Book One of the Pax Arcana
By Elliot James
Available now from Orbit (Hachette)
I loved the premise of CHARMING. The protagonist, John Charming, is from the Charming family - a long line of monster hunters who inspired the various Prince Charmings in fairytales. However, the book wasn't quite what I expected. It's a fairly typical kitchen sink urban fantasy setup with nary another fairytale related character in sight. I started reading the book to find out where Prince Charming came from, and that has absolutely zero to do with what actually happens. Now, as urban fantasy goes it wasn't bad, just not what I expected when I started.
"Wasn't bad" is actually about the sum of my reaction to CHARMING. I think the Pax Arcana series will grow into something I really like. John has been a loner for a long time, but he ends up working with a group of monster hunters who have been together awhile. I liked their camaraderie and personalities and look forward to seeing John really become a part of the group. There's a lot of potential here for a fun series with a strong ensemble, but the first book does have the burden of having to provide all of the set up in addition to a story.
CHARMING combines a case plot with a strong romantic plot - stronger that I've seen in most urban fantasies with male protagonists. Everything starts when a blonde walks into John's bar. That blonde is Sig, a Valkyrie. As the two work together to figure out what's up with the vampires lately, they start feeling an attraction. The problem: Sig already has a boyfriend. John's pursuit of an attached lady could be off-putting, but author Elliot James simplifies the potential conflict by making Sig's current squeeze loathsome. However, Sig herself is strongly moral and loyal. She's neither going to throw over her guy without good reason nor cheat on him.
Again, what I really have to give props to is the ensemble. For instance, two of the people on Sig's team are humans who stumbled into the whole monster fighting thing by accident: an exterminator and a priest. It's totally reasonable that they would happen upon things that go bump in the night, be traumatized by it, and keep fighting. The priest, Molly, was a particular highlight in all sorts of ways that I won't spoil here.
For now, I'd stick to renting CHARMING from the library if you're into slightly silly, slightly generic, slightly romantic urban fantasy. Still, I think this is a series to watch. I'll definitely be reading DASHING.