Title: An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities: Book Two)
Author: KJ Charles
Length: 250 Pages
Category: Historical, Mystery
At a Glance: The dialogue in this novel is rich and revealing of the characters, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for both the mystery and the romance.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: As is the hallmark of Charles’ historical fiction, the setting is absolute and absorbing.
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.
Review: Enemies-to-lovers, opposites-attract, KJ Charles has it covered in An Unnatural Vice, book two in the Sins of the Cities series, and she’s done so with a man who is so lacking in morals, ethics, or a conscience that I fell for him for no other reason than his potential to turn this novel into a redemption story as well. Which, it is, so mission accomplished.
Justin Lazarus is a fraud, a cheat, a swindler, a grifter of the highest order, and he’s out to get everyone else before they get him. Lazarus is the Seer of London, who sits across the table from those who can afford to pay him, typically the wealthy and bereaved, and professes to communicate with the dearly departed. Parlor tricks; skilled accomplices; a gift for knowing how to be just vague enough, just complimentary enough to be convincing; and a thespian’s command of performing for his rapt, and sometimes desperate, audience has made Justin one of the most sought-after mediums in the city. Justin convinces his “sitters” that he’s capable of crossing the veil to communicate with those on the other side, which makes what he does all the more reprehensible—he preys on the hope of those who are hopeless. Or, in Nathaniel Roy’s case, the seer toys with the man whose faith in Justin’s abilities is so entirely absent that Nathaniel can’t help but hate the scam artist for offering even the slightest flicker of doubt that there’s something to his professed talents.
Nathaniel knows what it means to grieve, having lost the most important person in his life nearly six years before, so when he makes an appointment for a reading with Justin—with the intent of exposing the Seer of London as a fraud—Nathaniel’s intense loathing of Justin and everything he does, and everything he represents, wars with an immediate lust and desire to bend the medium over his own séance table and screw him six ways to Sunday. As circumstances would have it, however, Justin despises Nathaniel every bit as much; he scorns the journalist as an insufferable and pompous ass, and hands Nathaniel precisely what was expected—lies and a skilled performance that left Nathaniel with more than a few “what ifs” and “if onlys”.
When the mystery of and search for missing twins begets kidnapping, murder, and drops Justin into the heart of it all, the mystery kicks into full gear and propels the story and the series arc forward, along with the hate-lust that evolves between Nathaniel and Justin. KJ Charles is parsing out clues sparingly as to the identity and motives of a killer who’s bent upon ensuring that the rightful Earl of Moreton isn’t found, and I loved this aspect of the story.
As is the hallmark of Charles’ historical fiction, the setting is absolute and absorbing. As much as we might want to romanticize Victorian London, thanks to fiction and Hollywood, the truth is that the literal tons of horseshit in the streets and the human waste clogging the Thames was a complement to the sooty, stinking pea-soupers that descended on the city, obscuring the sun and making it difficult—if not downright dangerous—to breathe. I love the way this all added to the atmosphere of the story, in a theatrical way, and contrasted the setting when it came time for the relationship between Nathaniel and Justin to shift to an idyllic country home—even if they were running for Justin’s life at the time. It also served as another reminder of the deep divide between them but also begins to build a bridge, away from the expectations and prying eyes and the hostility.
Adding to my overall appreciation of An Unnatural Vice, Charles doesn’t attempt to convince readers that Nathaniel and Justin have begun something like a happily-ever-after together, true to the time and setting. I liked the two of them individually and as partners, especially when they teamed up to elude the killer and find Repentance Taillefer and his twin sister, Regret. Which, of course, sets up the final piece in this trilogy, An Unsuitable Heir, a book I’m so looking forward to because of the lovely little tease offered at the end of this one.
As is always the case with a KJ Charles penned novel, the dialogue is rich and revealing of the characters; though, I must say Justin stole the spotlight from Nathaniel. His character has more to reveal, his life experiences hold more interest than Nathaniel’s proper and cultivated self, and I liked how these contrasts not only began to draw Nathaniel out of the cocoon of his grief but turned, gradually, from disdain to respect for Justin’s survival skills.
While I wouldn’t make it a point to recommend reading this series out of order (i.e., reading this book and then going back to read An Unseen Attraction), I can say that if you haven’t read book one, you won’t be lost jumping into the series here. There’s just enough backstory offered to allow readers to understand what’s played out to this point, thanks to the author’s savvy for telling a story without it feeling as if she’s retelling everything that came before it. I really liked An Unnatural Vice, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for both the mystery and the romance.
You can buy An Unnatural Vice here: