A Case of Possession underscores all the reasons K. J. Charles is on my "auto-buy" list of authors. I fell in love with Stephen and Crane and Merrick in The Magpie Lord so I wondered if Case could maintain that intriguing Victorian setting with an extra dollop of magic and mayhem as a backdrop all the while deepening the blossoming relationship between Stephen and Crane, but I shouldn't have worried. The writing is just as sharp and funny here as it is in The Magpie Lord. The world of magic, witches, and warlocks is a seamless fit for a Victorian setting and continues to expand as members of Stephen's team are introduced here. The relationship between Stephen and Crane deepens and progresses beautifully, and Merrick. Well, Merrick never fails to liven up any scene he's in. And even though it was hard to imagine how, Case had an element even more shiver-inducing for me than Hector on the Rose Walk in The Magpie Lord. A Case of Possession is even better than The Magpie Lord, and I didn't think that was possible.
I really loved the dynamics between Stephen. Stephen is a much smaller man than Lucien but, of the two, he is very much more powerful than the physically stronger and more imposing Lucien.
"Stephen had a taste for submission, of course, but on occasion he also used his body to quiet his mind, letting intense physical sensation block out sensitivities to things Crane couldn’t see and memories Crane was glad not to share. At those times he had a craving for rough treatment that Crane found slightly alarming, mostly because he was so much larger and stronger that he feared causing real hurt, and just a little because he was manhandling someone who could kill with a thought." (Loc.444)
There is a scene in which Stephen and Lucien are discussing what can be done about Rackham blackmail situation and the Council's watch list . As Stephen ponders all the ramifications, he is absentmindedly reshaping a piece of Lucien's silverware, specifically a fork. While the subject matter is serious, the scene had an almost comical element to it as he magically modifies a fork's tines into flower petals, a spiral, and plait without really meaning to. It was almost like someone who nervously shreds a napkin or twirls a lock of hair around their finger, an overt manifestation of his/her inner turmoil.
He tapped the points of the fork thoughtfully. The metal tines peeled apart, like flower petals.
He ran a finger along one of the tines and watched it spiral.
His attention was apparently fixed on the other three tines of the fork, which were weaving themselves into a plait.
Stephen wrapped the thin metal handle slowly round his finger, as if it were paper. (Loc. 429-443)
Wreaking havoc on a fork, albeit unconsciously, shows the strain Stephen is under due to his and Lucien's stressful circumstances as well as the tight reins he is forced to exert on his newly enhanced powers. Stephen is trying to control an almost overwhelming craving for more power.
The animated magpie tattoos are a really remarkable manifestation of the power exchange between Stephen and Lucien as they drift from one man to the other. In Interlude with Tattoos, one mischievous magpie decides to stay with Stephen which led to a really funny series of letters between Stephen and Lucien arranging times to, er, get the little guy back home to no avail.
“My dear Stephen
It would seem that a gift is being forced upon you. I suggest you submit gracefully. I fear that, sometimes, you must simply take what you are given, like it or not.”
Excerpt From: Charles, KJ. “Interlude with Tattoos: A Charm of Magpies 1.5.”
I was so happy that that the relationship between these two has deepened, with or without the help of a matchmaking magpie, in Case of Possession. I'm not sure when I've read a more passionate declaration of feelings as the one Lucien makes to Stephen late in the book:
"I am quite sure I’ve told you how remarkable you are. I know I have. Magical, and infinitely fuckable, and extraordinarily brave. I’m also well aware that you’re a better man than I will ever be. I’m fairly sure you have no idea just how glorious you are, which is fortunate for me, because the more time I have with you, the more aware I am of my own very obvious flaws. And I realise you don’t entirely trust me—no, let me say this,” he insisted as Stephen tried to interrupt. “I realise that and I don’t blame you, but I want—I would like—you to give me a chance to demonstrate that you can. I’m not going back to Shanghai while you will have me here. In fact, I’m not leaving this damned country at all unless you’re on the boat with me. I seem to be peculiarly inept at understanding your needs when we’re not in bed, and I know I’ve got a hell of a lot wrong to date, but…don’t run away from me, please. Don’t disappear. (...)
