An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles (Sins of the Cities #3)
On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.
Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.
But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.
LENGTH: 201 pages
GENRE: Historical, Mystery, Romance
*This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the trilogy.
Queer Rep Summary: Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Main Character(s).
AN UNSUITABLE HEIR follows Pen, the newly discovered heir to the fortune so contested in AN UNNATURAL VICE, and Mark, the one-armed investigator who has been trying to keep his friends and new acquaintances from getting killed as they attract the ire of the high and mighty.
Closing out the trilogy, AN UNSUITABLE HEIR expertly weaves together the remaining story threads left open from AN UNNATURAL VICE. Pen and Greta are twins, trapeze artists, and most commonly known as the "Flying Starlings", present since the beginning of the series. The timeline overlaps between scenes are artfully done, giving new context and perspective to the exact same events by showing them through a different character’s perspective. Even reading the whole trilogy in two days, the repetitions of some scenes felt poignant and fresh at the same time. The trilogy as a whole (and this book in particular) have many discussion of class, privilege, and the ways that bigotries have similar echoes, even when shaped to hit different targets. Pen is some variety of genderqueer by modern standards, the historical setting means he doesn’t have access to that specific language. Pen's pronouns are the best he can get as both "she" and "it" are wholly unsuitable, and "he" works well enough when necessary. Mark is generally described as one armed, with one full arm and another that ends in a stump at the elbow. It’s a congenital limb difference, not something he lost, and he and Penn have several long conversations about the weight of social expectations and the dissonance that’s caused when other people are upset that their bodies are not what was assumed.
One thing I track in books featuring twins (or triplets) is the degree to which they are treated as separate entities. Pen and Greta play with their physical similarities in their professional lives as acrobats, but in a way which would have been possible through dress and makeup even if they weren't twins. The narrative focuses on Pen while keeping in mind the ways that Greta will be affected by his decisions, but they're absolutely not interchangeable as characters.
I love AN UNSUITABLE HEIR as an end of the trilogy. There’s genuine tension in what Pen will choose, hemmed in by inheritance laws, the desire to do what’s best for his sister, and the need to be himself. Mark is caught between promises already made, and his growing attraction to Pen and care for Pen's wellbeing.
Graphic/Explicit CW for dysphoria.
Moderate CW for alcohol, misgendering, homophobia, deadnaming, violence.
Minor CW for grief, alcoholism, transphobia, infidelity, fire/fire injury, kidnapping, torture, injury detail, murder, suicide, child death, parental death, death.