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Sins of the Cities #3

An Unsuitable Heir

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A private detective finds passion, danger, and the love of a lifetime when he hunts down a lost earl in Victorian London.

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.

211 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 3, 2017

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About the author

K.J. Charles

58 books8,107 followers
KJ is a writer of romance, mostly m/m, historical or fantasy or both. She blogs about writing and editing at http://kjcharleswriter.com.

She lives in London, UK, with her husband, two kids, and a cat of absolute night.

Twitter https://twitter.com/kj_charles
Join the lively Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/13876...
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Please **do not** message me on Goodreads as I no longer check the inbox due to unwanted messages.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 665 reviews
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,857 reviews5,632 followers
September 20, 2017
*4.5 stars*

An absolutely perfect ending to a series that got better and better as it went along! K.J. Charles did these characters justice!

I'll admit, I was nervous to read this book.

I've read over 30 books with trans and/or genderqueer main characters, but my average rating of these books is almost exactly 3-stars, with a lot of 1 and 2 star ratings thrown in. I've found that it is difficult for many authors, for some reason, to write trans or gender non-binary characters without giving the other characters a cis-hero complex or having everyone else pat themselves on the back for being decent people. I always say that I want to read a romance with a trans/genderqueer character who is interesting, not just a placeholder for a generic person who fits into the required slot.

K.J. Charles really accomplished something with Pen. Pen (I'm going to use "he" because "he" is used throughout the story, though in current times Pen would probably pick a different pronoun) was a full character. He was flawed, dynamic, strong, stubborn, feminine, masculine, and everything in between. Pen was sexy and confident, which is something I always wish for more of in my trans or non-binary characters. I really just adored everything about how Pen was written, and I could picture him so vividly in my mind.

Mark was actually a stronger, more well-developed character than I was expecting. Mark wasn't just interesting because he had one arm, but the one arm aspect added another dimension to him that enhanced the storyline. Mark was a loyal, honest person who was much more than his "plain" appearance. I think he was a perfect match for Pen, and their dynamic was lovely to watch. I actually could have used an additional sex scene or two with them together because I just couldn't get enough of their chemistry!

But what I really, really loved was how Mark's lack of an arm and Pen's gender identity were aspects of the story, but not the whole story. There was a full plot with mystery, fighting, romance, interesting secondary characters (we see all of the characters from previous books) and just a lot of excitement.

I'm not a mystery reader because I hate suspense, but the ending of this book really does bring everything together. I promise, fellow readers, you won't be disappointed. K.J. Charles managed to make everything work without forcing readers to stretch their imagination to make things fit. Oh, and this book shouldn't be read as a stand-alone.

I rarely light up the 5th star, but I was tempted to do it here. It was just a masterful story to cap off a memorable trilogy.

*Copy provided in exchange for an honest review*
Profile Image for Nemo ☠️ (pagesandprozac).
865 reviews397 followers
August 29, 2017
*walks into Goodreads clanging pots and pans together* STOP TAGGING THIS AS M/M, PEN IS NONBINARY, THANKS

((yeah, i had to say that before beginning the review, lmao.))

This was an excellent conclusion to the Sins of the Cities trilogy, with wonderfully written romantic conflict and the Great Reveal of the person who has been behind all of the murders. I also really loved the exploration of what it was like to be nonbinary in a time when the concept was completely unknown in the Western world, and KJ Charles managed it admirably without being anachronistic.

I'd definitely recommend this trilogy for fans of historical fiction and/or mystery!




Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 58 books8,107 followers
February 20, 2017
The conclusion of the Sins of the Cities trilogy in which the fog finally lifts and All Is Revealed.

This one stars Mark Braglewicz, private enquiry agent, and right now that's all I'm saying. Wouldn't want to spoil anything... :D
Profile Image for Xan.
619 reviews274 followers
January 1, 2018
A copy was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I do not recommend this book to trans, non-binary, and/or disabled readers.

I was really excited for this book. Genderfluid character in a historical queer romance by one of my favorite authors...I was anticipating this book for months. Unfortunately, the genderfluid representation--which was what I was so excited for--didn't work for me. And I was also troubled by the disability representation.

This has all the hallmarks of a KJ Charles romance, with all the skill I would expect: the language is beautiful, it's deeply characterized, very well paced. It has all that I would expect from this series in terms of tension and mystery and resolution. There is no question that Charles has tremendous writing chops, and this book shows it as much as any of her other books have. The series builds through the books, and this one really should not be read alone, it would be much more satisfying and also make more sense if you read the first two books in the series (which are very good and well worth reading, by the way).

Note: I am going to use the pronoun they to refer to Pen, though the book uses he. Pen explains that using he is easier but doesn't feel right, and that there are no other options. I don't know what pronoun Pen might choose today, but I doubt that it would be he, so I am going with they. Which doesn't mean that non-binary folks don't use he or she (when I was genderfluid I used she), but more that I don't think Pen would.

The biggest issue I had with the genderfluid representation was that the entire plot hinged on this imminent threat to force Pen to stop expressing their genderfluidity and conform to a binary gender. Up til nearly the end the reader (and Pen) don't know if that is going to be what the rest of Pen's life is going to be like, or if there is a way out of it, a way for Pen to be themself. As a non-binary trans reader who spent ten years of my life being genderfluid, who was often pressured to conform to a binary gender, and for whom that pressure was extremely destructive and harmful, reading a book with this plot structure felt like reading a horror story. It was incredibly difficult to read. In fact, I put it down for about six weeks and wasn't sure I could pick it up and actually finish it.

Throughout the novel, I kept thinking about how it doesn't have to be this way. How the genderfluid character in a historical romance doesn't have to be set up to be forced to mask their gender like this. This was a choice, and there are many other choices out there. Unfortunately, this is a common cissexist trope in stories about trans and non-binary characters, that they are forced/coerced to detransition or conform to a gender that they aren't. In fact, I started another ARC with a non-binary character in the same week I started this one, that also had this trope.

The resolution of the threat doesn't really make a difference for my reading experience, so I'm not going to talk about it, or spoil it for you. I was terrified for Pen the entire way through, and even if the book were to remove the threat at the end, that reading experience stays. This genderfluid character is terrified (and I was terrified for them as a reader) that they will be forced to conform to a binary gender throughout most of the book, the thought of it causes intense dysphoria, and the threat of it only worsens their dysphoria and causes them incredible pain. This character has had their genderfluidity and the threat to it used as a central plot device in the story, the thing that creates conflict, the thing that is used for tension, the thing that creates obstacles for the lovers.

I could not forgive Mark for his actions, both in minimizing Pen's feelings about the threat and in putting Pen in the line of fire. I wasn't rooting for the lovers, I thought Pen deserved much better than someone who would do that, and did not feel that Mark earned Pen's forgiveness for it. This was exacerbated by the fact that it's very clearly stated by Pen that they think Mark is a miracle just because he sees and understands Pen's gender as much as he does. That Pen never thought it was possible to find someone who got it and accepted it, and Mark is wonderful and rare just because he is a cis lover who does. I have written quite a bit about this cissexist framework and the internalization of the cis gaze in this essay: http://xanwest.wordpress.com/2017/03/.... It hurts to read stories that do this, that frame cis people as rare and miraculous just because they get and accept non-binary or trans people's genders. When Pen said this, it was like a kick to my stomach. And it never gets challenged in the story, its presented as simply the truth.

