Desert Isle Keeper
An Unnatural Vice
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read the first book in the Sins of the Cities trilogy, An Unseen Attraction, this review may contain spoilers.
I thought the first book in the Sins of the Cities trilogy was terrific, but this one is even better. Each book in the trilogy features a different couple, but they’re all linked to each other through friendship or family (or both), and the overarching mystery involving the aristocratic Taillefer family. In An Unnatural Vice, Clem Talleyfer’s close friend Nathaniel Roy, a crusading journalist and truth seeker, meets his match in Justin Lazarus, the Seer of London, a professional liar who preys on the grieving and gullible. Their mutual enmity and lust are palpable, and the evolution of their relationship – from bitter enemies to devoted lovers – is gripping and romantic. Victorian era London is plagued by a sinister and threatening pea-souper, killers and religious fanatics lurk in the poisonous black fog, and long buried Taillefer family secrets are exposed.
Intelligent, handsome, and wealthy, Nathaniel Roy is on a mission to expose spiritualists as charlatans who exploit the grieving and vulnerable. When the story opens, he’s seated at a table awaiting the famed Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Confident he can deduce the man’s tricks and manipulations, he’s unprepared for his lustful response when the Seer enters the room and locks eyes with him. Nothing goes as Nathaniel plans or expects; Lazarus is alternately dismissive and mocking of his doubts, he can’t figure out how the man manipulates items in the room without touching them, and he doesn’t understand how or why the Seer seems to know his deepest, darkest secrets. When he utters the name of Nathaniel’s deceased former companion and lover, Nathaniel is left bewildered and grief-stricken all over again. His lustful thoughts about the wicked and tempting Lazarus only compound his anger and he decides to pay him another visit and expose him once and for all as a fraud and deceiver.
Justin Lazarus has no remorse for the lies he tells at his séances.
Justin felt no guilt. He never felt guilty. Fuck them all: the gullible dupes, the sensation-seekers, the men and ladies with greedy eyes and hands that fondled in the darkness. The whining wealthy who clad themselves in the best-quality mourning gowns and coats to proclaim their sorrow for the dead, while people around them starved and whored for life. The fools who stared and saw nothing while they expected heavenly powers spread before them for a guinea. They came in their dozens, bleating for miracles, so ready to believe that he barely had to work at fooling them. They begged him to help himself to their trust, their secrets, their money. They wanted him to deceive them, so he did, and it served them right. It served them all right.
He knows he’s made an enemy of Nathaniel Roy, but he isn’t terribly troubled by it. Born in poverty to a mother he never knew, Justin spent his childhood on his knees, kowtowing to an abusive master. If his lies provide the freedom to live his life safe and secure, on his own terms, no one – not even a handsome, hostile and disbelieving investigative reporter – is going to tell him differently.
Nathaniel stews at home over the séance, grief and hope at war with his conviction that it’s all a sham. When he finally returns to confront Lazarus, he arrives without an appointment, but Lazarus doesn’t seem surprised to see him. Though the conversation starts off amicably enough, the visit quickly goes off the rails. Nathaniel, frustrated both by his attraction to and distrust of Justin, accuses him of trickery and deceit. Lazarus, seemingly unperturbed by Nathaniel’s anger, slowly and painstakingly pulls him apart. The tension between them is thick, their chemistry electric… until a knock at the door restores them to their senses.
But the encounter at Justin’s home is simply the first in a series of events that slowly, inextricably, bring the men together. Shortly after their heated exchange, Justin makes a startling discovery that links him to the the Taillefer family – and to Nathaniel, who’s been providing legal advice to Clem. When he attempts to follow up on the information with Nathaniel, the conversation again becomes heated and as the two men trade insults, the sexual tension between them reaches a flash point. Lust and attraction combine until they find themselves frantically gripping, kissing and biting one another – all the while continuing to hurl insults. They passionately and furiously come at one another and the scene is alternately wicked and wonderful. But the night ends on a painful note after Nathaniel, ashamed by his behavior and vexed by Justin’s casual demeanor, lashes out and their pseudo détente comes to an abrupt and ugly end. Unfortunately, Justin’s link to the Taillefer family places his life in peril. Desperate, he turns to Nathaniel – the man who seeks to ruin him and the only man he trusts – for help. With enemies closing in, Nathaniel spirits him out of town to hide out at his home in Harpenden on the outskirts of London.
From the moment Nathaniel meets Justin, he’s captivated and consumed with thoughts of him. He can’t understand how Justin rationalizes lying to the vulnerable and weak, but once the men get away from town and begin to know one another, Nathaniel starts to understand how Justin became the man he is – and to admit he loves him anyway. Justin, wary of being indebted to anyone – including Nathaniel – is initially doubtful of Nathaniel’s intent in bringing him to Harpenden. He’s pushed away anyone who’s tried to grow close to him, and he tries to push Nathaniel away as well. But time – and his affection and desire (and love!) for Nathaniel finally break down his defences. Days pass and the men grow emotionally and physically closer to one another. Justin slowly lets down his guard and begins to trust Nathaniel, and Nathaniel falls deeper and further in love with a man he tries and fails to resist. But their romantic interlude comes to an abrupt and terrifying end – and Ms. Charles sets the stage for book three, An Unsuitable Heir, to unfold.
I loved the evolution of Justin and Nathaniel’s relationship from enemies to lovers, and how Ms. Charles links the pair to the Taillefer family and its secrets. She deftly weaves the overarching thriller/mystery into the relationship, and the romance shines while still slowly and steadily advancing the larger story. Though Nathaniel and Justin are attracted to one another from the very start (their chemistry is scorching), their bitterness and mutual animosity is a thing to behold. Much like the dark and sinister fog that plagues London, they struggle to find their way to each other. Justin – whose painful past has left him wary of hope, trust, and love – grapples with his feelings for Nathaniel and doubts about his future. Nathaniel, finally free of his grief and ready to love again, struggles to convince Justin they can and should have a future together.
An Unnatural Vice is a tremendous follow-up to the first book in the Sins of the City trilogy. Fans of the series – and of K. J. Charles – will love the romance between Nathaniel and Justin, and the Taillefer family mystery. The ending is… well, it’s not quite a cliffhanger, but we are left with more questions than answers as we not-so-patiently wait for the next book. An Unnatural Vice is exciting, entertaining, romantic – and wonderful.