Review: Charming by Elliott James

charming by elliott jamesFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Pax Arcana #1
Length: 366 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Date Released: September 24, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

John Charming isn’t your average Prince…

He comes from a line of Charmings — an illustrious family of dragon slayers, witch-finders and killers dating back to before the fall of Rome. Trained by a modern day version of the Knights Templar, monster hunters who have updated their methods from chainmail and crossbows to kevlar and shotguns, he was one of the best. That is — until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. One that shouldn’t change just because a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar… Right?

My Review:

I’m not sure why, but when I originally picked this up, I thought it was going to be slightly cutesy. I think it might have had something to do with the whole “Charming” name. The mental trail went from Charming to Prince Charming to fairy tales to cutesy.

Having read Charming, I can see just how off-base I was, and in a good way. There is a connection between John Charming and Prince Charming, but not the way I thought. The book Charming is urban fantasy of the kick-ass anti-hero school, where the hero and monster hunter is none too sure whether or not he’s one of the monsters himself.

And the kind of dark and gritty world where bad things happen to good people every bit as often, sometimes moreso, as bad things happen to bad people. Or bad monsters. Or just bad things.

This is also a story where the vampires are very definitely the bad guys, and where the werewolves may or may not be much better.

The setup for this particular urban fantasy world is pretty awesome. It’s the Pax Arcana, and as a founding myth, it’s rather cool. The concept is that there has always been magic in the world. The supernatural has always walked (or slithered, or whatever) among us. But, and it’s a very big but, when the fae folk left our world for wherever, they left behind a powerful spell that prevents any normal human from truly seeing all that magical weirdness that happens all around us.

And being tricksy fae, they also created an all too human group of Pax enforcers and scattered them all over the world, under a magical compulsion that makes them fight the supernatural and protect mankind. It also makes them reproduce so that they make new generations of guardians to protect the world.

The internet is making their lives a bit difficult, something that will probably feature more in later books.

This story, and the series, centers on John Charming. He’s supposed to be one of those Knight-enforcer types, but something went seriously wrong. His mother was bitten by a werewolf just before he was born. He might be a werewolf. He might not, But his former colleagues have decided that whatever he is, he’s an abomination who must be eliminated. They keep trying, often with catastrophic results and collateral damage. Their neverending hunt keeps John alone and on the run.

Until a Valkyrie walks into his bar, hunting a very stupid vampire who has some surprisingly smart friends.

John finds himself in the middle of her vampire hunt, and part of a group of surprising, and surprisingly ept, volunteer monster hunters. John finds himself doing the right and wrong thing simultaneously, as he falls for the Valkyrie and drives her lover to become an even bigger monster than the ones they are hunting.

And all he wanted to do was stay safe, keep his head down, and quietly tend bar. But John Charming’s life is never that quiet.

Escape Rating B+: While the dark and gritty setting and tone of this story will remind a lot of readers of every urban fantasy they’ve ever read and loved, the creation and explanation of the Pax Arcana itself is extremely cool. It’s a combination of self-fulfilling prophecy and vicious cycle all rolled into one. One often very nasty, but still, one.

The story is told in John’s first person perspective. It gives the author an excuse to explain the way the world works, and we see John’s twisted view of his world and everything in it. In some ways, John and his world remind me of the early years of The Dresden Files, without as much descent into the male gaze. Although at least so far, John’s love life is every bit as unlucky as Harry’s.

One of the things I liked about the overall story is that it doesn’t descend into a romance, or even worse, the dreaded love triangle. It’s not that John and Sig the Valkyrie don’t have strong feelings for each other, but there’s no hearts and flowers, and certainly no HEA or even HFN. Instead, they act as catalysts in each other’s lives, making the other realize that there is shit they need to take care of before they might be ready for each other or someone else.

Of course, some of Sig’s shit nearly gets everyone killed.

I hope we see the good parts of this team again. Both Molly and Choo represent different and equally bizarre and believable ways that regular people might find themselves discovering the Pax. Sig’s story about how she enlisted Police Detective Ted Cahill by hanging him over a building and forcing him to see the magic is equally off-base and equally plausible in this world. She needs a cop, so she recruits one by force.

All things considered, Charming is a very interesting introduction to a new-to-me gritty urban fantasy world. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. And for anyone interested in snagging a copy of Charming for their very own, there is a Goodreads giveaway going on right now.

daring by elliott jamesI’m headed straight to Daring, the second book in the series, to see how John gets himself into even more trouble.

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