I also had substantial issues with the sex scenes. They definitely weren't hot in the way that most of the sex scenes in Charles' work usually are. They felt deeply othering, and like they were very much about Mark attempting to figure out how to have sex with Pen and respect their gender, and almost everything else disappeared. They felt simultaneously like they treated Pen's gender as a problem to solve and a thing to fetishize. It also felt like it invited the reader to fetishize and other Pen, and to think of the sex they were having as weird workarounds because of Pen's gender. I was tremendously uncomfortable reading the sex scenes, both because of this, and because of the way Mark's disability was represented.

Marks disability was framed in a similarly othering manner, that was part of the sex scenes, but also in general. Pen approaches Mark's disability from a deeply othering place, mentioning several times that it makes him queasy to think about it, constantly being surprised that Mark can be independent and do things on his own, and frequently trying to "understand" in a way that felt creepy and objectifying to me. This translated to some of the moments in the sex scenes that are from Pen's POV (which are rather rare), including a scene I had a particularly hard time with where Pen touches Mark's stump and is fascinated by how it feels. This is both a common trope esp with disabilities that are perceived as disfiguring, and also just felt so othering. This ableism was hurtful to read, and was one of the things that made me consider not finishing the book.

There are a couple notable scenes where the MCs compare being non-binary to being disabled, and these scenes felt deeply problematic, and generally made me very uncomfortable, as a disabled non-binary reader. The first time I read the first scene where this occurs (there are two main ones, this one is about 33%), I put the book down, and didn't pick it up for 6 weeks. I stopped reading again the second time, again unsure if I could make it through a book with this kind of representation. I picked it up again the next day, and pushed through it, but it was very hard, and these kinds of comparisons being offered and never challenged were definitely one of the reasons.

Unfortunately, the issues with the genderfluid representation and the disability representation ruined the book for me. I didn't find it enjoyable at all as a story, and did not want the lovers to end up together.

Note added 1/1/18: After discussing this book with another Jewish reader, I also want to name that the text uses a word to describe one of the villains that's commonly associated with anti-semitism: .

Note: If you are looking for other books that I would recommend, with non-binary characters, I did a recommendation list recently: https://justlovereviews.com/2017/07/2...

Trigger Warnings:
Profile Image for SheReadsALot.
1,838 reviews1,194 followers
October 13, 2017
Group unicorn review with Chelsea and Adam


"-I'm not a woman, but that doesn't make me a man either."
"Right. What?"
"You heard."

K.J. Charles returns with the last addition to the Sins of the Cities, book #3 An Suitable Heir. And I have been waiting on this book since reading about 31 year old private enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz in the first book. He's the plain speaking detective that will seek the truth no matter if it hurts.

You must read this series in order and don't skip to get to the one armed detective to get why Mark is so great. He's on the hunt for the lost heir and what he finds is not what he expects.

The Flying Starlings, 23 year old twins Pen and Greta have been right under everyone's noses in London, working as trapeze artists. When I learned who Mark's lover would be I wondered how it could ever work, an acrobat aristocrat in Victorian Britain? No way! And then make the long lost heir gender fluid? Say what?

Thankfully, the premise was handled in Charles' more than capable hand. and the story despite the gloomy setting was light. With the mystery of "Fogman" looming, a noble family's dirty secrets just dripping out of various sources, I thought Pen being non binary in Victorian times when it wouldn't have a word to exist at the time was going to be a lot.

Not so. It was relatively easy once Pen had found a person to listen and understand. There were minor struggles but nothing that brought the plot to a halt.

"Bit of a leap in the dark, though?" Mark suggested, in a last gasp of decency.

Pen smiled, gloriously, a full, wide smile that lit his face and gave him a startling resemblance to Clem. "Mark. Leaping in the dark is what I do."

The romance was uncomplicated. Pen and Mark are round pegs in society's square hole and they don't need to fit it, nor should anyone. Being as most of the conflict was internal for Pen: how Pen's perceived, how others expect Pen to fit society's gender norms and Pen's trauma from a lifetime of battling the expectations, other than the murder lurking about, nothing much happens.

It's a case of boy meets Pen. Boy doesn't care which way a person is as long as they're happy. Pen likes that someone gets the way Pen's world is. And they fall for each other super quick. It's borderline insta-love and light and sweet really. The 'I love you's' come pretty quick with the amount of time the main characters spend together on page. Granted, some parts were time jumped.

The strongest character of the book: Lazarus.

Mark is rock solid as always. And consistent which is a perfect foil for Pen.

But Justin Lazarus, the shining smarmy star from Book #2, returns to assist when needed. And I hands down adore the snake! Some might say he's a hustler, liar and cheat.

And they're correct.

But I also say he's deviously clever.

He stole the show for me, even though his page time is limited. I might be seeing this through green colored greasy glasses. But dude is awesome. I would seriously read a book of his misadventures. He goes into K.J. Charles fave characters list for sure.

A close second for this book? Greta. What a great sister to have.

The mystery is wrapped up quite neatly. And there is a solid HEA despite the time period. All of the couples introduced found a great match. This book isn't my most favorite of the series. It didn't turn out to be what I hoped for. I wanted more page time between Mark and Pen, more intimate moments. Mark's super practical and plain speaking, I don't think it would have added more to the plot. I think it's part greed, part being ensnared by the Mark from books #1-2. Any angsting he did was told tot he reader instead of being read about.

I love the way Pen was written and respect that was given. Both main characters are strong and though the story is told through dual POV, it's really Pen's book.

As it should be. Pen's glorious. ;D

I definitely recommend this series.

A copy provided for an honest review.
Profile Image for * A Reader Obsessed *.
2,132 reviews432 followers
November 10, 2021
3.5 Stars

An apt ending to this historical trilogy!!

Mark is basically an investigator, and he wants to help his friends Clem from An Unseen Attraction and Nathaniel from An Unnatural Vice as dead bodies steadily keep piling up. It’s all connected to a wanted, but unknown, person. What’s at stake is a missing earl and his inheritance, and there’s somebody who doesn’t want the truth to come out.

As Mark discovers that the enigmatic femme acrobat Pen is the one he’s seeking, Pen makes it crystal clear he wants to live his carefree life without out the millions of rules and constraints it would mean to claim his birthright. However, hiding who he is only puts him in more danger.

This had some different sexual identity themes to it which brought a new conflict that’s not often seen in historicals. As Mark and company get closer and closer to narrowing down the suspects, one wonders how Pen will ever reconcile keeping true to himself and fulfilling his obligations should they prevail.

The romantic progression was too fast for my liking, but I loved the propriety and the upper vs lower class dynamics with a great shout out to supportive and fiesty sister Greta! Overall, a satisfying conclusion to this 3 book story arc where comeuppance is delivered, and everyone gets their happy ending!
Profile Image for Ms. Smartarse.
590 reviews248 followers
April 13, 2023
Pen and twin sister Greta Starling are living the charmed life as Music Hall acrobats. Dressing unconventionally without particular care for social norms, their life is never truly measured further than the next show... well Pen's at least. Greta definitely worries about a future where the starling flight may no longer be possible.

