Review: Daring by Elliott James

daring by elliott jamesFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Pax Arcana #2
Length: 387 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Date Released: September 23, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository


Something is rotten in the state of Wisconsin.

Werewolf packs are being united and absorbed into an army of super soldiers by a mysterious figure who speaks like an angel and fights like a demon. And every Knight Templar—keepers of the magical peace between mankind and magickind—who tries to get close to this big bad wolf winds up dead. No knight can infiltrate a group whose members can smell a human from a mile away…no knight except one.

John Charming. Ex knight. Current werewolf. Hunted by the men who trained him, he now might be their only salvation. But animal instincts are rising up to claim John more powerfully than ever before, and he must decide if this new leader of wolves is a madman…or a messiah.

My Review:

fearless by elliott jamesAlthough I read Daring before Fearless (review here), I’m posting it after. I’ll be packing for WorldCon in Spokane when this posts, and frankly, I needed to have stuff pre-done for as much of this week as possible. Let’s face it, the odds on my managing to write up reviews and prep posts while at Sasquan are virtually nil. And so they should be.

But about this book…Daring is the second book in the Pax Arcana, and it helps to have read the first book, the surprisingly terrific Charming (reviewed here) first. While the author does a pretty good job of summarizing the action so far, and in John Charming’s charmingly snarky voice, you always miss some of the nuance.

And Charming is damn good urban fantasy of the snarky hero/antihero school, so what’s not to love?

The concept of the Pax Arcana still feels like an awesome invention. It’s the concept that magic happens around us all the time, but because of a massive spell that the fae cast just before they left Earth, we can’t see it (unless it’s a question of survival). The fae also created a force of Pax cops – we know them best as the Knights Templar, and pretty much every other order of secret-keeping warriors that has ever been.

John Charming is a big problem for the knights, and it’s one that they created for themselves. John was trained as a knight, just like his father and his father and every other Charming before him. But John’s mother was bitten by a werewolf just before John was born, so John is also a werewolf. The Knights kill werewolves on sight, having decided somewhere in the way back that werewolves are ipso facto violations of the Pax just for existing.

Except that John breaks all the rules, because he is definitely a werewolf, but he is still bound by the geas that binds all knights to protect the Pax. If his existence were an automatic violation, he would have to off himself. But John feels no compulsion towards suicide. The powers-that-be in the Knights don’t want anyone exploring the walking contradiction that is John Charming.

This is also a story where the Knights are not necessarily good, and the monsters are not necessarily bad. They all still have all the messy motivations that regular humans do – so some on both sides are good, and some on both sides are rotten to the core. Except vampires, they’re just rotten, and sometimes rotting.

charming by elliott jamesSo when the Knights blackmail John into helping them with a werewolf problem, they do it in the nastiest way possible – they threaten the lives of all the friends that John made during the story in Charming. So John goes along, but also ties the Knights up in some interesting magical protections of his own, because John knows the Knights are not playing fair with him and his friends.

They never do.

But John’s insertion into the big werewolf clan goes even worse than the Knights’ biggest fears – because there is way more going on than their limited perspective on anyone other than themselves is able to comprehend, and because they screw thing up again while they try to screw John over again. Along with everyone else.

Escape Rating A-: This series gets better and better as it goes along. I say that and I’m in the middle of book 3 as I write this review. The trajectory is definitely upwards.

One of the fun things in this story is just how screwed up the Knights are at this point in their history. They seem to be mostly following their leaders blindly, in a world that keeps changing out from under them. They have historically relied on the Pax and their ability to confuse mundanes through chemicals or spells, but the Earth’s population boom combined with the communication power of the Internet is breaking the Pax faster than they can repair it.

Also they have decided that some creatures are automatically their enemies that aren’t necessarily, but by being targeted they become enemies. That the Knights also don’t give a damn about any normal humans that they murder in their quests does not make them any friends, either. Eventually, people start to suspect. And resent. Definitely resent.

John is a werewolf, but he is also a Knight. However, the Knights murdered his lover to get at him, and are threatening the lives of his new friends. He is not kindly disposed towards them. When the werewolf clan takes him in, he gets involved because they seem to be mostly good people, and mostly just defending themselves, and it feels good to be all of who he really is, instead of having to hide parts of himself.

But while many of the werewolves are just good people, there are some who have a much bigger (and badder) agenda, using the general werewolf population as meat-shields and other, even worse, possibilities.

As the clusterfuck reaches epic proportions, John discovers that the sides he thought he was on are not as clearly defined as he thought – and that his own origin wasn’t the unhappy accident he believed.

There is a lot going on in this installment. John has to embrace both sides of his nature, and he does it by fits and starts. Mostly by fits. He also has to learn to not just be in a group, but also lead one, and it’s a demonstrably hard lesson for a man who has spent decades as a lone wolf.

It’s also a story where all the motives are murky on all sides. John knows that the Knights mostly mean well, for select definitions of the word well, but they often do badly and definitely believe that their supposedly righteous ends justify any means, when all it means is that they lose their humanity in the process of becoming Knights, sometimes even more so than the monsters they hunt.

John’s desire to believe in the werewolf cause constantly conflicts with his cynicism. He knows its too good to be true, even when some parts of it are demonstrably true. His conflict drives him to snark and frustration at every turn.

His story also shows that even for a sometimes monster, it is much easier to get by with a little help from your friends.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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