The Pax Arcana series by Elliott James is one my favorite recent additions to the urban fantasy scene. Fearless, is the third novel in the series and continues the series excellence. One of the things that I find interesting about this series over some other urban fantasies is that its setting is particularly unmoored. John Charming’s past, particularly his having been on the run for so long, means that sense of place that for me is a strong part of the urban fantasy genre is instead refocused onto John himself and the home creates (or is trying to create) with the people he surrounds himself with. While Fearless and the Pax Arcana series buys into many of the familiar tropes of its subgenre the laser-like focus on John himself, and his peculiar brand of self-awareness, lend the series a surprisingly different feel. The uniqueness of the series is further enhanced by the menagerie of supernatural creatures that James includes throughout the series. Fearless, in particular introduces a whole new cast of creatures both terrifying and surprisingly normal from a variety of cultural backgrounds with a strong focus in Japanese mythology.
The main focus of Fearless is on John, Sig, Molly and Choo are tipped off by the estranged Tedd Cahill (now a sheriff in New York) to investigate a mysterious death. Over the course of the investigation the crew discover that someone or something is looking to take out a young man named Kevin Kichida. As the team follows the trail through Kevin Kichida’s life they uncover secrets about the young man’s past, and the nature of his adversary, that find them in an underground monster fight club in New York. The mystery of Kichida’s pursuer doesn’t last too long and the team’s plan to stop him is what takes up the bulk of the novel. Fearless represents the first time that John is really working with other people and the strain of having to work as a group is noticeable throughout the novel. John’s relationship with Sig also plays an important role throughout the novel. While it never takes center stage it is constantly in the background and actually provides a wonderfully stable base from which to explore the personalities of both John and Sig. In fact Elliott manages to depict the struggles of each of the novel’s core characters rather poignantly. Choo struggles with operating in the magical world while desperately trying to claw a space out for some sort of normal life with his estranged wife. Cahill embraces his new nature while trying to rebuild the trust destroyed by that same nature; facts further compounded by the antagonistic relationship between him and John. Molly has her own struggles with her own faith and particularly with some of the methods employed throughout their quest to uncover the nature of Kevin Kichida’s enemy. Molly is by far my favorite character in the series so I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more time spent with her here however her small character arc in Fearless was still surprisingly satisfying.
As in the past novel there are hints of a grander problem brewing in the background but there are still scant details and is not the primary focus of Fearless. The audiobook version of Fearless is once again narrated by Roger Wayne. Wayne’s pitch perfect delivery is at its best when it comes to John’s trademark wit but doesn’t falter even during the novel’s more serious moments. I haven’t read any of the Pax Arcana novels, only listened, and I can’t even imagining switching now. My sincere hope is that the folks at Tantor keep Roger Wayne at the helm of this series.
Fearless continues the trend in an already excellent series. Elliott is working hard at writing characters that grow and change over time in believable ways. While I could wish for more world-building, particularly in terms of the hints at a larger trouble yet to be fully revealed, the catch-all supernatural world of the Pax Arcana series continues to remain both engaging and entertaining. Elliott definitely dropped some interesting seeds about the history of the Charming name that I hope to see bear fruit at a later date. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy in the vein of Kevin Hearne or Jim Butcher than I highly recommend you give Elliott James Pax Arcana series a try. I look forward to the next novel, In Shining Armor, due out in April.