All readers, no matter how broad-reaching their tastes, have a few things they won't read (we covered those genres in a What's the Exception to Your Reading Rule post earlier). It's the most amazing feeling, therefore, when you read something that you wouldn't normally read—and you love it.
That was the case when I read The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles. It's a mash-up of genres, including Victorian, m/m, and paranormal. My issue with mash-ups is that there are specific rules of worlbuilding within each genre, and trying to maintain both sets of rules just waters both down. There will invariably be one genre's rule that butts up against another, making the author have to choose which rule to enforce. It's as though you wanted to make brownies AND lasagna, and you make them as one, and of course the result is nowhere near as good as the two separate parts.
Thankfully, The Magpie Lord is more like the peanut butter and chocolate example—both wonderful separately, but even better together.
The series opens with Lucien Vaudrey, Earl Crane, having returned to England after twenty years in China. His blackguard brother and father (truly reprehensible men from the sound of it) have died, and he has inherited the title.
“Earl Crane. Shouldn't there be an 'of' in that?”
“No. It's like Earl Grey.”
Lucien is nothing like his relatives, thank goodness, but he can be ruthless when something is standing in his way. When the first book opens, Lucien is in the throes of a suicide attempt, from which his manservant and faithful companion, Merrick, saves him. He soon realizes he needs the help of a shaman, or rather Merrick does:
“No buts!” The words rang off the stone floor and tiled walls. “You can go to some mad-doctor and get thrown in the bedlam, or you can sit there and go mad for thinking you're going mad, or we find a fucking shaman and get this looked like we would back home, because hereditary my arse.”
The shaman—or “practicioner,” as they're known in England—arrives and cures Lucien (not without some surprises, of course), and Lucien and the practicioner, Stephen Day, try to figure out who is attempting to hurt Lucien through magical means.
Stephen has special powers, even though his appearance is nondescript:
His appearance was incredibly unimpressive. Short, for one thing, barely five feet tall, narrow shouldered, significantly underweight, hollow-cheeked. He had reddish-brown hair cut unfashionably close, possibly against a hint of curls. His worn suit of faded black was obviously cheap and didn't fit terribly well; bizarrely, he wore cheap cotton gloves. He looked like a clerk, the ten-a-penny kind who drudged in every counting house, except that he had tawny-gold eyes that were vividly glowing in his pale rigid face, and they were staring at Crane with something that looked extraordinarily like hate.
During the course of the investigation, Stephen and Lucien begin to regard one another with sexual interest. Because of his personality and how he's been living (Shanghai had no laws against homosexuality), Lucien is open about what he wants, and who he wants:
“You wanted me to fuck you, didn't you?
Stephen shut his eyes. “Briefly.”
Crane lowered his head so his mouth as right on Stephen's ear, voice vibrating, teeth and tongue touching the sensitive flesh. “When I fuck you, Mr. Day, it will not be briefly. It will be long and hard and extremely thorough. I'm going to take pains with you.”
The setting is obviously a historical one, but Charles doesn't bombard us with the historical details, merely using them as a proper setting for the action. Neither does she overexplain the paranormal elements in the book, presenting both worlds as existing simultaneously, a natural blend that allows for the relationship and the solving of the mystery to bloom. That's the kind of mashup that works, and it truly is better together than the parts are separately.
The second book, A Case of Possession, spotlights another case, one which only Lucien and Stephen can solve through their blood-and-sex bond. Meanwhile, both men are wrestling with what they want this relationship to be; Stephen assumes Lucien will return to Shanghai soon, while Lucien is never certain when Stephen will pop back into his life, thanks to his unpredictable job. And of course when they get together it reveals more about each of them, plus them together:
“About bloody time,” he called, without looking up, as soft feet approached. “Well?”
There was no reply. But Crane felt a pressure on his waist, and glanced down to see his top button sulently undoing itself, slipping through the buttonhole apparently of its own accord.
“Hello, Stephen,” he said, without looking round.
“Hello,” said Stephen, and dropped to his knees by the couch as the remaining buttons flicked open one by one.
The elements of each genre are woven through each other like a tapestry, rather than a badly-stitched quilt. I am hoping for more Lucien and Stephen (and Merrick) books to come.
Megan Frampton is the Community Manager for the HeroesandHeartbreakers site. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son.