Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-473-4
Historical Fantasy, 2016
Oh dear, it looks like I’m so late to KJ Charles’s cute little world in which wizards and woo-woo are out there in England, a time when sodomy coexists nicely with Earl Grey and tarts during tea time. Still, Rag and Bone is very easy to follow despite my not having read any previous books in this series – or by this author – so this little darling can stand alone quite well. At least, I think I have everything down pat; if I have gotten some things wrong, it doesn’t affect my comprehension of the story at all, so everything is still good. But if I do get some points wrong in my synopsis, be gentle and remember that this is my first time with the author.
Anyway, we meet Crispin Tredarloe. He used to be an apprentice for… a possessed wizard, I guess, who trained him in forbidden magical arts. Whatever he writes and draws will come true, which would have been fabulous if he had been real and he would just write that I would wake up every morning to find a million dollars and three naked hunky slaves waiting for my pleasure. Anyway. Now, his ex-master is out of the picture, and he is trying to learn legal magic at the neighborhood Hogwarts. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to get things right, and several tutors had already washed their hands off him. Perhaps his new master, a Dr Sweet, may just be the tutor he has been hoping and searching for. Meanwhile, Crispin is in a relationship with Ned Hall, a waste-man who can still offer his own cheerful brand of optimism and good nature despite his rather working class status, let’s just say.
Alas, Crispin must have the worst luck with magic users – although I don’t know why he doesn’t just write “Crispin Tredarloe is the best magician in every aspect there is!” on a piece of paper and be done with things – because the road to happy ending is never smooth sailing for that guy.
Rag and Bone, I’d say, is more of a romantic fantasy than fantasy romance. Ned and Crispin have a relationship that is already entrenched and there is little focus on advancing it. It is, after all, pretty good as it is. But this is the charm of the story: I find myself enjoying the romance nonetheless – although I die inside a bit when they start singing – and the rest of the plot is pretty interesting too. I wouldn’t discount that a big part of my fascination may be due to the fact that I am experiencing everything here for the first time, but the author’s narrative has a bouncy, lively cadence that has the right balance of whimsy and charming stuffy-snooty Britishness.
Crispin is a nice bloke. I like that he’s not into that pity party thing – he prefers to forge ahead and make something out of himself, which I can very well respect and adore him for. He is not all sunshine, though – his reputation is tarnished due to his association with his former master, and there is always a worry that he would never belong or, worse, he’d be persecuted for this association. Ned is a bit harder to read, as I’m never allowed to peek into his head much, but I like how much of a pick-me-upper he is. He’s that nice guy one calls when one needs cheering up, although he’s also charming enough to avoid being too much of a bland behind. As long as they are not singing – shudder – they are so cute together. A part of me cringes at the sex scenes, though – all those four-lettered descriptions of manly bits feel wrong in a story that could have been cheerfully narrated by Judi Dench. We all know that British people don’t do that raunchy sex thing, after all. Okay, maybe if have an inebriated Judi Dench narrating those scenes, it’d feel alright.
Lying down in this Rag and Bone shop of the heart is not a hardship at all, no indeed.