unnaturalUnnatural by Joanna Chambers

Published by: Samhain Publishing

Format: eARC

Genre: Historical Romance

Buy it now at: Amazon

Reviewed by: Liz

Get ready for:  Where we see the true Captain Iain Sinclair, meet the man he loves, and see a glimpse into David and Murdo’s happily ever after…

Plot: An Enlightenment Story

Captain Iain Sinclair. Perfect son, perfect soldier, hero of Waterloo. A man living a lie. The only person who really knows him is his childhood friend, scientist James Hart. But they’ve been estranged since Iain brutally destroyed their friendship following a passionate encounter.

Iain is poised to leave the King’s service to become an undercover agent in India. Before he leaves his old life behind, he’s determined to reconcile with James. An invitation to a country house party from James’s sister provides the perfect opportunity to pin the man down.

James has loved Iain all his life, but his years of accepting crumbs from Iain’s table are over. Forgiving Iain is one thing—restoring their friendship is quite another. In the face of James’s determined resistance, Iain is forced to confront his reasons for mending the wounds between them. And accept the possibility that James holds the key to his heart’s desire—if only he has the courage to reach for it.

Review: Oh, to fall right back into the world of David and Murdo. Except sideways and with a major, beautiful detour. I’m a huge Enlightenment Series fan, so I was looking forward to this with a fervor rarely matched – and it did not disappoint. This is a lovely story about (soon to be ex-) Captain Iain Sinclair who totally stole my heart in his few scenes in the trilogy and his childhood friend James Hart. Chambers’ writing is always beautiful and rich. She’s able to make you hear the sudden hush of the woods or the polite murmur of a dinner company or the heat of a lover’s whisper. Her words can make your heart speed up along with the protagonist’s and your belly flutter in anticipation. She’s a gorgeous wordsmith.

Unlike the trilogy, Unnatural is told from dueling points of view, and the tension is created through flashbacks, which will wrench at your heart in a stunning and terrible way. (I suggest prepping yourself with a cup of tea for comfort, an alcoholic beverage of your choice for the numbing of the pain, and a box of tissues to sop up the inevitable tears.) We get their story from childhood to the present told in a meandering flashback style that sort of keeps you on tenterhooks up until the very end. The reader understands both James and Iain, and one of the things that I really loved about this book was that, despite knowing both sides of the story, Chambers was able to make the tension of it palpable.

This is a story about how we can get in the way of ourselves and our wants and desires – especially in a world that only aids us in adding boulders to our desired paths. Much like with David and Murdo (who, yes, do get a lovely cameo in this novel), Iain and James face obstacles that are both societal and quite personal. Their histories are such that, despite their close friendships, they are unable to fully explain or, in some cases, even face, the monsters in their own minds.

Many secondary characters prove to be helpful and quite the opposite here, adding to the richness of the narrative, but it is Iain and James who get the best treatment. Two of my favorite scenes include them simply studying some insects out in the woods. This is where Chambers shines, creating an intimacy through what almost feels like a third presence, the very atmosphere around them. Their love for each other shines through, even when pain overrides it. How will they overcome the obstacles in their path? It’s difficult to see until the very end, as those obstacles are so much of their own making. Watching them fight and fight for this connection is joyful and heart-rending.

What May Not Work for You: Some of the secondary characters feel, to me, just a bit two-dimensional. A couple come to mind specifically, especially a young lady interested in James. That may just be my own hobbyhorse, but I wished her character were a bit more fully fleshed out and complex.

What I loved: James and Iain, of course. The structure and the way it enriched the narrative. The language was, as always, beautiful, and I just adored being back in that universe, even as I wanted more David and Murdo for my own selfish purposes. But the glimpse we get of them is so lovely that it’s enough to last a lifetime. Mostly, I found myself falling in love with James Hart and his steadfast nature, and Iain’s depth and inner demons that you barely even glimpsed in the trilogy. He is so much more than he appears to be – which is the crux of the story, really. Can the two of them make a go of it as more than friends? Well, it’s Joanna Chambers. You’ll just have to trust her.

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