Enter Mark Braglewicz, handsome private investigator, who understands and likes Pen regardless of what appearance the trapeze artist may be donning for the day. Unfortunately, the detective also comes bearing an earldom, coupled with a mysterious "fogman" on a killing spree.

awww you shouldn't have

I love the romantic pairing to bits, and totally want to read more stories with similarly unconventional main characters: forced to work around the rules and regulations of their time, hoping to trick a rigid society into accepting their right to live. And well... I may have a thing for androgynous characters. 😅

Not having personally experienced gender dysphoria, I cannot say how accurate the parallel between Mark's disability and Pen's gender fluidity is, but I got a bit closer to understanding its complexity. Or so I like to think...

wishful thinking

That said, I'm a bit ambivalent on the romance itself.
On the one hand, seeing Mark's bi(pan?)-sexuality allow Pen to feel more at ease in the relationship had me spout all sorts of endearing onomatopoeia. On the other hand, Mark's constant inner assurance of respecting Pen's (lack of) sexual desires felt like it was over explained and at times even somewhat patronising.

Score: 3.55 / 5 stars

In theory... I loved everything.
In practice... the preachy undertones and the neglected murder-mystery plot detracted quite a bit of the enjoyment of the story.
In the end I decided that Justin's witty quips were hilarious enough to up the rating.

"I'll say they weren't [married], and I'll engage a lawyer if I have to. I'll see you in court."
"To argue yourself a bastard?" Mr. Hapgood said incredulously.
Pen folded his arms. "If you try to assert Edmund Taillefer was my father, I'll sue."
"For defamation, I hope." Lazarus had a look of unholy awe in his grey eyes.

Review of book 1: An Unseen Attraction
Review of book 2: An Unnatural Vice
Profile Image for Kaje Harper.
Author 75 books2,515 followers
October 15, 2017
This is my favorite book in the series, but cannot be read alone. The mystery thread comes to its end here.

In Pen, we meet one of the most engaging genderqueer characters in M/M. From a constrained, rigidly religious childhood, Pen and his sister Greta ran away to become trapeze artists. The combination of art and costume made this the perfect place for Pen to live the fluidity of his gender identity. (He uses male pronouns throughout, although in more modern times might choose differently.) Despite poverty, their lives work for them, although they are one slip and fall away from disaster with no cushion to fall back on. But for Pen, it's hard to imagine a place where he would be safer or more comfortable in who he is. I really appreciated the detailed but not belabored way in which we see the shifts in Pen's self-perceptions. Small details help us appreciate the way he moves through the changes in his day-to-day life.

Then investigative agent Mark befriends Pen, before dropping a bomb on him. Pen is heir to a title and estate, and that noble life, for all its luxury, is NOT going to be a good fit for who Pen is. I appreciated the way Pen feels trapped between safety and comfort and living his truth. Greta is neither too supportive, which would be unrealistic given the money they might have, nor yet blind to his concerns. The secondary characters add a lot to this story.

Mark has more depths beneath his plain, practical exterior than might be suspected and his loyalty, integrity, and acceptance shine here. His missing arm is part of who he is, and has clearly shaped his awareness of being bullied for differences. He's also caught between a rock and a hard place - his affection and worry for Pen, and also for his old friends caught in the mystery plot, driving him in two different directions. The ending wraps things up more effectively than I had thought might be possible at one point, and was a satisfying conclusion to the series.
Profile Image for h o l l i s .
2,403 reviews1,850 followers
October 3, 2017
"You know, people tell you a lot of things about how the world is or ought to be, but it's mostly bollocks. Bishops and barristers bleat on about the laws of nature, but.. well, fire burns, and if you drop a thing it falls, and after that I reckon everything's up for debate. I'm not going to tell anyone how they should be."

I did the happiest of happy dances when I got approved for this title. Book two remains, hands-down, my favourite but AN UNSUITABLE HEIR has a very satisfying end for the series, which I think all readers can appreciate as it doesn't always pan out that way, and features an absolutely exquisite portrayal of a gender queer individual. One doesn't have anything to do with the other but having both rolled into one was just the best.

"A lot of people think it's odd."
"Well, a lot of people are arseholes."

I'm no stranger to Charles and I'm no stranger to loving her books. Sins of the Cities was a fabulous series in the sense that we're given one main conflict, which we learn over the course of book one, and which the following two books show other angles of that same situation and the fallout of events. Each featuring a new couple while the other characters flit in and out as required.

Lazarus was slippery, dishonest, and not the sort of character you'd think Nathaniel would mix with in a hundred years, but he was also bright as a button and sharp as a tack and, Mark had to admit, looked like a magnificently filthy fuck, so that probably explained Nathaniel's attack of chivalry right there. <-- no real reason for this quote, I'm just so so trash for that ship and honestly I'll take any excuse to think of AN UNNATURAL VICE because that book still haunts me. ahem, back to this one, though..

We've had the autistic bastard of an Earl and an Indian woman paired with his bookish taxidermist neighbour; we've had the grief-stricken journalist match-up with the conniving Seer he's sent to investigate; and now the one-armed enquiry agent finds his person in one half of a trapeze artist duo who dresses like a man and a woman, is neither and yet both, and who is at the heart of all the murder, mystery and mayhem that has run rampant around them all.

People tended either to see the long hair and the way he often dressed and decide he was womanish, or to see the broad shoulders and bulging biceps and conclude he was a fine strong man. They were all wrong, and he was so tired of trying to explain why.

I could probably spend countless words going on about how wonderfully complex, yet not at all, Pen was. How sometimes he fit his body, even if he wanted to put paint on his eyes or wear golden hooped earrings, and other days the sight of his masculine hands and the strength of his jaw made him dizzy with despair that it didn't fit how he felt inside, how he couldn't change the parts he was born with -- and wouldn't want to -- and how making himself up half and half, sometimes more one than the other, was exactly right and exactly him. And how this was both stunning to read about and also heartbreakingly beautiful; heartbreaking because of those times he was confined to a role he didn't always agree with. Heartbreaking because of those who wanted to change who he was, who judged him for every little difference. Everyone but Mark.

"He's only got one arm."
"I can see why--"
"Don't say it. Don't you dare say it or I'll drop you on the stalls."
"I can see why you think--"
"Greta, I'm warning you."
"I can see why you think he's 'armless!"

Mark was such a fascinating character in his own right, too. The plain penny to Pen's colourful tuppence, he was an easygoing and straightforward man who liked everything. Men, women, men who wore dresses, women who wore trousers, he was fluid and malleable in a way that complemented Pen's own changes in feeling or desire. But I loved how he asked Pen what he want, how he felt, how to treat him, how to speak to him, and listened, always listened. Having recently read a book about a character who was gender fluid, and seen only the briefest amount of time touching on that fact and what it meant, these conversations, this dialogue, were so important to see. Because if you won't make it part of the story, why even include it? Reading is for fun, for pleasure, for turning off your brain, but it should also be for tuning in.

