An Unseen Attraction, by K.J. Charles

21 Jun

I’m cheating just a teensy bit by choosing this a my TBR Challenge review of the month. But hey, the novel was in the digital TBR Cordillera of Doom, so it counts.

While I enjoy Ms Charles’ online presence immensely,¹ and despite having at least three other of her books in the TBR Cordillera of Doom, I had not yet read any of her fiction. Then, our Queen Librarian of the Universe, Wendy the SuperLibrarian, reviewed this book recently, and I was most intrigued.

As it often happens, I discovered that I had already purchased it a few weeks before, and, since I had not only read a whole new-to-me book that week, but actually wrote a semi-decent review, I decided to dive right in.

And yay, I really liked it!

Reader, beware: there’s explicit sex and adult language; there are also references to sexual abuse of a character who is not in the story.

An Unseen Attraction, by K. J. Charles

This is the first book in the Sins of the Cities trilogy, set in Victorian London in 1873. There’s fog. Serious fog.²

Clem manages a lodging-house for skilled artisans in a very diverse neighborhood in London. Rowley, one of his lodgers, is a taxidermist, called a preserver (or stuffer) at the time.

And there they are, two gents going about their business as normal, until things…change.

Here’s the blurb from the author’s site:

Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship. . . .

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding . . . it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

I always find it so interesting to see what two readers who liked the same book, actually liked about that story. In this case, the lovely Miz Wendy wasn’t particularly enthused with the slow paced romance at the beginning of the story, while I absolutely loved it.

Perhaps it is that I didn’t start the book expecting a mystery (despite the blurb, go figure), but whatever it was, I really liked how the story is structured.

The story it told in third person, from what Suzanne Brockmann calls ‘deep point of view,’ alternating from Clem’s to Rowley’s perspectives. The first, oh about a quarter of the book, is all about the slow, quiet, intimate steps these two friends take towards each other, and a relationship they both want, yet are not sure can have.

It is not just the times,³ but also that they both have personal demons to vanquish.

I love Clem. He is different; today, we would likely say he is on the autism spectrum. At the time the story is set, most of the people he interacts with tend to think he’s slow, a simpleton, and many take advantage of his generous nature. He is also different because he is half Indian, the (acknowledged) bastard second son of a minor earl. “He’d learned, after a while, to be ever-cheerful, helpful, pliable and uncomplaining, a good sport who could take a joke, or ten, or fifty, at his expense, because the alternative to humiliating misery had been humiliating misery with violence.”

There is a point where he realizes that Rowley is “angry on his behalf, anger over things Clem couldn’t be angry about because he couldn’t take the risk. He’d spent his life carefully not looking into an abyss of rage like the pit of hellfire he’d so often been told awaited pagans, because if he ever really looked he feared he might be angry forever.”

I love Rowley. Through the generous, compassionate intervention of an elderly tradesman, he overcame his beginnings as the son of the local violent drunkard to become a skilled taxidermist, well-off enough (eventually) to ‘cross the river’ and set up shop in Clerkenwell–conveniently next door to Clem’s lodging-house. At one point, speaking of his childhood, he tells Clem, “I was always afraid.” Such a simple phrase, so much pain behind it.

Personally, I found the bits about taxidermy not only not excessive, but truly minimal; I think that anything less than what is shown would have left me doubting Rowley’s skill at his craft. And it bears repeating: competence, like intelligence, are incredibly attractive to me.

The slow development of the relationship between these two men, fragile, damaged, yet valiant in their own ways, is the perfect counterpoint to the instalust/instalove/HEA rush that we see so often in romantic suspense, particularly in contemporaries.

I also liked that we have the opportunity to meet the people around Clem and Rowley; from Polly, the house keeper/cook, to the other lodgers, to Clem’s friends at The Jack and Knave.

Then weird and dangerous things start to happen, threatening not only the men’s livelihoods, but their very lives. As they join forces to try to figure out what, and who, is behind burglaries, murder, and arson, Clem and Rowley also struggle to understand and accept each other in the face of crisis. Because, let’s face it, even when in the throes of blinding infatuation, people starting a relationship rarely know each other well enough to instinctively understand their reactions, while coping with their own.

Then there’s the language and the sense of time and place, which are both just lovely.

I really liked the mystery side; it’s just as melodramatic and, well, Victorian, as the author promised it would be. I confess that there were a couple of moments where I winced (picture Clem doing the equivalent of walking down to the basement, in his smallclothes, and armed with good will), but what happens, and what everyone does and says, ring true. The characterizations are consistent and, other than the main villain of the piece, who was just a tad too evil mastermind™ for my taste, they are also three dimensional.

An Unseen Attraction gets 9.00 out of 10

~ * ~

¹ Here’s but one reason why.

² I did a quick search, and this is one of the items I found (link):

³ To wit.

edited to add: huh. I also had an ARC of this one.
(Mental note: keep better track of ARCs!)

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10 Responses to “An Unseen Attraction, by K.J. Charles”

  1. Dorine 21/06/2017 at 10:19 PM #

    Great review. Sounds like a fun book. It always amazes me how many times I find several copies of the same book in my piles. LOL

    • azteclady 22/06/2017 at 11:10 PM #

      I really need to keep better track of these things; my book budget is limited, and K.J. Charles’ backlist is very very tempting.

  2. Carolyn 22/06/2017 at 9:39 PM #

    Great review! I agree with you re Charles. I buy and read everything she writes. She’s a wonderful writer. I especially liked the Magpie series – historical pnr at its best. 🙂

    • azteclady 22/06/2017 at 11:08 PM #

      I have The Magpie Lord and Think of England in the old digital TBR Cordillera…::shaking fist at reading slump:: I shall eventually read more of her stuff, I really dig her voice.

  3. Jules Jones 24/06/2017 at 5:28 AM #

    Curse you, I have my own TBR Mountain Range of Doom, and I should not be adding any more foothills to it. I may have to do some Munro-bagging at lunch this week.

  4. Bona 24/06/2017 at 2:18 PM #

    KJ Charles has become one of my favourite authors, and I enjoyed this book, although THINK OF ENGLAND and A SEDITIOUS AFFAIR keep on being my favourite. The taxidermist part was a little bit too much for me, rather creepy.
    Her worldbuilding is so great, you really feel like you are in Victorian England, from the fog to the nearly unbearable class-differences. I just hated Clem’s brother. No, really. It sounded so real.

    • azteclady 24/06/2017 at 4:47 PM #

      I am vacillating about Clem’s brother, to be honest. He feels cartoonish to me, because I know some arrogant assholes, but nothing on that level–plus, how stupid he turned out to be.

      Then I remember what we have for president at the moment, and I can believe it.

  5. SuperWendy 25/06/2017 at 2:52 PM #

    Huzzah! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!

    I honestly have no idea why I didn’t connect better with the story in the beginning. I suspect it was a combination of my current slump and my desire to “get on to the mystery already!” And I tend to chalk that up as starting my reading life out as a mystery reader. When I’m promised one in the blurb, I want the author to hop-to and get to it right away (which makes me an anomaly in romance circles since most romance readers are like, “stay with the romance, the mystery can wait!”)

    What I really, really loved about this story was the world-building. My Victorian-loving heart is STILL swooning over it. So many romance writers treat Victorian like “post-pseudo-Regency” and ::heavy sigh::. This one was a Victorian down to it’s marrow.

    • azteclady 25/06/2017 at 3:15 PM #

      Oh man, yes, SO Victorian!

      And truly, once the mystery started going, it just gained speed up to the end. ::happy sigh::

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