen cross the seas with him.

Even worse, Stephen’s partner, Esther Gold, is currently unable to practice magic.

“For Mrs. Gold. I hope she’s well?”

“No, she’s sick. More or less continually, which is unpleasant for her, and since she is the worst patient of my acquaintance, fairly nasty for me.”

What is best about this series is that the characters are very well done. Each is well-developed and unique, and most of them refuse to take themselves seriously.

He wasn’t familiar with the operation of the patent stove or the boiler, and if it came to that, it was a long time since he’d made a cup of coffee for himself.

“Congratulations, Vaudrey, you’ve become purely decorative,” he said aloud.

As I’ve noted before, this is M/M erotica, so there is a lot of boinking, but I really like the characters, and I really liked the story and how Stephen and Vaudrey work out their problems.

Publisher: KJC Books
Rating: 8/10

 

Rag & Bone

 

A Queer Trade (2015)

This is a short story I picked up because I liked another series of hers I read, and the idea of an historical fantasy was worth checking out.

Crispin Tredarloe is a practitioner. He is also going to be in a great deal of trouble. His master died while he was out of town and the heirs got rid of all his papers.

His magical papers.

Ned Hall is a dealer in waste paper, and it is to him that Crispin applies, in his search for the papers, before they escape into the world and wreak havoc.

I knew nothing about this world or the characters, and was immediately drawn into the story, wanting to know more about the secret magic users.

So I’d say it succeeded in it’s task, since I immediately started a book set in the same world.

Publisher: KJ Charles
Rating: 7/10

Rag and Bone (2016)

This is set after Flight of Magpies and continues the story started in A Queer Trade.

Crispin Tredarloe is trying to learn the right way to be a practitioner, instead of a warlock, like he was trained. But it’s difficult unlearning everything he has been doing for years, and to make matters worse, there is no one to properly train him, because there are no other practitioners in London with his form of magic.

“I wondered if you could come and help me with something first, please.”

“Is it an important something?” Janossi said. “Because I am actually quite busy.”

“Spontaneous human combustion?”

“I’ll get my coat.”

Ned Hall is tired of magic. He discovered he is a Flit, but doesn’t want to practice. And on top of that, magic training is taking all of Crispin’s time, so the two hardly get to see each other.

Plus, the whole magic thing.

“Sod your parsley, your sage, your rosemary, your thyme, and your watercress if it comes to that,” Ned announced.

Both Ned and Crispin fear that the other will tire of them–Ned because he’s only a waste paper man, Crispin because he’s a failure at being a magician. Each respects the other, and is waiting to be left for greener pastures. What I like is that each has good reasons for his feelings, which makes the tension between the two characters good.

Crispin sagged. Ned probably would make a marvellous stockbroker, if it came to that, because he was actually good at things.

There’s one other book left, that I know of, involving a character who appeared in this story, and Flight of Magpies. I think I’ll wait a bit before reading it, so I have it to look forward to.

Publisher: KJC Books
Rating: 8/10