“When a man announced he was a scoundrel, one should take him at his word.”
Thank you very much to Random House Publishing Group – Loveswept for providing a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Every time I read a new K.J. Charles book I always think she can’t possibly do better than her previous novels, and I am always, happily, proved wrong. An Unnatural Vice was no exception, featuring an insidious murder mystery, a crafty fraudster, a crusading gentleman journalist, and a passionate romance – this book was impossible to put down.
In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.
Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.
Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.
But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love.
“He had never in his life been with anyone whose will was as strong as his own. This didn’t feel like a flirtation; it felt like stags circling, antlers ready to clash.”
As usual, Charles’ Victorian world-building was true to form and so historically accurate I briefly blacked out from the sheer joy of reading such a factual novel. I love how precise and detailed she is, from the correct usage of slang, to comprehensive research about real-life events, to the inclusion of 18th century magic tricks (that she refuses to explain how they were done, but, whatever). Charles even compiled a mini bibliography at the back of the novel for anyone interested in learning about Victorian mediums and spiritualism, and the terror of the London fog (most of which my knowledge only comes from watching Netflix’s The Crown, so thank you for that).
Justin Lazarus is, hands down, one of my favourite K.J. Charles characters – he is now amongst such greats as my angel Dominic Frey, gruff Silas Mason, foxy David Cyprian, and gentle-giant Richard Vane. Every character Charles brings to life is so distinctively individual. They don’t feel like characters on a page – they feel like real life people. Each one has idiosyncratic personalities that the reader can’t help but fall for. Justin, albeit a pessimistic fraudster who makes a living off the grief of the wealthy, doesn’t believe he is worthy enough of a loving relationship, and doesn’t want to risk anyone seeing ‘behind the veil’ as it were, to who he truly is inside. Despite having an amoral viewpoint of the world, Justin goes through some exquisite growth in the novel and comes to understand that living life with no holds on you is actually no way to live.
Nathaniel is the other protagonist, who we were introduced to in An Unseen Attraction, the first book in the Sins of the Cities trilogy. Nathaniel is still grieving after the death of his lover years ago, and he has invested himself in exposing Justin as a fraud, because the man preys on people at their most vulnerable. Like Justin, Nathaniel goes through wonderful development as he comes to terms with the fact that maybe his moral compass might be a little too inflexible and he has his eyes opened to the realities the London poor actually live through.
I simply adore the enemies-to-lovers trope and have been patiently waiting for K.J. Charles to try her hand at it. Not only do Nathaniel and Justin verbally clash, they come from two completely different worlds: Nathaniel hails from a wealthy gentile family – his father is even an archbishop – while Justin hails from the gutter and has had to experience many horrors just to stay alive. Their fights were suffused with genuine contempt, sexual tension, and seething anger – it was amazing. The two protagonists, despite practically hating each other, also perfectly complimented one another which made for some hot and tense sex scenes, but just as many loving and romantic scenes too.
“He looked like the sin of angels, like the sweetest fruit at the goblin market, and Nathaniel despised everything about him.”
Like Charles’ incomparable Society of Gentleman series, the Sins of the Cities follows three different couples over three novels, with one plot line interweaving between the books and bringing the characters together. In this series, that plot line is the search for the missing earl who was alluded to in the first novel and Justin and Nathaniel find themselves unwittingly caught up in the search as dangerously unhinged people come to town, believing that Justin, as the Seer of London, can find the missing earl, Repentance Taillefer.
Charles has set up the last novel in the series perfectly, and I am honestly annoyed at how many months stand between me and the answers I desperately need. I can’t wait to learn more about Mark, Nathaniel’s friend, who will be one of the protagonists in An Unsuitable Heir. That’s what I love about K.J. Charles’ books: there’s a books for everyone: whether you’re looking for a sweet, uncomplicated romance (Clem and Rowley, An Unseen Attraction), a devastating love affair (David and Richard, A Gentleman’s Position), or an intense, intellectual meeting of the minds (Dom and Silas, A Seditious Affair), K.J. Charles has it all. I look forward to reading about Mark and Pen in the next novel, and am impressed by Charles’ decision to focus on an amputee as a love interest – I don’t have to tell you how rare it is to read a romance novel where the love interest isn’t ‘tall, dark and handsome.’
An Unnatural Vice is a well-developed, entertaining romance that left me breathless. K.J. Charles has yet to disappoint me and I cannot begin to explain how excited I am for the final novel in the series. Keep these historical romances coming, Charles!