Charming: Contemporary fantasy with a strong but vulnerable hero

Charming by Elliott James contemporary fantasy book reviewsCharming by Elliott James contemporary fantasy book reviewsCharming by Elliott James

John Charming doesn’t know exactly what he is. Well, he knows he’s a descendant of the Knights Templar, a group that’s under a geas to slay supernatural creatures who violate the Pax Arcana (a secret treaty the Knights made with the elves), but when his mother was pregnant with him, she was bitten by a werewolf. The werewolf blood gives John supernatural powers, something that’s anathema to the Knights. They trained him when he was young, but when his powers manifested, he was ostracized, and now some Knights are even hunting him, so he has to hide.

That’s how John Charming ended up as a bartender in a backwoods bar in a small Virginia town. He was satisfactorily flying under the radar until a beautiful six-foot-tall blonde showed up one night. John reluctantly gets pulled into her ragtag team of monster hunters who are trying to flush out a nasty nest of vampires in John’s town. Suddenly John’s life is full of danger, death, and betrayal, but also camaraderie and romance.

It took me a while to warm up to Charming (2013). At first it seemed like just another one of these contemporary fantasies with a plethora of supernatural creatures, brutal (and too-detailed) fight scenes, and a wisecracking hero. I didn’t think John was charming or funny; I thought he was annoying.

Pax Arcana by Elliott James urban fantasy book reviewsBut, to my surprise, by the midpoint of the book I had changed my mind. It may be that John actually got funnier, or it may be that the audiobook narrator became more adept at the delivery (or possibly the fact that I sped up the narration after I got familiar with the characters), or it may be that after a time author Elliot James succeeded in convincing me that John is actually a great guy who uses sarcasm as a defense mechanism to cover his loneliness and vulnerability. Whatever, I found myself rooting for John and wanting to find out what happens next. As soon as I was finished with Charming, I picked up its sequel, Daring. (There are currently five novels and several novellas in the PAX ARCANA series.)

The audiobook is narrated by Roger Wayne, someone I hadn’t listened to before. He was a great choice for this book and he really made me believe in John. Charming is 10.5 hours long and produced by Tantor Audio. I recommend Charming to readers looking for an exciting contemporary fantasy with a strong but vulnerable male protagonist. (Actually, there’s a strong but vulnerable female protagonist, too.)

Published in 2013. Sharp, sarcastic, and efficiently lethal, John Charming would feel right at home having drinks with Dean Winchester and Harry Dresden. If you’re looking for a new urban fantasy series to pick up, CHARMING is a guaranteed page-turner. 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… CHARMING is the first novel in a new urban fantasy series which gives a new twist to the Prince Charming tale.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. April /

    I like this series! I had it on my list for a long time but hesitated because I was afraid it was a Prince Charming tale but it really isn’t.

    • It has some problems, which become more pronounced with each book, but I like the protagonist so much that I don’t care.

  2. I really struggle with authors who mistake being a smart-ass for being interesting. It’s a way, way overused tool that must appeal to some demographic. Too often the smart mouth is paired with the ridiculously powerful antihero and that is almost as cliche as the unknowingly beautiful female badass….sigh….I begin to remember why I stopped reading this genre and now rely on you guys to review so I don’t read. you’re the best, Kat.

    • John, if you read this, let me know how you like it. I’m glad I could help! :)

      • Oh, trust me, with come recent DNF experience with the smart-mouth heroes that seem to be the norm in urban fantasy I have been steering clear of anything that has those kind of characters. As you know, I am very much a character driven reader so when the main character is annoying the story is seldom worth reading.

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