Mark had always said he wasn't fussy, and believed that was true. [..] He'd liked everything, which made it fine that he'd loved nothing. And now he'd met unique, irreplaceable, extraordinary Pen, and it turned out Mark was the fussiest man in the world.

As for the story that began in AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION and was brought to a close in book three, it wasn't exactly a wild ride but it was definitely a dark and dangerous one, sprinkled with countless misdeeds, mistreatments, manipulations and murder. And I was definitely thrown for a bit of a loop near the end. Charles fed us something of a red herring and I was totally blindsided by it. I fell, hook line and sinker, and I totally admit to my folly. But that's okay! It was a great end and.. well, the end of it all, the resolution to everything, was just bloody perfection for everyone involved. It was the neatest of bows and I'm just such a happy little duck (snort) about it.

"I feel right with you, Mark. And I know it's right, because I spend quite a lot of my life feeling wrong and I can tell the difference."

I'm sad to see the end of this series but also pretty damn satisfied all around. While we focused on Mark and Pen, because of all the loose ends needing to be.. well, tied up, we get a goodly few group interactions of all characters together. Nathaniel and Justin are, of course, definitely my favourite of the couples and so every scene with them, specifically Justin, was a delight but I'll confess that Clem kind of won me over in this one, too. He was my least favourite part of book one but he was much easier to bear (and, as a result, dearer to my heart) as he helped Pen navigate some of the world he was unexpectedly thrust into.

"I don't think anyone except Greta has ever seen me before. They all see what they want."
"I want. I'm not a philanthropist, mate. I want you all the time."
"But you want me. Not me as a man or a woman, or me without the difficult parts. Just me."

Mark's practicality and, I guess you could say, easygoing nature didn't always give him an overabundance of personality but he was the perfect steadying balance to Pen and his general awe and delight in the other man was so sweet and so wonderful to see.

Pen was all air and fire, born to laugh, and to fly.

I honestly don't know what more I can say about this book, or this series, or this author. Except that I constantly find myself with so much to say every time I turn the final page on one of her books, and.. well. I think that's telling. But if you want me to spell it out, here it is : this is a writer I will never tire of and will always recommend.

4.25 "did you just drink to the fall of the British Empire?" / "I was brought up in bad ways" stars

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **
Profile Image for Sofia.
1,144 reviews194 followers
February 25, 2019
The awaited end to this trilogy is finally out. A satisfactory ending to the story arc and all the characters involved except for the dead ones of course. Trilogies are tricky because like Olympians they need to peak at the right moment. Fortunately for books this is subjective to the reader, what does not work for me will work very well for another reader. For me the first book remained the strongest. I was hooked in during the first and then got unhooked during the second and third.  Maybe it's the whole structure and method used that did not convince me. Pen’s story did not mesh into the overall story and Mark was rather of an addendum when I wanted more.

Charles is very inclusive in her writing and over and over again she has shown that she does not shy away in giving us a varied spectrum of characters. This I like, I love new perspectives, new views. However this time round I did not like the delivery so much as the writing took a soap boxish tinge. I got a lot of what Pen wasn't  but barely touched what Pen was. I think showing me Pen would have worked better for me than trying to teach me.

An ARC gently given by author/publisher via Netgalley in return for a review.
Profile Image for ~Mindy Lynn~.
1,396 reviews584 followers
September 27, 2017

A great ending to an enjoyable series.

I would have enjoyed it more if Mark and Pen's relationship was more of the focus instead of the mystery. I'm not saying the mystery wasn't interesting, it was. It was well written and plotted out. I enjoyed it until the end. But for me it really dragged in some places and it made the book feel longer than what it is. The mystery was well done and I was completely in the dark on whodunit until the very end. The first two books were a great lead up to this ending. I'm not going to pretend I know enough on trans or gender non-binary people to debate if the author handled it well or not. All I know is my heart went out to Pen. Pen feeling like they couldn't be themselves and would have to stifle their true self to be something they didn't want was heart breaking.

I do recommend this series to the mystery historical lovers and that they be read in order.

Happy reading dolls! xx

**An ARC was kindly given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.**
December 24, 2017

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Wow, um, I'm not sure what to think about this one. I've been following this series since the first book appeared as an ARC on Netgalley, and somehow I've been lucky enough to get a copy of each book in the series as it was coming out, which makes this my first completed series by K.J. Charles.

I liked AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION, although it had many slow points and Clem was always accusing Rowley of dumb stuff. I understood where his suspicion was coming from, but man, it made for a frustrating read. AN UNNATURAL VICE was a much better book, with the chemistry between Justin and Nathaniel searing totally off the charts - and, to make matters even better, she upped the ante with the action factor, too. I had no doubts that the third book, AN UNSUITABLE HEIR, would be even better.

AN UNSUITABLE HEIR finishes where the last two books left off, this time with the two children of Emmaline Godfrey and Edmund Taillifer: Repentance and Regret. The two missing children have grown up into a two-person trapeze act when Mark finds them, and they have the striking looks of both their parents.

Mark invites Pen out for a drink intending to corroborate the facts he has with the missing heir with Pen, the suspected heir, but ends up being powerfully attracted to him. Pen feels the same, which means he feels utterly betrayed when he finds out who Mark really is and why he's there. The following 140 pages or so are a whirlwind of drama, anger, fighting, and accusations, as Mark struggles to balance his duty and affection, and Pen is thrust into a role he never even wanted.

AN UNSUITABLE HEIR is an interesting read and different from most of the LGBT+ romances I've read before because it features a pansexual hero and a non-binary hero. Their romance was fine, although I felt that Mark's character had been fleshed out more than Pen's. Pen had some great one-liners, but for most of the book he's snapping at everyone and being kind of selfish. And I get why - being non-binary in the 19th century would have been hard AF. His wariness and suspicion and utter horror at being forced to "present" as a man to be Earl, when he never wanted to be in the spotlight (outside of the trapeze act, that is) all made sense. I just really didn't like his personality.

I also don't think it was right of Mark to go behind his back. He tricks Pen into meeting the family and the lawyers, even when it was clear Pen didn't want to, basically thrusting him into the role against his wishes (and causing him to be the target of some attempted murders, to boot). Even though I liked Mark, I thought that was a pretty nasty thing to do, especially since he's 100% about consent when it comes to relationships. But apparently, "no" doesn't mean "no" outside of relationships.

I liked finding out the answer to the overarching mystery and I enjoyed K.J. Charles's writing here as much as I have in other books of hers, but I just didn't particularly care for the relationship in this one. A lot of my problems with AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION were present here, but since this is the close of the series, those flaws were much more glaring.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 to 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Ami.
5,807 reviews499 followers
September 11, 2017
Mark Braglewicz's inquiry to look for the missing heir of previously deceased Lord Moreton brings him to Pen and Greta Starling from the Flying Starling trapeze act. Mark is fascinated with Pen -- the artist with muscular shoulder and long hair is different compared to other men or women that Mark is involved before. But Mark has a job to do, there is a killer on the loose and dead set on killing people from discovering the Earl of Moreton; even if he has to break Pen's heart to do it.

