Iain Sinclair is leaving his life in the military and is about to move to India to become an undercover agent, a job that will have him leaving England, perhaps indefinitely. Before he goes, Iain wants to make one last attempt to smooth things over with his former best friend, James Hart. The two were childhood friends and incredibly close until James made his interest clear and Iain pushed him away. It has been years since they have even spoken, but Iain can’t bear to leave without trying to put things right between them.
When James’ sister hosts a country house party, Iain accepts the invitation as a chance to see James. Unfortunately, James isn’t interested in reestablishing their friendship. After years of loving Iain and Iain pushing him away, James can not bear to be around the man when he clearly doesn’t want him. The past is too painful for James to forget and Iain still doesn’t seem to want more than friendship. Yet the more time Iain spends with James, the clearer it becomes to Iain that he truly wants and needs this man. However, now that Iain realizes James is the man for him, he may be too late and have ruined things between them for good.
Unnatural is a story of two men who were best friends for years, but who have struggled due to their romantic feelings. James has loved Iain forever, but Iain has been clear he doesn’t see James that way. But of course, there is more to it than just that. Iain can’t allow himself to see James that way because he is still attempting to earn his father’s admiration and he knows that means living a life with James as no more than a friend. It is clear to the reader how strong Iain’s feelings are, but he keeps pushing away James until James can’t take it any more. But Iain can’t stop his feelings either, and he is drawn back time and again, trying to keep that friendship alive but never letting it move to more. Chambers does a great job here with that tension. We can feel how Iain struggles, trying to fit this mold of his father’s expectations, even as he lives a life that is hollow. He wants James, but he can’t let himself have him. And in the meantime, poor James just assumes he is not wanted. The men find themselves in a tangle for most of the story, moving forward and back in their relationship as they try to sort it out. I loved the way it all resolves though, and seeing Iain accept that he has to live for his own happiness.
The story is told in flashback form, with the men in present day at the house party, and then a series of flashbacks beginning when they were young men. We learn early on about the event that finally broke things between them, but we get the story of their relationship development up to that point, while at the same time we follow along as Iain tries to make amends in the present. I will say that I struggled with this format. I usually don’t have a problem with flashbacks or dual time periods, but here I found I had a lot of trouble keeping track of the multiple time frames. Chambers does actually clearly identify each chapter with the date, and even has some indicators that say “Then” and “Now” to make it even clearer. But since I didn’t read the book in one sitting, I often picked it up mid-chapter and had to try to remember whether I was in the past or present. I think part of the problem is that a lot of the same things are happening in both periods. There are house parties happening in both time frames. The guys seem to get together and pull apart over and over. They talk or fight, then separate. These patterns repeated themselves so much, I found that I was losing track of when something happened even as I was reading, as so much was very similar between them. I had to work to remember if a scene or character was someone from the past or present. So I really struggled with the timeline here and it did require me to focus a lot of attention on it as I was reading.
I would also have liked some more time with the guys after the resolution. The conflict takes over the vast majority of the book, both the past one and the attempts at present day resolution. As a result, by the time the guys are back together, the story is ending. I wanted more of their present day relationship once they resolve things to see them moving forward together.
As an aside, Unnatural is set in the Enlightenment series world. We get an appearance by David and Murdo as friends of Iain’s, which I really enjoyed. Other than that, there is not any real overlap here that I noticed, and you could easily read this as a standalone. I happen to love that series, so I’d definitely recommend it, but you are ok here if you haven’t read it.
I really like Chamber’s writing and think this story was enjoyable. I liked the tension in these guys as they work through their relationship, and if you like lovers reunited themes, I think this one will be particularly appealing. I found the story structure to be difficult and so I didn’t love this one quite as much as some of Chamber’s other work. But if you enjoy historicals and that tension between friends, enemies, and lovers, I think this is a good story to consider.