Book Review: Charming by Elliott James

Book Review: Charming by Elliott James

Charming (Pax Arcana, #1)Fans of urban fantasy fiction are sure to enjoy the world of Charming, book one in a projected series (Pax Arcana) by debut author Elliott James.

John Charming is a descendant of a long-line of monster-fighters, all of whom share the surname Charming and are compelled by their bloodline’s oath to preserve the ignorance of ordinary humans for as long as possible. In the world of Charming, the supernatural is all around us, but thanks to a concept called the Pax Arcana, we can’t see it. Basically, the Pax Arcana is a powerful magic that prevents mortal humans from noticing supernatural activity. You know the creepy feeling you get when  you feel like something’s sneaking up on you, but there’s really nothing there? Well, chances are, there really is something there, but thanks to the Pax Arcana, you just can’t see it.

John is one of the Knights — that would be the Knights Templar — and has trained all his life to carry out his secret oath. Unfortunately for John, he’s also at least part werewolf, and that makes him tainted and subject to elimination as far as the order of Knights is concerned. So John lives on the run, under assumed identities, and finds that anonymity is working fairly well for him… until one night a blonde and a vampire walk into his bar. (See chapter one, “A Blonde and a Vampire Walk Into a Bar”).

The plot of Charming moves quickly to establish a team of good guys — mortal and supernatural — who set out to eliminate a deadly vampire threat. The action is fast and furious, but it’s built on solid character development as well. The team members are well-defined and all have their own quirks, which makes this often-violent romp a lot of fun as well.

John himself is a dashing and likable main character, with enough tragedy in his backstory to make him sympathetic, but with the fighting skills and more-than-human sensory abilities to make him deadly dangerous as well. Lead female Sig is gorgeous (this is urban fantasy, after all) — but also a kick-ass warrior with a great mind and an unwavering dedication to doing what’s right.

The writing in Charming is snarky and humorous, with heaping doses of gore and mayhem to boot. John Charming is a Dresden-esque wise-ass, relying on quips and sarcasm as a first line of defense — and with unmatchable speed, strenth, and fighting smarts to back it all up.

I liked the author’s introduction of new-ish elements to the field of urban fantasy. Here, the vampires may look gorgeous, but as John quickly explains, it’s all a ruse. Vampires in real life are just gross, smelly, undead things — whose true talent is in projecting such a powerful glamor that humans see them the way they’d like to be seen, all Edward Cullen-ish and sexy. As John puts it, “Popular young adult novels notwithstanding, vampires only sparkle when they burn.”

On the other hand, a few minor points felt unnecessary — as if the author was trying too hard to come up with something new and different in an already crowded field. For example, in the world of Charming, vampires can only drink from humans whose blood types match the vampires’ pre-death blood types.  This may be a new twist, but it doesn’t actually add anything to the story.

Overall, I’d say that Charming is a lot of fun and a great introduction to a noirish new world of creatures, ghoulies, and magic. With a “charming” main character (sorry, it’s just begging to be said) and an interesting cast of supporting characters, Charming establishes an urban fantasy world that’s well-planned out and has room to grow. It’s clear that there are many more stories to be told and secrets to be revealed, and I’ll be interested to see if the promise of this first installment turns into something terrific in books to come.

As for me, I liked it enough to want more. If you like your magical worlds on the tough and gritty side, check out Charming.


The details:

Title: Charming
Author: Elliott James
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of Orbit via NetGalley

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