I digress, but all of this is to say that I still have a fondness for good, solid, historical m/m. Alex Beecroft would be the best previous example of the kind of thing that I like. And I like historical fantasy. So when I saw that The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles was available through Overdrive, I put in a request for my library to purchase it. (Because no matter how promising something sounds, I try new-to-me authors through the library if I possibly can.)
Lucien Vaudrey, the new Lord Crane, has just returned to England after the deaths of his father and elder brother after spending two decades in China. Since his return, he appears to have been placed under a curse that causes him to attempt to commit suicide. His loyal servant Merrick suspects the magical cause and suggests that they should consult a shaman. A friend puts them in touch with Stephen Day. (It's a little unclear if he is a shaman; the impression I get was that the term isn't used in England but that it refers to the same type of practitioner.) Day finds the magical artifact that was used to place the curse and neutralizes it, but realizes that somebody may have used it to murder the late father and brother and then left it to kill Lucien when he returned. Crane sympathizes with the reasons why somebody may have wanted his father and brother dead, but Day is a justicar whose duties include tracking down those who commit crimes with magic, and so he goes with Crane to his ancestral home to investigate further.
I enjoyed the fantastical Victorian world that Charles created. I'm a little unclear on how widespread magic is, still: it was implied several times that a person who uses magic could be prosecuted for witchcraft, period, by the civil authorities, not just punished by the justicars for what they did with that magic, and yet all the characters in the story seemed pretty open about who used it. Maybe it's a country vs. city thing, combined with Crane just having returned from China where shamans work openly? Maybe that will become clearer as the series goes on. And I enjoy the two main characters, both separately and how well balanced they are as a couple. Lord Crane is a survivor, strong and resourceful, and deeply committed to being different from his father and brother. Day, although physically unimpressive because he burns so much energy on magic, is a powerful magician and often takes the lead when danger looms. And although I would have said before reading this book that I was thoroughly sick of servants who are apparently their employer's best friend, the unique background between Lord Crane and Merrick made their relationship thoroughly believable and Merrick completely enjoyable.
I'm eagerly anticipating the next book in the Charm of Magpies series.
Overall Grade: A-