A Conventicle of Magpies by LMR Clarke (Spoiler Review)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pages: 184

Series: The Bloodskills Duology, Book 1

Genres: Gaslamp Fantasy, Adventure, Steampunk

Publication Date: January 6th, 2021

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Rook is a thief, and entirely unapologetic about it as she’s determined to do anything to ensure her mother and siblings survive the squalid and dangerous streets of Stamchester.

Rook slips in and out of the homes of the ruling elite of Stamchester, the Avanish,like a shadow taking what she needs without regret.

Why should she? Had the Avanish not stolen her own people, the Saouiasei, from their own homes years before and transported them across the ocean to Stamchester to work as virtual slaves?

And, now the Avanish had no more use for Rook and her people, where they not determined to dispose of them?

The Avanish had already laid waste to a swathe of Saouiasei homes, a region which had become known as ‘The Scar’, in an attempt to drive them out?

However, Rook was not the only person hiding in the shadows. A far more dangerous figure was haunting the filthy streets of Stamchester striking fear into Avanish and Saouiasei alike; Billy Drainer, a serial killer who not only murdered his victims but drained them of every ounce of their precious, life giving blood.

For within blood was a highly sought after commodity, the ability to enhance a person’s natural abilities through the art of Bloodskill. To be faster and stronger than a normal person was something those with money were willing to pay handsomely for.

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Rook suppressed a grin. Avanish wealth complemented Avanish arrogance in a way that gave Rook a comfortable existence.

A Conventicle of Magpies, Chapter One

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As a whole, this story captured my attention from the get go. Coming off of a pretty serious months long reading slump, this was the perfect story for me to pick up. The characters are gripping, the world is fascinating, the premise is unique, and the problems almost tangible. I dove right into the story and didn’t want to put it down as soon as I’d started. I can’t wait to continue on in this world as soon as more exists. If that’s not a fantastic end to a reading slump, I don’t know what is.

This story is such an interesting concept. I adore learning more about the Bloodskills and the way different people are able to harness the powers. It’s extremely clever to use blood typing the way they did in this story. It helps make the story seem more real, more plausible even though magic doesn’t exist that way in the real world. Adding blood sickness to the lore of this world is a really clever touch, something that gives the story even more depth.

Rook herself is such an enjoyable main character to read about. Being the top of her field, it’s easy to see the skill through which she does things. Yet she’s by no means perfect. She’s got a tempter to her that’s enjoyable to read about. (Okay, enjoyable might not be right right word for it. I don’t think you’re supposed to “enjoy” someone having a temper…) Of course, she’s pretty good at keeping this temper in check when she needs to. But it’s always there, just below the surface.

In general, I adore reading about outlaws, thieves, etc. Being someone who always tries to follow the rules and the laws of society, it’s a great escape for me to slip into a life like this. I wish I had the bravery and conviction that Rook has in everything she does. I wish I had the tenacity to go out and do what needs to be done… even when there’s a serial killer on the loose.

The political unrest that’s in this series is a very loud undertone throughout everyone’s actions and decisions. It’s clear just how deep the hatred lies on both sides. Heck, it’s even clear in the ways that Billy Drainer selects his victims. While political reads aren’t necessarily my favourite, this story covers the politics behind slavery and racism in a way that helps drive the story forward. It doesn’t detract anything from the actions of the characters – instead it enhances them. It’s sickening the fact that parallels can be made between A Conventicle of Magpies and the world around us, but to me that just helped make this story even more powerful.

If you’re looking for a fun, fast paced Steampunk story, you can’t go wrong by picking up A Conventicle of Magpies.

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**Spoilers ahead**

I’m honestly going to be surprised if the killer known as Billy Drainer isn’t Rook’s older sister, Isiannà. Rook herself might think that it’s her father having survived his suicide, but hear me out about why she’s wrong:

Even Rook’s mother, who seems to have a sixth sense about her, believes that her husband is dead. She might not have seen her husband’s dead body, but she truly believes that he’s gone. On the other hand, she still believes that her oldest daughter is alive. Ishie might currently be missing, but she’s out there somewhere.

Then we have the knowledge that the Avanish need a person to be a Zero in order to be controlled. Ishie is a known Zero. Add that to the knowledge that the Avanish are talking about having successfully controlled someone, I’m leaning towards the knowledge that Ishie is the zero that’s being controlled.

When the doctor in Purgatory acts excited when he hears Rook’s last name, it makes me think that he knows about Ishie being the one who’s able to be controlled. He knows that an Artur is a Zero and is disappointed when Rook turns out to be the wrong child. This is just further proof (to me) that Drainer is actually Ishie.

