My rating: 3 of 5 stars
UNNATURAL by Joanna Chambers is a satisfying, M/M historical romance with a friends to lovers theme. James and Iain had been best friends in childhood, but when James discovers that Iain likes men, he begins to want more out of their relationship. Though Iain is attracted to James as well, he denies his feelings for him. He is also burdened by a family tragedy and feels that he has to preserve the family name and honor. He doesn’t believe it’s possible to have a real relationship with James, and he doesn’t want to risk James being outed and ostracized by society. The novel switches between past and present to show the ups and downs of their relationship.
In the present, Iain doesn’t believe he has anything to live for in England. He has been discharged from his twelve-year Army career, and is planning to move to India to serve as a secret agent. But he can’t leave England without saying goodbye to James and repairing their friendship. He hasn’t spoken to or heard from James in the two years that have passed since their argument. James had gone to an underground gay club to tell Iain that he wanted them to be together, but Iain had rejected James and said that James’s devotion to him was childish. When James’s sister invites Iain to a house party, Iain heads out to the country to see James again, make peace, and say their goodbyes. But James is still hurting and doesn’t want to be Iain’s friend. James wants more.
However, at the house party, James can’t avoid Iain forever. As Iain recalls incidents from the past and confronts his inner truths, he’s able to finally resolve the barriers that have been preventing him from acknowledging his feelings for James. He realizes that he can’t live without James. He has felt empty, unsettled, and dissatisfied with life without him. He realizes that he has to live in the moment, because life is too precious to waste. After all the ups and downs, pain and angst, it was satisfying to see Iain stand up for himself and declare his love to James. The sex was never only about lust and longing; there was always the underlying affection of their longstanding close friendship. Despite their conflicted emotions, their love in the end was most natural.
I felt that this was a quiet, easy, and sentimental read, and would have given it a higher rating if the narration had a bit more personality.
*I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.