Pen Starling doesn't want to be an earl ... he doesn't want to live as fake and behave as a man just like society dictates it. That is not who Pen is. Being a trapeze artist and lives in the world of performance gives Pen the freedom to be who he is as he chooses to be. But Mark tells him that people are being murdered and he is trapped with decision he doesn't want to take. Of course, falling for the inquiry agent also brings complication...

We finally get to the final book of K.J. Charles "Sins of the Cities" series. First thing that I need to address: I would like to raise my (imaginary) hat to K.J. Charles for bringing me a genderfluid character in Pen, and his pansexual lover in Mark. I LOVED how Charles wrote these characters; it never felt forced. I loved reading about Pen's perspectives about his sexual fluidity.

I don’t see why there’s only two choices, as if unless I behave like a man then I must want to be a woman. I’d hate to put on a satin dress every night and have everyone call me she almost as much as you would. Except some nights, now and again, it would be lovely. If I chose.

And Mark adored the hell out of Pen, which was so sweet!!

Aside from the romance, I also enjoyed the answer to all the violence that started with An Unseen Attraction. It was a satisfying conclusion to the mystery -- as well as providing the perfect solution to Pen's status as Earl and his relationship with Mark. The pace of this book seemed to be smoother than the rest. The suspense was added when the killer seemed to follow Pen and Greta as they were hiding at Crowmarsh while the matter of their title is being investigated, and made attempt to kill Pen.

Combined with my liking both Pen and Mark both as individuals and as a couple, all in all An Unsuitable Heir is my favorite book of the trilogy

The ARC is provided by the publisher via Netgalley for an exchange of fair and honest review. No high rating is required for any ARC received.
Profile Image for Al *the semi serial series skipper*.
1,658 reviews666 followers
September 15, 2017
I recently discovered K.J Charles and I've slowly gotten used to her writing. This book was terrific, you don't see a non binary character in HR everyday. I liked the complexity of Pen's character, I couldn't really connect with Mark, he didn't have much of a personality. The mystery of book one is tied up nicely and everyone gets their HEA.

Can not be read as a standalone.

I received this book courtesy of Netgallery and the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Emilia Barnes.
552 reviews102 followers
November 11, 2017
Oh this is difficult for me - K.J. Charles has been an auto-buy for me for ages. She's a solid read, every time. Her particular skill is to marry dangerous-feeling action with romance that actually makes your heart melt. But this... this was a mistake.

I didn't finish it, but that is mostly because I felt nothing. And I felt nothing, because Charles wanted so badly for me to feel so much that she laid it all out in heavy-handed and rather improbably dialogue, in which a gender-fluid person is literally nothing more but a bundle of nerves and anxieties about his gender-fluidity, and who spends most of his conversations teaching a man he's just met about his identity. And the man he's just met is disabled, so that of course must also be central to all his feelings and doings.

This could have been done better. Specifically, it would be more natural for a person who passes as male to slowly introduce his lover to the complexities of his identity, rather than make this central to their courtship. That would have been a more natural and probable course of events.

But it's worse here, because his gender identity is central not just to his romance, but also to the main conflict of the book. Because he's gender-fluid and therefore doesn't want to be the earl that he in fact is, by right.

Consequently, while Charles's intention was obviously to be diverse and open-minded and tolerant, what she actually achieved was a book in which gender-fluidity is a problem. Literally. This was, I'm sure, not at all the intention. But it is the unfortunate result.

Anyway, I'm giving this one a pass. Instead, I just finished Peter Darling, which deals with similar themes much, much more competently.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
871 reviews7 followers
October 3, 2017
5 hearts!

Group Review yet again with Baby and Adam!!

Wow. Just wow. That was sooo super adorable! My God, Mark and Pen are just the cutest couple!

We know Mark well from the last couple of books, pragmatic, loyal, private investigator Mark! But he blew me away in this book, his thoughtfulness and understanding of everyone around him, especially Pen, was refreshing and slightly unexpected of him. Pen definitely needed him and their relationship was wonderful, no misunderstandings, yes there was conflict but that just made them stronger. Pen was the most interesting character and so well written! I love love genderfluid characters!

Yes that’s right genderfluid... in the 1800s, when he is meant to be an earl… you can guess the predicament that this put him in.

See the rest of my review and my fellow uni's🦄 at the blog!

Profile Image for CrabbyPatty.
1,574 reviews170 followers
October 3, 2017
K.J. Charles writes beautifully of Victorian London and at the end of her Sins of the Cities series, the back alleys and nooks and crannies of London and the Jack and Knave pub feel real, and the lives of working men (Clem and Rowley), lawyer / journalist Nathaniel Roy, the faux spiritualist Justin Lazarus, and acrobats Pen and Greta and the enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz are beautifully interwoven and give us a glimpse of life beyond the typical Lords and Ladies historical novel.

In the background of the two prior books in the series, Mark has been looking for the heirs to the Tallyfer fortune, and in An Unsuitable Heir, he finds Repentance (Pen) and Regret (Greta) Godfrey hiding in plain sight as the Flying Starlings at the Grand Cirque. We finally get the answer to the mystery of who is the killer, and the issue of the inheritance is (rather neatly) resolved. But the real heart of this story is the romance between Mark and Pen.

Pen identifies as gender non-binary and all he really wants out of life is for people to let him to be himself, but as the heir of a fortune and a member of the Peerage, he is doomed to a life of "normality." Pen wants a life where he doesn't have to hide or sneak, and "dressing as I wanted wasn't an eccentricity to tolerate, it was what I was supposed to do:
Pen's mind didn't always fit his body. Jaw, beard, shoulders, prick; they all said one thing and it wasn't him. He couldn't change what parts his body had ... but he could change how it looked. Long hair and eye paint, jewelery and scarves; he put adornments that said 'woman' on a body that said 'man' and together it added up to something else. To him.

Mark is the son of an anarchist, can't be bothered about "God and religion and whatnot" and his mantra is "I'm not going to tell anyone how they should be." Mark sees Pen "well, looking like you should be." The costume, the movement, the power and grace. Masculine, feminine, human, animal, physical, and elemental, all at once." Born with one arm, Mark is uniquely suited to understand Pen, as Pen says:
Are you the man you would be if you'd been born with two arms? Don't you think that changed anything about you - how you were treated, how people saw you, how you reacted to them? Or if you'd been born with two arms and lose one aged twenty, say. Would you be the same as you are now?"
In a nutshell, I think this is the strongest book of the series and I give it 5 stars!

I received an ARC from the Publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Review also posted at Gay Book Reviews - check it out!
Profile Image for Mónica BQ.
765 reviews117 followers
October 18, 2017
I think I’m being overly generous with two stars. Call it a sentimental rating for an author I usually praise endlessly.

The mystery is mediocre. In every book it’s dependent on what other people resolve or do, so even though it occupies a significant portion of the books, it’s never really a plot that involves the main characters of each set. Which in turn takes away space from the romantic plots, that were subpar through the entire series. I liked each character separately but the actual couples were uninspiring and even felt forced.