Another clue is the fact that Billy Drainer was unwilling to harm Rook on multiple occasions. The first instance being that night when Drainer ended up killing Pidgeon and the other girls instead. Then we have the time that Rook protected yet another would be victim from Drainer.

It even got to the point that when Rook was fighting off the Avanish Drainer prevented her from landing the killing blow so that Rook’s soul wouldn’t be tainted like “his”. Granted, this point could be attributed to a father as well as an older sibling, but this whole theory is based around Rook’s mom’s sixth sense being spot on about who’s alive.

We know that Drainer has to be someone close to Rook and her family as “he” gave away his knowledge of Kestrel’s given name. Being known almost exclusively as Kestrel at this point of her life, it’s clear that whoever Drainer is knows intimate details about her. It has to be someone close to her, and Ishie is the only missing person who fits the bill.

As well, Rook brings up the fact that Drainer’s voice is familiar. If it was a male speaking with her father’s voice, I’m sure that Rook would be able to recognize him right away. I know that I’d recognize my father’s voice even if his face was covered. However, it’s possible that Rook isn’t able to make the leap to Drainer being Ishie because Ishie is pretending to be a male and therefore lowering the pitch of her voice. This would make the voice almost recognizable to Rook, but (having not heard Ishie’s voice for years at this point) just different enough that Rook isn’t able to correctly place the voice.

Since Rook believes that Ishie has been kidnapped and is being hidden away, it makes sense that she wouldn’t put two and two together to come up with Ishie being Drainer. However, as a reader and not emotionally invested in the mystery of Billy Drainer in a familial fashion, it’s easier for me to put the clues together and come up with Ishie as the most likely suspect.

I will admit, though, that this whole section of thoughts is going to end up being embarrassing if my guess turns out to be wrong…

Before I run off, I do want to briefly touch on a couple different things that comes up in the story.

I absolutely adore the way that the Conventicle interacts with each other. Magpie herself is extremely badass. If I ever found myself as a member of a female gang, I’d want the leader to be as badass as Magpie. Yet even being tough as nails to the world, she’s got a soft spot for her girls. She wants to protect them and make sure that they’ve got the best lives possible. Yes they’ve been handed a shitty situation to live in, and they need to do illegal things in order to get by, but they’ve got each others’ backs.

Even when Magpie is down for the count, the rest of the Conventicle is there for each other. Rook and Kestrel have been placed in charge of the rest of the girls, showing that Magpie knows she can trust them to keep things running while she recuperates. It’s great to see enough trust and structure in place within the gang that even with their leader missing/injured the girls are able to stick together and get things done.

More than that, I love the way that Clarke deals with the topic of Kestrel’s gender identity. While it’s disgusting that her parents disowned her for being a trans female, it’s amazing that Rook’s family welcomed her with open arms. It’s heartbreaking that situations such as this are still prevalent in the real world today, but it’s heartwarming to know that a person can always find a family in others who will accept them for their true selves. Magpie opens her arms to Kestrel and makes Kestrel one of her girls, proving once again that love conquers hate every time. Everyone is worthy of love, and acceptance, no matter how you self identify.

I love that Kestrel and Pit have a relationship that works for them. It’s messy, for sure, but it works. Pit might have lost his way for a while, but he never faltered in his love and devotion for Kestrel. He might have tried to embrace his Avanish side for longer than he should have, but he eventually realized how wrong he’d be. Yet even when he was working the enemy he made time for Kestrel. They might have been sneaking around behind the scenes, but he was always there. Their love was worth it.

It’s the little things, like their relationship and the progression that it had throughout this story, that makes the characters feel so real. They’re not perfect and their relationships aren’t perfect. They have to put work into things in order to keep them healthy and alive. They’re not two dimensional characters on a page, they’re three dimensional and seemingly in the room with you as you read this story.

Then we have the mythology of the world itself. The Bloodskills are still being studied (by both sides of this war), but they exist within Saouiasei history and stories. Storytellers (like Rook’s mom) would be able to tell you about warriors that were able to turn invisible and perform feats that mere mortals shouldn’t be able to do. Yet the Jaguars are able to turn themselves invisible by injecting a lot of blood into their systems at once. This proves that their stories from the homeland might hold more truth to them than anyone had previously thought…

I can’t wait to read more about this world.

One thought on “A Conventicle of Magpies by LMR Clarke (Spoiler Review)

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