Published 2013 400 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
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 chain mail and crossbows to Kevlar and shotguns, John Charming was one of the best – until a curse made him one of the abominations the Knights were sworn to hunt.
That was a lifetime ago. Now, John tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. That is, until a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar...
A vampire and a valkyrie walk into a bar… it sounds like the start of a cheesy joke but it’s actually the opening scene of Charming – an urban fantasy novel by Elliott James. It’s the first book in the Pax Arcana series, which follows the monster slaying adventures of John Charming an ex-Knight, who’s trying to live a quiet life as a bar tender in small town Virginia. The Knights are not an order you can just leave – it’s a gig for life – so John is in hiding, trying to avoid their notice.
Even though John has been drummed out of the monster hunting order of Knights, on account of being not quite human anymore, he’s still sworn to uphold the Pax Arcana. The Pax Arcana is an ancient spell that keeps regular humans from noticing any overt supernatural activity, fogging the mind and adding layers of rational explanations for the oddest occurrences. The Knights protect the Pax Arcana by eliminating any supernaturals whose behaviour becomes so noticeable that no amount of logical explanation or looking the other way can cover it up. They are compelled to do so by a mystical vow that is passed on from parent to child, the compulsion to protect the Pax Arcana so great that it cannot be ignored or circumvented.
The Pax Arcana goes a long way to explaining why self-preservation isn’t John’s first instinct when he encounters a hungry vampire in his bar. For a man who is supposedly hiding from his former monster-hunting colleagues he does a remarkably good job of blowing his own cover. He gets involved in some very messy vampire slaying with a local group of monster hunters, whose members include a local cop, a valkyrie, a female priest and a geeky naga.
John narrates the story of what happens after a vampire and a valkyrie walk into a bar in first person, and mostly his voice is upbeat, occasionally snarky and hugely likable. The problem with the style of his story-telling is the overwhelming information dump that the author shoe-horned into his narration. Rather than going for subtle, or even gradual, world building the author just lets John explain the minute details of this fantasy world at every possible moment throughout the story, even in places where contemplating the finer points of why vampires can’t tolerate sunlight wouldn’t be his first thoughts – such as whilst having a sword fight against multiple vampire opponents. This often left me feeling like I’d somehow wandered into a university for supernatural studies and was listening to lectures on Vampire Physiology 101 or Naga Hunting for Beginners.
Apart from the author’s inclination to information dump rather than world-build I have few other complaints about the story. My only other gripe is that Sig, the story’s strong female lead character, working for the forces of good, doesn’t always come across that realistically. She’s in a bad relationship but she won’t acknowledge her boyfriend’s flaws (such as his sociopathic homicidal tendencies) and can’t dump her deadbeat boyfriend without lining up another new squeeze first? These are the weak actions of mortal women not supercharged valkyries.
For all my griping Charming still ticks pretty much all of the right boxes for an urban fantasy novel and delivers an action-packed story full of supernatural thrills. This book exists at the (unlikely) crossroads of Supernatural meets Grimm and Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Being Human… And I like it.
LoveVampires Review Rating: