John Charming is the descendant of the renowned Charming line; famed for princess rescuing and monster slaying. Bound to defend the Pax Arcana (a magical enchantment that prevents humans from seeing the otherworldly, monstrous, and fey) John was trained, like his father, by the Knight’s Templar. Unfortunately for John his mother was bitten by a werewolf while pregnant and while she perished from the bite John was cursed with variant of lycanthropy; granting him many of the gifts and few of downfalls of being a werewolf. Despite these facts John was exiled from and sentenced to death by the Knight’s Templar and has been on the run since. Working under an assumed name John works as a bartender trying to keep a low profile to avoid the notice of the Knight. Things change when the beautiful Sig walks into his life and John is forced to confront a nest of vampires that has been growing right under his very nose.
Let’s get things out of the way first. I listened to Charming on audiobook, this thankfully avoided having to explain to friends and co-workers that I was not in fact reading a romance novel. The cover for this novel is all sorts of terrible, not the least of which is the fact the sword John uses is a katana not the longsword depicted, and the fact that he doesn’t advertise the fact that he is/was a knight. It’s just bad. Unfortunately, the sequel doesn’t look like it’s going to improve things. The audiobook is well produced and Roger Wayne does a great job at keeping things interesting; really capturing the novel’s conversation tone.
Despite the atrocious cover Charming is an entertaining and original read that introduces a great new voice in the world of urban fantasy. James has created a varied world with a logical well-ordered premise that makes room for all sorts of monsters and mythological creatures. The Pax Arcana, which essentially forces humanity rationalize away anything supernatural that it sees, is a cool invention and helps create the sense of a sort of shadow world living and breathing right beneath the world we all know. John, despite being exiled by the Knight’s Templar, is still affected by the Pax since it’s enforcement works as a gaes; a sort of magical compulsion that forces John to act despite his desire to maintain a low profile. James infuses the novel with a sarcastic, sense of humor. While on the one hand the sarcastic, urban fantasy lead is something of a cliche it is a cliche that I’ve yet to really grow tired of. James handles things quite nicely giving John’s humor a number of excellent foils to work against from the somewhat serious Sig to the spritely Molly (a some-what retired minister who listens to Christmas music to cheer herself up).
Charming has a strong undercurrent of romance running through it. John’s instant attraction to Sig and the resulting complication when it’s revealed as being mutual becomes a major aspect of the plot. While the story stays focused on the hunt for a potential new vampire leader in town the budding romance between Sig and John becomes increasingly important to the plot. Charming is a novel driven by its lead character and it becomes increasingly apparent throughout the novel that while the action is fast and furious the real story is about John, his past, and him coming to terms with who and what he is. Charming is very much an introductory novel that, despite some infodumping, manages to illuminate and define its characters through deeds and action rather than exposition.
Charming marks the first ina series with the next novel, Daring, due out in September. James’ novel calls to mind the work of Kevin Hearne as the mashing of different mythologies and the consistently humorous lead call to mind Hearne’s Iron Druid. Regardless of the token similarities Charming is an original novel that keeps the action moving. Fans of urban fantasy should take note and give Elliott James excellent Charming a shot (even if they might be embarassed by the cover).