Title: An Unsuitable Heir
Author: KJ Charles
Lenght: 246 pages
Genre: Romance, Historical, Mystery
I find it very hard putting into words what this series, and this book in particular, means to me. Whenever I stop to think about it, my heart becomes unbearably full and I feel the need to start reciting poetry to the nearest person. It’s slightly embarrassing, to be honest, but I can’t seem to do anything about it, since it feels like this entire year was spent waiting for more of this series. I knew I was excited for the final book, but I didn’t expect to feel so much.
(Side-note: I will be using he/him pronouns for Pen, because while I believe he’d chose different pronouns if he had the access to them, these are the ones he uses in the book and it didn’t feel right for me to make the choice for him.)
When Mark Braglewicz, a private enquiry agent, is tasked with searching for the lost heir of the late Earl of Moreton, he doesn’t expect to find a soulmate. Pen Starling, the beautiful and joyous non binary acrobat doesn’t want anything to do with his earldom. He loves his life on the trapeze with his twin sister and his evenings with Mark. But with a violent murderer still at large, Mark knows the only way to save Pen’s life is to get him to claim his birthright. The decision taken from his hands, Pen is forced to put up with his new relatives, at least while his parentage is investigated. But the murderer is still out there, bidding his time.
I adore the characters. Pen. Dear lord, Pen. He’s such a wonderful, cheerful person who managed to retain his kindness and joy towards others, despite the world not returning the courtesy. He’s funny and full of love and all he wishes for is to be able to live out his life and to be left alone. His world is magical and full of colors and he managed to carve out a place for himself, where people respect him and his gender. And now that that safety is torn away from him, my heart absolutely ached for him. His experiences with dysphoria hit so close to home: the dizzy spells, the inability to look into a mirror or even at his own body. It made me feel raw and aching, with a desperate need to help him.
Pen and Greta’s relationship won me over in under a minute. Greta is fiercely loyal, protective, careful and so, so funny. Their mantra of “No repentance, no regret” made me tear up. I also wanted to applaud every instance of the twins not backing down under the hatred the older Taillefers threw their way, because they were magnificent.
Mark is someone I wanted to see more of ever since we met him in the first book and he didn’t disappoint. His quiet, calm acceptance, the strength and will to help and make things right for others. He insists he’s just a simple bloke, but there’s nothing unremarkable about Mark. There is nothing simple about the way he respects people, their boundaries and identities, the way he listens and strives to understand, the way he makes others feel safe. There is a good reason why both Clem and Nathaniel come to him to seek help.
The background characters need to be mentioned too. Clem was his usual wonderful supportive self, delighted over his new relatives. But for me, it was Justin who absolutely stole the show. He’s excited and enthusiastic to show how hard he’s working now. His budding, teasing friendship with Mark is delightful and he has some of the best lines in the entire book. Seeing how far he’s come made me want to cry.
Mark and Pen fall into the kind of comfortable love where it feels like they’re been together for years. They work hard on understanding each other, their quirks and needs and limits. They listen to each other and clearly communicate what they need. They flirt adorably and make silly jokes and horrible puns and my heart ached so, so painfully at their despair of being kept apart. They also had a beautiful case of body worship going on and I could feel some deep part of my soul being healed at the sight of a disabled character being treated with such a reverent care.
I knew their relationship was going to be beautiful the moment Mark took Pen into the Jack and Knave and told him embarrassing stories about himself. In one stroke, Mark gave him a community and showed him he’s not alone. Pen’s overwhelmed reaction reminded me of the first time I attended a Gay Pride, the way the sight of so many proud, openly queer people made me break down and sob my heart out. Mark gave him the best possible gift he could.
Unfortunately, while the characters, romance and the overall plot are amazing, the conclusion to the murder mystery isn’t. Without spoiling anything, I’m afraid the reveal itself falls flat. And while everything surrounding it felt great, the reveal itself made me somewhat disappointed.
An Unsuitable Heir was a wonderful ending to one of my favorite trilogies. While it has some aforementioned problems, the emotional resonance from the characters themselves was so strong I ended up not caring much. This trilogy brought me so much joy in a year where I desperately needed it.