Looking for that one good man…

Cover art for Charming by Elliott JamesTitle: Charming

Author: Elliott James

Publisher & Release Date: Orbit, September 2013

The Hook: An order of Charmings -how could so many princes have the same name?- protecting the world from paranormal and supernatural danger.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “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 chain mail and crossbows to Kevlar and shotguns, John Charming was one of the best–until a curse made him one of the abominations the Knights were sworn to hunt.
“That was a lifetime ago. Now, John tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. That is, until a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar…”
Overall Impressions: Awesome premise, fast-paced and interesting plot, unexpected twists, compelling world-building and main character, but the in-your-faceness of the love interest got on my nerves.
The world-building is fascinating – all the pieces of different mythologies getting pulled together under the umbrella of the Pax Arcana. In a nutshell, elves and fairies are/were real, and when they decided to leave this world, they made a superspell (the Pax Arcana) that makes it very, very, very hard for normal people to notice supernatural things (such as their descendants) and strong-armed a bunch of secret organizations (such as the Charmings) with a geas to keep supernatural beings from doing anything that pushed past the notice of the spell. And if death is required to stop said supernatural beings, so be it.

John’s a likable character and enjoyable narrator, with a layer of snark covering his inner pain, as per urban fantasy rules. He definitely has reasons for that pain – he’s been marked for death by his speciest knight family because he’s part werewolf and in their pursuit they killed the woman he loved. He’s been on the run and laying low when he gets inadvertently pulled into an unofficial investigation: Some vampires are up to something *very* bad, and really, rather clever.

Sig (the “blonde” from the jacket copy) is portrayed as a smart, strong, extremely capable individual with her own issues but she’s put together an eclectic team to deal with certain supernatural threats and she’s very obviously a good leader who sees people’s potential and directs them well. She has strong beliefs about men taking advantage of women and acts on them. But she’s also very obviously the love interest, to the extent that practically every member of the team tells John he should pursue her because her current long-term lover (decades) is no-good and she’ll never leave him on her own because loyalty, but she is interested in John. Balancing the Sig as person and Sig as love interest is tricky, and I don’t know that’s always achieved. At times I was tempted to just walk away.

But then I’d get sucked back into the story, and the ending is earned. Not a happily ever after, but honest and a good set-up for the series.

I think this would appeal to fans of the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs’ books. I’d like to read the sequel and see how the balance and pacing matures.

The Highs: These are not undeniably attractive and sexually magnetic vampires. Well, there’s a glamour but since John sees through it, and he’s telling the story, so do we. And the book has some fun poking at the trope. However, they are darn effective vampires as bad guys and some of them as smart bad guys.

Molly, Molly, Molly. She was the reason I kept reading when I got annoyed. Her worldview got turned on her head when she accompanied Chauncey (another team member, originally an exterminator) to a haunted house for an exorcism and she struggled with that before coming to the decision to express her faith in a different way. She’s reasonably terrified by things such as vampires and has her own ways of coping. Including playing Christmas music in April because Christmas makes her happy. She instantly became my favorite with that scene.

Sig wears practical clothing for fighting! Who knows how she would be rendered on the cover, but in the first fight with vampires she’s described as wearing cargo pants and a military commando-style dark sweater. That paragraph is my favorite description of her physical appearance in the book.

That the characters respect what each other bring to the battlefield. Even when they don’t like each other.

Buzzkills:  There were a lot of fighting scenes, which I often skim. (Did a major character die / suffer great injury / reveal new power and/or ability? Okay, moving on.)  One sequence in particular seemed unnecessary other than to have an action scene before important exposition.

In John’s second meeting with Sig, he strips naked after the fight so she can burn his blood from the scene and his clothing. Parts of the discussion felt as it their purpose was to say “Look! Sexual attraction! Notice it! Don’t you want them to get together?”

The Source: e-galley from publisher through NetGalley

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or a hand-crafted sword was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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One thought on “Looking for that one good man…

  1. Pingback: Charming | Elliot James

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