An Unnatural Vice by K.J. Charles (Sins of the Cities #2)
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.
LENGTH: 238 pages
GENRE: Historical, Mystery, Romance
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Minor Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Trans Secondary Character(s).
I'm not a storyteller, that's not a thing my mind is set up to do. Reading hundreds of books does not place in me any desire to write my own stories. But sometimes I read a tale which is so artfully crafted that I'm in awe of how it's put together. AN UNNATURAL VICE by KJ Charles is one such book. I care about story structure, characterization by dialogue and internal thoughts, awareness of political/class forces, and intricacies of relationships. I'm interested in cults, con artists, and how twins are portrayed in stories. This has it all, the only thing it's missing to be my perfect story would be a heist or forced proximity, and it gets pretty close to that second one. I have reasons to think the third book will focus more on twins, so I'll save some deeper thoughts for that one.
AN UNNATURAL VICE is excellently crafted, as perfect of a middle book for a trilogy as I could possibly think of from a structural perspective. It's a gay romance of opposites attracting and Nathaniel finding new love after a long period of mourning. As the second book of a trilogy, it provides a specific answer to something left open in the previous book, specifically, the formerly unknown heir to Clem’s father’s title. It has a new storyline involving Justin as a spiritualist, and his involvement with Nathaniel (which has a bit of a rocky start). A recent re-read of the first book prompted me to notice the ways that Justin’s existence is hinted at there, with the timelines of the two books having some overlap in the early stages. There have been several murders so far in the series, and no clear answer on who is orchestrating them. This is specifically mentioned towards the end of this book, with the implication that it’ll be resolved in the next one.
As always with the middle book of a trilogy, begin with the first one, and don’t try to start here. The specific romance, plot line could make sense without the other books, but things like why the search for the heir even matters were established in the first book through the perspective of someone much closer to the issue than either Justin or Nathaniel are. As narrators, Nathaniel and Justin are very distinct from Clem and Rowley from AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION, though Nathaniel is consistent with how he appeared in the first book. Part of what reinforces this is that some scenes from the first book appear in abbreviated form here, but retold from Nathaniel's perspective. In these cases, the dialogue matches, but his internal monologue is often very different from how Rowley or Clem had perceived the same moments.
There’s a lot of very cool worldbuilding detail related to Victorian spiritualism and séances, explaining just enough of the tricks to keep the series out of the realm of fantasy, but not giving away all of the mysteries. One of the main conflicts in this book is between Nathaniel’s position as a journalist with a distaste for fraud, but a fascination in the person that is Justin, where Justin is a spiritualist, who has no reason to trust that something could be offered without expecting anything in return. Justin‘s existence up until now has been mostly transactional, for good or for it but mostly for ill. He tells rich people that they can contact their deceased loved ones, and doesn't feel bad for taking their money.
The way this book is handled makes me like the first one even more than I did originally, as this reveals the significance of several things which were present, but not emphasized. I’m very excited to read the next book, if it’s anything like this than this may become one of my favorite trilogies in recent years.
Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, kidnapping, confinement.
Moderate CW for grief, classism, cursing, alcohol, violence, gun violence, torture, injury detail, murder, death.
Minor CW for ableism, alcoholism, vomit, fire/fire injury, suicide, suicidal thoughts, child abuse, child death.