Lucien Vaudry, Lord Crane, has returned to England after a twenty year exile in China because he's inherited an earldom he never wanted. He's not at all sorry his father and brother are dead, his brother Hector was a particularly nasty character, and their father covered up all his grievous misdeeds. There appears to be a curse on the Crane family, however, and having claimed the lives of his father and brother, it's Lucien's turn next. He needs magical assistance, and fast, before he commits suicide like his male relatives.
Magician Stephen Day owes powerful people some favours, but still intends to walk up to the new Lord Crane and tell him where to stuff it. Hector Crane and his father did their very best to absolutely destroy Day's family and blacken his father's reputation and now he wants to tell Lucien to go to the devil. As a magical justiciar, he also has a responsibility to deal with supernatural threats, however, and the killing curse that's working its compulsion on Lucien is a particularly nasty one. Besides, the new Lord Crane is not really behaving in a very aristocratic manner, and makes it very clear that he loathed his father and brother probably as much as Day does. Stephen is persuaded to help him, and when it becomes clear that there is not just one nasty spell aimed at Lucien, but that his family home also seems affected by sinister forces, he agrees to help, even against his better judgement.
Having been exiled to China at seventeen with only his trusty manservant Merrick at his side, Lucien survived starvation as a dock rat in Shanghai and eventually established himself as a trader. In China, not only is magic quite common practise, but Lucien's homosexual proclivities are seen as nothing out of the ordinary. He finds England stuffy and restrictive and pretty much just wants to settle his finances, sell his estate and return to China once and for all. Instead he finds himself the target of a vindictive curse, his evil brother's headless corpse is haunting the estate grounds and terrifying the servants and the angry little man he's hired to help him clear the matters up is growing more intriguing and attractive with each passing day. Of course, if Stephen doesn't figure out who's targeting the Cranes, the two are never going to survive long enough to act on their attraction to one another.
I know very little about K.J. Charles, except that she's written a number of m/m (male/male) romances, either straight historicals, or historical fantasy, and that her books are really very popular. Every so often, one will pop up in the Smart Bitches/Dear Author March Madness competition and I will remind myself that I really need to read some of them. Then this book was selected as the April pick for Vaginal Fantasy, and I finally got around to actually reading one. I'm glad I did. It's certainly not a perfect book, there are a few too many occasions where intriguing information about the characters backgrounds are skipped over, or conversations they have to get to know one another better are told about, rather than shown to the reader, much of what dialogue there is, especially from Lucien, is very funny.
The book is quite short, and I would have loved for the author to spend some time letting the reader get to know the character and see their relationship develop more gradually, but I guess we can't have everything. As it is, the story is really quite action-packed, with each new dangerous event following on from the previous at a rather exhausting speed. While the book is classified as a romance, this is clearly the first book in a series, and the story barely reaches a HFN (Happy for Now) before it fades to black. I'm assuming there's a lot more to come in the sequel books and novellas, and based on this first taste, I will probably be seeking them out at some future point.
Judging a book by its cover: The snooty-looking blond guy on the cover is clearly meant to be Lucien Vaudry. When I'd seen this cover in passing on Goodreads or various e-book sites previously, I'd always assumed that this was some sort of butler or head footman or something, having never really taken the time to examine it too carefully. Looking closer at it, I can see that he's wearing what looks like a rather fancy suit (which is entirely in keeping with the character) and the background is also suitably period appropriate. I doubt the hatclad gentleman with his back turned in the background is meant to be Stephen Day, as he seems unlikely to own anything as fancy as the coat said man is wearing. I like the sepia tint to the cover as well, giving it a more historical feel.