My life changed four months ago, and I utterly failed to understand that until just recently, and therefore…I may have omitted to tell you that I love you.” He took a breath. “That’s all. (Loc. 1814-1831)
There are lots of emotion-packed scenes throughout this book, but the one above and the one in which Stephen tells Esther Gold why his power has increased in the last four months are my favorites. Esther has been assigned by the Council to watch Stephen for signs that he's using blood magic, becoming a warlock. Stephen is unable to admit that his power gets a boost when he and Lucien make love because he's fearful of the consequences to Lucien should anyone learn of the special properties of his blood. The resolution of Esther's suspicions was just so wonderful for her, for Stephen and for Lucien.
“Stephen and I are lovers.” Crane held Esther’s eyes as they widened. He didn’t want her to look at Stephen. “Have been for some four months. That is what causes the transfer of power, as I understand it. No blood magic, no warlockry. It happens when we go to bed, it’s something to do with my family line, it’s not within my control or his. That’s the long and short of it, and if you have any opinions to offer on the matter, you can address them to me.” More aggression than he’d intended rang in the last words, but he was damned if Stephen would stand here and take abuse. (...)
Esther was looking at Stephen. “And this is why you’ve been letting us think you’ve gone bad. To hide this. For pity’s sake!” She turned abruptly away. Stephen twitched violently, and Crane gripped him tighter.
Dr. Gold let out a long sigh. “Oh, Steph. You might have said something.”
Stephen made a strangled noise. Crane drawled, “Might he?”
“Yes, actually, he might. We’re not imbeciles. Great Scott, man, did it not occur to you we’d understand?
“I don’t understand,” said Esther, swinging back round. Her face was red. “You swine, Stephen Day. You pig. You horrible, vile—I thought—God damn you, I was so frightened!”
Her voice broke. Crane felt Stephen’s body stiffen under his hands. He instinctively clenched his fingers on his lover’s shoulders, but Stephen twisted free with a hoarse, “Es!”, and bolted towards his partner.
Esther flung herself into his arms and wept, choking with angry sobs. Stephen muttered something incoherent, face pressed into her shoulder, and Esther thumped him on the back with a hard fist. “Why didn’t you say?” she managed through her tears. “Why didn’t you just say?" (Loc. 1446-1464)
And Merrick. How I love Merrick! He and Lucien may be servant/master to most people, but these two are the best of friends, and there is genuine affection in all of their banter. They have a history, a history of hi-jinks and risqué, sometimes life-threatening adventures which serve as fodder for bringing Lucien down a few notches when he becomes too puffed up. I especially want to know the story of the "crabman."
“He told the one about the crabman pretty much as it happened,” Merrick offered.
“He what?” Merrick grinned unsympathetically.
“What, you thought he’d keep a story like that quiet? But he was spot on with it, as I recall.”
"That…man can count himself lucky he’s already dead,” said Crane. “And I’ll speak to you later, you turncoat. (Loc. 812)
And Merrick takes such joy as he affectionately teases Lucien about his tender feelings toward Stephen, much to Lucien's dismay.
“Cor, dear.” Merrick shook his head. “You have got it bad, ain’t you?”
“I’m just saying. Round his little finger.”
“Pining, that’s what you are. I didn’t recognise it at first, but—”
“Shut up, you repulsive inebriate, or I will dismiss you without a character. (Loc. 993)
I really enjoyed the introduction to Stephen's team of justiciars, especially Esther. She is strong and principled and fair, but best of all she really does care for Stephen. It was gut-wrenching to see how relieved she was to learn the reason behind Stephen's sudden power boosts.
So you have all of these amazing things going on here - an amazing world created that continues to get better and more fun to read with each book, two main characters who really are the heart and soul of this world/book as well as secondary characters who are fascinating and funny, and a writing style that engages and pulls me right into the storyline every single time. Not to mention that the scare factor ante has been upped yet again with giant carnivorous rats. Rats! Why'd it have to be rats? (Apologies to Indiana Jones) Rats are one of two things that will send me to higher ground pretty damn quickly. Maybe it has something to do with rats being able to squeeze through openings no bigger than a quarter or maybe it's that their teeth are supposedly stronger than platinum which makes eating through a house or, in this case, people, a breeze. Blech! Giant carnivorous rats notwithstanding, A Case of Possession was even better than The Magpie Lord, and I hope there are many more stories in the Charm of Magpies series to look forward to.