I abhorred how Pen’s gender fluid identity was used as the main conflict of the book. It felt rather cheap. And I felt that there was an excessive repetition of scenes where the extended Taillefer family berated Pen. It was uncomfortable to read. And I would have left it at that, except that then I came here and read Xan West’s review, to which I leave a link below:

Finally, in the interest of full honesty, I deeply dislike one of the named collaborators of the book in the Author’s Notes (or Acknowledgements or whatever). Which is neither here nor there, but that annoying feeling that I’ve had with book world lately felt specially icky while reading that. And I went in already expecting not to like the book. I had had trouble finding that emotional connection I usually have with Charles’ stories in the first two books and it was an exacerbated feeling with this one.

As always KJ Charles has a prose that I admire and adore. I’m impressed by her writing skills which in my opinion very few authors accomplish. The way Crowmarsh is described, for example, is mystifying. But the stories in this series didn’t work for me.

PS. I feel dupped that
Profile Image for Paula.
732 reviews76 followers
August 18, 2017
I loved the dynamic between Mark and Pen. I really enjoyed this trilogy.
Profile Image for Caz.
2,676 reviews1,011 followers
December 15, 2017
I freely admit that I’ve been chomping at the bit to get my hands on this third and final instalment of K.J. Charles’  Sins of the Cities  trilogy, eager to discover who has been violently disposing of anyone with knowledge of the missing heir to the Moreton earldom and to find out how all the pieces of the puzzle the author has so cleverly devised fit together.

Note:  The books in this series could be read as standalones (although I wouldn’t advise it!), but there is an overarching plot that runs through all three, so there are spoilers in this review.

A trail of arson and murder began – literally – on the doorstep of unassuming lodging house keeper, Clem Tallyfer, when the dead, mutilated body of one of his lodgers, the drunken, foul-mouthed Reverend Lugtrout, was dumped on the front steps.  An investigation by two of Clem’s friends – journalist Nathaniel Roy and private enquiry agent, Mark Braglewicz – revealed that someone was trying to do away with anyone who knew that the Earl of Morton (Clem’s half-brother) had committed bigamy.  He entered into a marriage in his youth with a beautiful young woman of low social standing and soon abandoned her, not knowing she was pregnant. She gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl she named Repentance and Regret – who have since disappeared without trace. These facts have set in train a series of events which have led to blackmail, abduction, arson and murder; someone is killing those with any knowledge of the earl’s first marriage and is trying to find his children – most importantly his legal heir – likely with similarly nefarious intent.

In the previous book, An Unnatural Vicewe discovered that the twins – who go by Pen and Greta – have been hiding in plain sight for the past decade, earning money and acclaim as the Flying Starlings, the music-hall trapeze act Clem takes Rowley Green (the object of his affections) to see near the beginning of book one, An Unseen Attraction(hah! Clever, Ms. Charles – they’re an ‘attraction’ and are also ‘unseen’ for who they really are ;)).  Following Moreton’s death, the killer – whose identity and motivations remain unknown – steps up his attempts to find the twins, which is when Justin Lazarus, medium extraordinaire and self-proclaimed, all-round shifty bastard finds himself in big trouble. Forced to flee his home – and London – in fear for his life, when An Unsuitable Heir opens, Justin and Nathaniel Roy are hiding out at Nathaniel’s house in the country while Mark attempts to contact Pen and Greta and keep them safely hidden until such time as Pen can stake his claim to the title.

Readers of An Unnatural Vice will already know that Pen wants nothing to do with the earldom and will have some idea as to why. Mark quickly discovers this for himself when he manages to meet up with Pen, seemingly by accident at first, and inveigles him into going for a drink. He pretends to be unaware of Pen’s true identity, and is, for want of a better word, gobsmacked by his physicality and presence. Pen is gorgeous, with an athletic build, beautiful long hair and wears gold earrings and face paint – and Mark is captivated. He’s a pretty no-nonsense sort of bloke, and to him, beauty is beauty in whatever shape or form it takes; Pen is beautiful and Pen is… Pen. Mark would dearly love to get to know him better, but has to remind himself that Pen is the subject of an investigation and that Pen, Greta and two of his dearest friends – Clem and Nathaniel (because of Justin) – are in danger until Pen is installed as the Earl of Moreton.

But Pen does not want to live as an earl; in fact he doesn’t want to live as a man – or rather, he doesn’t want to live ‘just’ as a man. Because he isn’t. Nor is he a woman. He’s Pen. He’s a Flying Starling. He’s who he is and some days he wants to wear face paint and chiffon scarves; others he’s content to grow stubble and look in the mirror to see his large, well-muscled form and recognise himself. I can’t claim any expertise whatsoever in this area, but I know K.J. Charles is someone who takes great pains to get things like this right and I trust her judgement. All I can say is that her portrayal of Pen as gender-fluid is extremely well done and the way she writes him as sometimes being completely uncomfortable in his own skin and his reactions to it ring very true and made it easy for someone like me – a middle-aged, heterosexual woman – to understand his thoughts and emotions.

When Mark acts out of a need to keep Pen safe, it causes a deep rift between them; but it soon emerges that getting Pen out of London and down to the family seat at Crowmarsh might not have been the safest thing after all. A couple of ‘accidents’ point to the killer having followed the twins out of London, and while Pen’s uncle and would-be-earl, Desmond Taillefer, and his son try to downplay the threat, Clem sends Mark to the house in the hope that he will be able to get to the bottom of things and keep Pen alive.

I think it’s fair to say that An Unsuitable Heir is weighted firmly towards the mystery, which wasn’t really a problem, as I desperately wanted to know whodunnit and why. Pen’s inner conflict – over what it would mean to live the rest of his life as someone else – is extremely well done, as is his confrontational relationship with Desmond, who regards Pen as pretty much an abomination. Fortunately, Pen’s sister Greta is very much in his corner; she’s fierce and determined, and while she freely admits that she would like to have the settled, comfortable life of the sister of an earl, she understands perfectly what being forced to become something he is not will do to Pen and is prepared to stand by him. But all this – which is extremely insightful and well-written – means that the love-story takes a bit of a back seat and consequently feels less well-developed than those in the earlier books. That said, the pairing works well. Both Mark and Pen are different to the norm; Mark because of his disability (he was born with one arm) and Pen because of his fluid sexuality, so both of them have had to deal with prejudice and suspicion of one form or another for almost all their lives, which helps them to understand and empathise with each other.

The twists and turns of the plot make for an exciting finale, and I didn’t see the identity of the bad guy coming until shortly before the reveal. As in the all the best sensation novels, all ends well, and we leave our heroes – all of them – safe happy and looking forward to the future.

I love the way K.J. Charles has incorporated the elements of Victorian popular fiction into her plotlines; the writing is sublime and the characters are three-dimensional people with lives of their own whom I imagine laughing over a pint or two and bantering with Phyllis at the Jack and Knave long after I’ve finished reading their stories. Even though my final rating for An Unnatural Heir is a little lower than my grades for the other two books (principally because of the slightly underdeveloped romance) I am nonetheless recommending it and the entire Sins of the Cities trilogy very strongly.
Profile Image for Georgie-who-is-Sarah-Drew.
1,100 reviews125 followers
November 12, 2017
I was moaning the other day about an author who hadn't heard that "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." K.J. Charles, on the other hand, plunges us into the strange land of C19th London with every well-chosen detail.
"They were good kippers, from Brookes Market. It was a good breakfast. Pen had made the tea and cooked the kippers up in a jug over the fire while he toasted yesterday’s bread on a fork...Fox Court, where their lodging house stood, wasn’t a particularly salubrious location. It was a maze of dead-end alleys off Gray’s Inn Road, a little chaos of tenements and leaning houses strung together with wet washing. The streets, if they could be dignified with the name, weren’t clean or inviting or even safe, but their house was decent enough, and run with a firm hand. Admittedly, their landlady supplemented her income as a receiver of stolen goods, but that meant she understood and obliged when they asked her not to give out their names, not to let guests visit, to keep her mouth and door firmly shut."

