RAG AND BONE is a very sweet and charming interracial M/M fantasy romance set in Victorian-era England. Crispin is a magician who was previously mentored by a warlock who taught him forbidden blood magic. He is trying to learn how to use his magic abilities without the magic pen made with his own blood and bone. His lover Ned is a black commoner, who sells and trades paper (“waste”) for a living.
When the store owner next door to Ned’s shop is mysteriously killed by magic in a fire, Crispin uses his blood magic pen to put out the fire. Crispin’s actions lead to him and Neg arguing because Ned doesn’t approve of Crispin using blood magic. Though Ned has a little bit of talent, he doesn’t trust magicians and fears that Crispin values magic more than him. Meanwhile, Crispin fears that he’s not good enough for Ned. Crispin sees Ned as a really good guy who will do the right thing no matter what. He wants to prove that he is good enough for Ned by mastering his magic. When Ned finds out that more poor shop owners are dying, Crispin and Ned join forces to seek the magician responsible for these deaths. In the face of evil, they have to figure out how to compromise and say their I love yous before it’s too late.
Crispin’s magical abilities were well-developed but I felt overall that the magic system and rules were a bit too abstract. It took me awhile to figure out what the ether and resonance referred to. I assumed that a person is either born with a talent or not. But even so, I prefer that the magic have a clear set of rules and limitations, because it seemed there were so many different kinds of random magical abilities.
The romance itself was wonderful. As a black man, Ned was conscious of his difference, how he was always being looked at because of the color of his skin. I liked that Crispin understood how the scrutiny made Ned uncomfortable and upset and loved Ned because of his character and integrity. I liked how Ned called Crispin “Freckles.” It was just so cute. It was heartwarming how Ned and Crispin were so devoted to each other. I liked how everything worked out in the end so that they could be together.
I also liked how London’s diversity in places like Soho where communities of color thrived was shown through Ned’s eyes. I liked the acknowledgment that Ned’s opportunities in life were limited by the color of his skin, because these realities are rarely shown in romance novels.
I would love to read the next book in the series. Though I felt the fantasy aspects could have been more developed, I was very satisfied with the romance. I will read anything K.J. Charles writes because her romances never disappoint.
*ARC received from NetGalley for an honest review.