“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?” — GoodReads
This is the first book I’ve read by Elliott James, and it’s left me barely on the, ‘I enjoyed this book’, side of meh. If I had the option of buying only one book, and it was between Mr. James and just about every other author I’ve ever read, I’d choose the other author. I’m not saying I won’t be reading any more of his books. However, he’s the kind of author I turn to when the to-be-read pile is empty, and I’m months off of my favorite authors’ new book release. Low author on the totem pole.
If you’re looking for a main character that could be described as tangentially related to Harry Dresden and Atticus, this might be something like that. The main character, John Charming, has some great, witty moments in the book, though I’d hesitate to say he’s on par with Dresden’s wiseassery.
The book has an interesting concept, the Pax Arcana, which keeps ordinary folks from discovering the extraordinary. The Knights, who raised and trained John, are under a geas to protect the Pax, but are also trying to destroy John. Who they now consider to be another misbehaving monster and a threat. Not only to them, because he knows about them, but the Pax.
You also get vampires, but they aren’t the mouth-watering morsels like in some novels, but instead eye-watering in stench and appearance. I can appreciate a book trying to veer away from the sexy vampire archetype, and the book doesn’t limit it to just vampires. Most of the stories/creatures we’ve heard/read about have an alternate explanation in Charming. Making changes to more than just vampires lets me know the author is making an effort beyond: “We’ve got too many sexy vampires out there, time for something nastier.”
So, the pros:
- The Pax Arcana is an interesting way to explain how regular people don’t recognize the supernatural when they see it.
- The main characters have some great dialogue and interesting back stories.
- The story itself wasn’t, ‘drive me to stay up all night to finish it’, but it kept the pages turning and entertained me.
- I liked the alternate interpretations/descriptions of stories/supernatural creatures.
- By the gods, the INFO DUMPS. The character goes off on these long, inappropriately timed expositions, where I felt as though I was reading a history novel instead of a story.
- The characters seemed somewhat immature for people who have supposedly been around for as long as they have. e.g. John Charming being born before WWII
- Some of the writing itself is off-putting. Mr. James makes it seem like you’re getting random bits and bobs from John’s head at times. Like one part where John says he heard another character say something, but they didn’t. The character wasn’t even there, and it goes right into the next scene without explaining what in the world John was on about.
Overall I give Charming a 2.5 / 5 stars:
I can’t say I’ll ever re-read it, but I will buy the other books in the series if there’s nothing else for me to buy. If I could give it 2.75 out of 5 I would, because there are parts that put it just beyond the middle of the road for interesting. However, the stars in Google search don’t have such a beast, and I got a bit of a squirmy feeling about making it 3 out of 5.
If you can find it in the library, I’d recommend borrowing it. If buying is your only option, I’d put this at the bottom of your list. It’s an interesting read, but I’m never going to be buying any hardbacks of this series.