Charming (Pax Arcana #1) – Elliott James

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Summary:

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 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?

Review:

Is it too much to ask that a guy named Charming have at least a little bit of charm? Just a touch? I wouldn’t have even minded had James taken the Into the Woods route of “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Because honestly, he’s got none at all. And when a major subplot of this book is about a flirtation with Sig (the blonde referenced in the summary) and the jealous of her almost-ex, and there is absolutely no chemistry there, that’s a problem. In fact, I felt at arms length from Charming this entire book. As much as I knew his story, I still felt like I didn’t really know him or care about him or about his plight.

It’s a shame too, because I rather like the bones of the book: back during the Black Death a group of elves made a deal with the Knights Templar: protect the humans from the supes of the world and in exchange they got spared. There was definitely some thought put into the piece as James clearly not only knows the base legends around the vampires and the wolves, but also mentions a few tweaks I hadn’t read about before, like vampires being only able to drink from their own blood type and the like. It makes for a great set up for an Urban Fantasy world.

That said, aside from the way I felt at a distance from the narrator – even though he was narrating directly – there were a couple of style issues here that impeded my enjoyment of the book. At one point we meet a vampire from New Orleans (okay, not everything is unique) and he had his dialogue spelled out phonetically. You practically had to read it aloud to make any sense of it. The character didn’t last long, but it was still extremely annoying, especially since he’d already pointed out how thick his accent was. For me at least, it was enough to get the point across. Another style choice I didn’t care for was the occasional conversation that would go like this.

“XYZ” I said. Well I wanted to say it, but because of [reason], I actually said “ABC.”

These asides were infrequent enough to become accustomed to them, and didn’t add enough to the story to justify the interruption of the flow of the story. Either commit all the way, or just don’t go there.

I could go on about Sig and her creepy boyfriend, but I honestly don’t feel a need to. That story goes exactly how you expect it to, and while the plotting is good – a change that happens to John towards the end of the book feels like it’s been building up nicely throughout – the absolute lack of connection with John makes this enough of a slog that I can’t recommend it just on those merits alone.

Like I said, the core of this book is absolutely solid. Male-lead urban fantasy is rare, so it gave me high hopes for it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love me some good world building, but if you don’t give me a narrator that I care about, the rest is for naught.

Verdict: A Reluctant Skip It

Available: Now

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