Description of this type speaks of an immersion in the detail of the period that's rare in HR writers (and both welcome & exciting). It's not just the habits of the times she's mastered, but the literature of the period as well - from the references to the serialisation of Phineas Redux (highly appropriate, given its murder plot) to the Collins-type tone of the mystery that unites the trilogy. The plot is ingenious, with the actual murderer hidden in plain sight throughout the books - no unfair play () - and a delightful final twist that resolves everything perfectly.

Unusually for a KJC book, the main relationship (Mark & Pen) takes a back-seat. They fall in love quickly and completely, but we're denied the slow exploration of their life together that made An Unseen Attraction so charming. That's partly because of the emphasis on the plot in this book; it's also a reflection of the time KJC takes to explain the complexities of Pen's character, and the dichotomies that cannot be easily understood by most of us - or easily resolved. Pen is so overwhelming a character that actually the book feels a little unbalanced. So I suppose that, unfairly, my rating is a little influenced by my disappointment that there isn't more Mark-'n'-Pen time.

But even with that caveat, this is a good book, and the trilogy as a whole a triumph.
Profile Image for Cat M.
170 reviews24 followers
October 8, 2017
Okay, it's been almost a week since I read this and I have thoughts now, and they're mostly...not good.

You know how sometimes you read something and you enjoy it and then the more you think about it the less you enjoy it in retrospect?

Yeah, like that.

I feel like Charles was trying to do too much with this book, and the result was a mess of dubious characterization and bad representation. I really, really love both Pen and Mark, and I really love them together, I just wish they'd gotten a better book to fall in love in.

The big elephant in the room is the trans-peril plot. Basically the entire story hinges on Pen having to hide being non-binary and the possibility that he's going to have to do so for the rest of his life because if he doesn't then bad things happen to basically every other character. Which, um, how about no? The plot basically puts Pen's identity in direct-opposition to the happiness of the rest of the characters we care about, and the fact that most of the characters don't even realize that's what's going on...does not make it better.

It's a romance, and I generally trust Charles to give her queer characters happy endings, but they often involve the halves of the romantic couple having to compromise in some way to be together, and the way the conflict played out I really wan't confident for most of the book that that compromise wasn't going to involve Pen agreeing to play down or completely hide his gender. And I'm not trans or non-binary, so my disgust with that possibility is mostly analytical, rather than viscerally personal.

The disability rep is trickier for me. For the record, I currently identify as a "part time crippled chick" due to some mobility issues that cycle in and out of being an issue, but I do not have any kind of visible disability.

Some reviews I've seen have expressed distress over the kind of visceral body-horror reaction Pen initially has to Mark's arm. From a characterization perspective I actually totally buy it. Pen's physical body is his life and his career, and that career has had a big impact on his ability to publicly express his non-binary identity. The idea of losing that, or never having it to begin with, would be viscerally horrifying to him. The problem is, it's not really written about in a way that makes it clear why he reacts that way, and the narrative never requires him to acknowledge or work through those feelings.

Also the comparison of non-binary experience and disabled experience is...bad. And again, I feel like there are ways that could be made to work, but this book didn't manage it.

Things I did like:

Mark's cheerful, unapologetic pansexuality.

Mark is incredibly attracted to some of Pen's physical expressions of his non-binaryness, but I never felt like he was fetishizing Pen.

I love Clem, and the friendship between Pen and Clem made me very happy.

Tim is great! I'd liked Tim when he showed up in earlier books, but I love him now.

But yeah, in general, I'm disappointed by this one.
Profile Image for Viv.
298 reviews29 followers
November 2, 2017
I highly enjoyed the conclusion to this series. I was on the edge of my seat and could not figure out how it could end happily for Pen. A very satisfying ending. I loved Matthew Lloyd Davies' narration as always!
Profile Image for Tess.
1,871 reviews26 followers
October 7, 2017
4 stars

I'm giving this 4 stars because I really, really loved seeing a character like Pen in historical m/m. The romance itself fell a little flat for me though. Book #2 was by far my favourite read of the series.
Profile Image for Ariana  (mostly offline).
1,366 reviews39 followers
October 20, 2017
A genderfluid MC in a historical novel?
I really was not sure how that one would work out.
Let me tell you – KJ Charles dealt with it brilliantly.

Pen does not identify exclusively male or female.

“I am not a woman, but that doesn’t make me a man, either.”

“I’m not a she and I’m not an it, and at least he doesn’t cause trouble.”

He feels constricted by the thought of having to be either one or the other. Feeling at odds with the male side of his body is part of that.

He couldn’t change what parts his body had – and he wouldn’t have wanted to, because the other set wouldn’t have been right either – but he could change how he looked. Long hair and scarves: he put adornments that said woman on a body that said man, and together it added up to something else. To him.

Working as a trapeze artist gives him the freedom to be himself. Nobody minds long hair, make up or colourful costumes in that environment. But what if you’re an earl? In a world where males conform to what is expected: short hair, suits with stiff collars, not to even talking about the use of eyeliner!

To me Pen felt like a beautiful butterfly trapped in a situation where he has to sacrifice everything that is essentially him. He is given no choice about his inheritance. The law says so.
And Greta, his sister, is not quite unexpectedly favouring their new position because it offers them a different life. One Pen cannot deny her.

Wow, my heart went out to Pen, no more than that, I really loved him. He is a beautiful soul and a wonderful person and he is suffocating just by the thought of having to live like a man exclusively forever. It gives him panic attacks. And the complexity of it all…sigh, the torment is beautifully explored.

But can anyone in Pen’s world really understand his predicament?

Well, there is Mark.

Mark who is a tough, uncompromising, manly sort of type.
A pragmatic man, who’s tangled with both, women and men, and who’s blown away by everything Pen is:

“I saw you (Pen) looking – well, looking like you ought to.” The costume, the movement, the power and grace. Masculine, feminine, human, animal, physical, and elemental, all at once. You’d need to be a poet to say the things he’d felt watching Pen up there.

And Marc is a man who has only one arm. And as such has his own experiences with being different.

I loved the way these two meshed, how they just fit perfectly, despite being so different:
Mark, a penny plain and Pen a tuppance coloured, fancy work

I adored the absolute acceptance and understanding Mark offers Pen, his openness and uncompromising compassion:

“But you want me, Pen said. “Not me as a man or a woman, or me without the difficult parts. Just me.”
“Just you, Mark agreed. “All of you. The Pen, the whole Pen, and nothing but the Pen, so help me God.”

What Mark offers Pen is what we all hope for from those who love us:

“I want you any way I can have you, exactly like you are.”

