No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016/67: A Queer Trade -- KJ Charles

also 2016/68: Rag and Bone -- KJ Charles
"You act by writing. That is not a crime, and you are not a criminal. It is extraordinarily rare... What's wrong with you is that you've been taught to draw your power down the wrong way. Blood writing is impractical if you use your own blood, and illegal if you don't." [Rag and one, loc. 615]

Ned Hall, purveyor of waste paper to the markets of London, is visited one afternoon by a frantic Crispin Tredarloe, whose late master's house has been cleared. Crispin desperately needs to track down some of the papers that Ned might have bought: they're scripti, spells written down, and they could be dangerous. Ned, though initially suspicious of this madman raving about magic, decides to help: after all, there's that noise he can't quite hear, from somewhere in the paper store, and he wishes it would shut up. (It also doesn't hurt that Crispin is attractive, in a fey sort of way.)

Crispin has been apprenticed to Mr Marleigh for years, and Marleigh's taught him how to write his own spells, with a rather unusual pen. He knows his dead master thought that the laws restricting blood magic were fussy and old-fashioned, so he can't exactly go to the justiciary (magical police) for help. Ned, though: Ned is strong, practical and handsome, and seems inclined to believe Crispin when he says it's a matter of life and death. Also, Crispin has never spoken to a man of colour before ...

A Queer Trade sets up Crispin and Ned's relationship: Rag and Bone threatens it, and presents a truly nasty plot. Again, KJ Charles combines a plotty (and really quite scary) fantasy novel with a credible M/M romance. She doesn't shy away from the mundane moralities of probably-Victorian London: homosexuality is still illegal, Ned is still the victim of casual and institutional racism -- and she explores some of the ethical and practical issues of having an understaffed magical justiciary attempting to control magical practice. The books are very firmly grounded in London (nobody here is turning west on Leadenhall Street to get to Aldgate) and there's a good sense of lower-class London life. And we catch glimpses of the characters from other books in the same world: Stephen Day, Jenny Saint, Esther Gold. Competent writing, fun pacy plots, and likeable characters: recommended.

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