An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities) by KJ Charles

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I love KJ Charles.  I’m just putting that out there.  I didn’t set out to love her.  As I’ve said before, I don’t tend to go for historical fiction, but she has won me over.  Two of her books were soft fives, but every other one, they’ve been strong fives for me, and that includes the latest one, An Unnatural Vice, part two in the Sins of the Cities trilogy.

If you haven’t read An Unseen Attraction, you should, not only because it’s wonderful, but because it sets up the mystery that continues, that is actually the crux of the relationship, between our two MCs in Vice, Justin and Nathaniel.  Whereas in Charles’ previous series, A Society of Gentlemen, each book was linked, it was still a series of standalones,  Sins of the Cities is a truer trilogy.  Our MCs from Attraction are secondary characters in Vice, and the other secondary characters from Attraction are here as well, and one will be featured in the next book, An Unsuitable Heir, as one of the MCs.  Each couple gets their HEA at the end of their featured book.  All of this is like a standalone series.  But the mystery of lost heirs, arson, torture, and murder continues in Attraction as the middle book of a trilogy.  And, we’ll have to read, and will willingly read, Heir, in order to get it all wrapped up.

Now that the housekeeping is out of the way, let’s get into the book, An Unnatural Vice.  We meet the sexy scoundrel, Justin Lazarus, as he’s doing something particularly horrible: stealing money, and the only picture she has of her family, from a dirt poor woman who has come to him as a last ditch effort to find her twins, who’ve run away.  Why him?  Because he’s the Seer of London, a spiritualist, a medium, of course, and she believes that he can look “beyond the veil” to find them.  He can’t, obviously, because he’s a fraud, a skilled one, a brilliant one, but a fraud nonetheless.  He does offer her hope that the twins are alive, but even that has a selfish motive–he always goes with the answer that will produce the highest payment, the most return costumers (dupes).  True, most of his customers are rich, can spare the money, and if they’re stupid enough to believe him, well, then, he’s happy to take whatever shilling or guinea they’re willing to part with as they’re fooled by parlor tricks and platitudes.  Justin does a lot of rationalization to get through his days.

I also want to note (and as this is my review, I’m allowed) that this is why Charles gets me to read her historical fiction–her plots are deeply dependent on the time period, it’s not just a fancy backdrop.  I’m thrust into Victorian England.  I can taste, see, and feel the toxic fog of 1873.  I picture the seance room so clearly by her description, that I feel like I’m an attendee.  I sense how difficult life is for London’s poor just as deeply as if I were reading Dickens.  I feel afraid for all the men who frequent the Jack and Knave because it’s illegal to have any form of sex with those of the same gender, and I appreciate how they all look out for one another.  I’m amused by their use of the newly invented petroleum jelly as the best lube ever.  But, having to hunt down the legitimate heir to an earldom, having boarding houses and ‘rooms’, having taxidermists and spiritualists, having letters with faded ink, and having a lack of official records of births, and only church registers for marriages, all these things are of the time, and are crucial to the story.  In Society of Gentlemen, the Regency period is a living entity;  in Sins of the Cities, it’s the Victorian era that breathes (or wheezes, as it’s a polluted mess).

Our second MC is Nathaniel Roy, the non-practicing lawyer, practicing journalist, who’s been assigned to bring down a particular spiritualist who’s interfering in the lives of his editor and the editor’s wife.  In order to flesh it all out, Roy, posing as Royston, decides to circle around his final target, and finds his very logical, atheist, bitter self at Lazarus’ seance.  Immediately, he loathes Lazarus, and wants to bed him, well, have sex with him, over the back of a couch (settle) or the seance table itself.  Roy is duped by Lazarus, and he knows that he’s been duped, yet he can’t figure out how he was duped, and that angers him.  It also scares him to death how much he wants Justin Lazarus, the first man that he’s wanted since his long-time lover’s death, nearly six years earlier.  Although Roy hates what Lazarus does, he’s attracted by his brain, his humor, his strength, and mesmerizing eyes.

Needless to say, danger is brought to each man’s door and they somehow instinctively know that they can trust one another to fight this threat.  They escape together to Scotland, where, away from the fog, the hustle and bustle of the city, and the danger, they are able to form a deep connection, not easily, but, despite all the lies from their first meetings, truthfully and sincerely.  The tension is palpable.  The sex is hot.  The feelings run deep.  I hoped that each could unstick himself from his past, and see his way to a shared future.  Obviously, that happens, but it’s absolutely worth the read to find out how.

Yes, I love KJ Charles.   I loved An Unnatural Vice.  I can’t wait to read the conclusion to the mystery and witness the love of Pen and Mark in An Unsuitable Heir.

5 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC via NetGalley and LoveSwept.  I voluntarily wrote this review.

 

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