This series got progressively better as it went along. This, for me, is the pinnacle. Not only the love story, the problems both men bring to their relationship, but also the humour that popped up so unexpectedly again and again (all I say is 'ducks') and the mystery that started in book 1 and finds its amazing conclusion here.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Em.
648 reviews132 followers
November 20, 2017
Such a shame there are only 3 books in this series, they were so much fun. The clever murder mystery developed throughout all 3 books and resulted in a terrific ending. One of the reasons I love m/m historicals is because the characters suffer so much trying to hide their attraction from the outside world that you often get the bonus of a really good ending! This one is my favourite I believe as Mark and Pen were absolutely made for each other.
Profile Image for Barb ~rede-2-read~.
3,166 reviews87 followers
August 15, 2017
A copy of this book was provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Those of us who’ve read the series to date had some idea of who one of the MCs would be for this one since the search was on for the lost Earl of Moreton as the previous book was winding down. The twins, Repentance (Pen) and Regret (Greta) Godfrey, are located by private enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz, a friend of Nathaniel Roy (An Unnatural Vice). Pen will become the Earl of Moreton as soon as his birthright is proven. But Pen doesn’t want that. At all. Just the freedom to be true to the person within, and if some days, that means there’s more of the feminine version of Repentance, so be it.

Knowing this story was coming when the last one closed, I couldn’t see how it could possibly be interesting for longer than a short story or novella. The twins are found. The proof is there. Voila. End of story. But what I didn’t realize—until almost the very end of this book—was how beautifully Pen’s story would be told, how complex Pen’s situation was, and how creative and simple a solution would be able to be found to satisfy all parties. But the journey to get to that simple solution is highly complex, dangerous, well-written, intriguing, sweet, and romantic.

Pen is not just the son of the late earl—Pen’s a trapeze artist, a twin, a loyal and loving sibling, and an intriguing and complex combination of all of the best qualities of both a male and a female—in short, Pen is nonbinary. Pen enjoys wearing makeup and allowing their long, wavy hair to flow freely. But Pen also enjoys the frilly and lacy clothing Pen and Greta choose to wear for their performances as The Starlings, aerial acrobats—trapeeze artists. If Pen were born in contemporary times, it’s highly likely they’d be transgender, or at least there would be a choice. The author beautifully handled the descriptions of how Pen feels inside, what Pen’s willing to do sexually with Mark Braglewicz, and how Pen desires to be treated at any given time. One can only imagine how very difficult it must have been for Pen to have been born to a male body in a time when to be unmatched outside to inside was unheard of—except, I’m sure, to those for whom it happened. That Mark loved Pen enough to love the whole person, both male and female, and cherish the uniqueness that is all Pen, came through loud and clear. Very few authors may have been able to make that happen. Kudos to KJ Charles for her sensitivity.

The man pen cares about, Mark Braglewicz, was born with one arm but has never let that stop him. He refuses to consider himself an incapable—he’s damn well fully capable and makes sure he’s treated that way. He’s the private enquiry agent hired by Nathaniel Roy to locate the missing Godfrey twins, and locate them he does. They are performing under the name The Starlings and when Mark first meets Pen, he loses his heart completely. But Mark has a duty to perform, and that duty is to bring Pen forward as the next Duke of Moreton, even though Pen wants no part of it, nor does Pen want a former arrest—a time when caught wearing women’s clothing—to be brought to anyone’s attention. But Mark’s friend Nathaniel and his “friend,” Justin Lazarus, have both been threatened. Even sweet, lovable Clem (An Unseen Attraction) is in danger of losing his livelihood and the man he loves was robbed, so the only way to save them all is if Mark assures that Pen is established as the rightful heir.

Needless to say, this drives a wedge between the two and though it seems insurmountable, time has a way of dulling the sharp edge of pain. When the culprit evidently tries to kill Pen in the manor house, it’s evident that no one is out of danger and the only one who might be able to help Pen is Mark. Can the two surmount the obstacles against them? It’s not only Pen’s life in danger, it’s also a chance for the couple to be able to stay together beyond the resolution of the title. And Pen still prefers his life as a trapeze artist to any possible life as nobility. But how can Pen and Greta possibly deny their heritage with the insurmountable proof presented to prove it? I love the solution the author creatively brought to this dilemma, and I did not guess it for one single moment. Fantastic mystery with a fantastic resolution!

If you like historicals, romance, mystery, danger, and intrigue all rolled into one, this is the best of the best. I highly recommend the entire Sins of the Cities series.
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838 reviews172 followers
September 20, 2017
An Unsuitable Heir, the final novel in K.J. Charles’ Sins of the Cities series, was a sensational, unputdownable conclusion, filled to the brim with murder, scandal, sexual tension, and two unconventional men finding love and acceptance in 19th century Britain.

It is easy for me to say that An Unsuitable Heir is my favourite K.J. Charles novel. The stunning conclusion was everything I wanted in the novel and more, and I closed the book with a massive smile on my face. Charles has outdone herself in weaving together three different couples and story arcs, all converging on An Unsuitable Heir, resolving the clandestine plot that has been simmering since the first book, and concluding the journeys for our favourite characters.

The main characters in this novel, Pen and Mark, are wonderfully complex characters that the reader will quickly fall for. Charles has raised the bar for all other historical and m/m authors out there with the characterisation of Pen, a gender fluid character! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to read an historical novel where the characters weren’t straight, white, and/or wealthy. Charles has proven that there is not only a demand for characters like Pen, but that all manner of lgbtqiap+ people DID, in fact, exist throughout history, and it is wrong to try to erase them from narratives – as so often happens, especially in Romance.

Pen is gender fluid – some days he feels comfortable in his male body, and other days he doesn’t, and Charles expertly handles Pen’s feelings over his identity, without being disrespectful. Although he knows who he is inside, Pen struggles to get close to anyone, aside from his twin sister, because he cannot come to terms with his identity. That is until he meets Mark, the man who has been searching for him for weeks, and who is also pansexual.

Reading a pansexual character almost brought tears to my eyes, because it is such a rarity to read about someone you can relate to. Mark is the most compassionate, understanding character I have ever come across, not just in Romance, but in all literature. He constantly asks Pen where he would like to be touched, whether there is a pronoun that Pen prefers (he/him), or which identity he responded to each day. Mark was born with one forearm missing, and is considered by the general society as to be disabled, but Mark proves all of them wrong time and time again, and like Pen, slowly learns to let someone in and see the real him.

The plot is simply ingenious. Reading this novel, I was practically perched on the edge of my seat, desperately trying to figure out how Charles would tie up all the loose ends, and still give us a happily ever after. As usual, Charles does not disappoint and wraps up the mystery in such a way that the reader will never be able to guess. But the conclusion of the novel is by far the best part of the entire series, which I know will stay with me for a long time.

An Unsuitable Heir is one of K.J. Charles’ best novels and I am making it my life’s mission to ensure as many people read this amazing series as possible. Pen and Mark are remarkable characters who are unapologetically themselves. Their dynamic is loving and healthy, and the respect they show one another is incredibly touching. I can’t recommend this book enough, but do yourselves a big favour, and read the other books in the glorious series, Sins of the Cities.
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