"I stopped believing in 'happily ever after' a long time ago, Anna Marie," I said. "You don't know what I'm capable of."
This one's a bit of a tough call for me to rate.
I haven't read a lot of fantasy books written by male authors because it feels a bit intimidating to me (the potential for nerdspeak is too great and I don't know how much my plebeian mind can handle). But after reading 14 barely a month ago, I think I'm starting to sense a common thread, one I'm eager to put to the test in the next male-penned fantasy read (no not you GRRMartin, you go back and finish your series first).
Charming is told from the POV of its protagonist, John Charming and if that doesn't perk your interest at first glance, maybe the premise will.
In the world imagined by Elliott James, we are protected from the supernatural plane by the Pax Arcana, think an impenetrable wall that separates us from the paranormal: magic, monsters and mayhem. The integrity of the Pax is looked after by the Knights Templar who are not only bound by a spell (gaea) to hunt and eliminate any supernatural being that poses a threat to its function, but also trains men to further their cause.
I'm a bit fuzzy on how these men are chosen but one of these men is John Charming, from the long illustrious line of Charmings of lore.
Yeah those may or may not be his (not so) great grand-daddies (I'm marginally sure not Simba though). With less crazy eyes and none of the glass slippers, kiss of life BS but more on the dragon slaying, monsters hunting and witch killing tradition. But in a cruel twist of fate, John becomes one such monster making him the hunted by his brethren, leading him to live the life of a fugitive, working as a bartender in a pub in nowheresville, keeping his head down.
Until a six-foot blonde woman and a vampire walks in his life… which also meant an exterminator, a detective, an Episcopalian priestess and a couple of vampire hunters walk in to his life.
What I loved about this book is that John was a snarky little smartass that made the story, more often than not, readable and genuinely entertaining. I could easily throw him in the douchebag pile but for some reason I don't think he belongs with Daemon, Dante, Dex and Drew, not because his name is John but mostly because he didn't come across as arrogant to me . He was just a wiseass with a good enough backstory to make the reader care for him. He's also a brilliant narrator, most of the time, cleverly phrasing his accounts and recollections when he doesn't venture into Dane Cook territory of funny (which is NOT).
I really enjoyed reading his banter with all of the characters but I liked his dialogues with Sig best. Whether they are giving each other shit, teaming up to give someone else crap or Sig just handling John was loads of fun. As a heroine she was a bit of a slow grower on me because I thought her strengths could very well be her weakness in that she had no vulnerability whatsoever. But her own backstory was pretty solid despite my difficulty of imagining a six-foot tall blonde woman who doesn't look like
Taydolf Swiftler Taylor Swift. (mostly because I've been imguring again)
"I've wanted you ever since I saw you in that stupid bar."
"I wanted you from the start too," I assured her.
"Yes but I'm good at judging people." Her tone was arch. "You just thought I had nice boobs."
"Well in my own defense…"
The story was well-paced, everything happened in a span of weeks and there's a good number of action sequences that ended this side of gory that made me quite happy. I also appreciate that there's enough emotional backstory for each of the characters to merit some sympathy.
My problem lay with the infodump . I don't mind the attempt to integrate a wide variety of mythologies in the story and I found the wikipedializing interesting in certain stretches with setting certain traditional beliefs straight or giving the proper backstory to the supernatural lore. What I did mind was how these were weaved in the story in such a way that it interrupted the flow of the narrative and thus messed with the flow of my joy and understanding of what the hell is going on.
So you get an intense scene where John's trying to keep himself alive form getting killed in a gnarly way...oh,but wait! He has to explain the merits of the creature's history, abilities and how to kill it before he actually kills it. My interest waxed and waned so many times particularly on the first half of this book that at one point I've already decided on a 2-star rating just out of sheer annoyance. And no, that little thing at the end where he excuses the infodump as his contribution to helping us prepare for the inevitable breakdown of the Pax doesn't make it all okay.
The other thing that bothered me was the nerdy-cool overkill . I understand that due to the nature of the story, with John being trained to be a buffet assassin for all kinds of paranormal creatures, his skill-set has to be varied. But I can also imagine how his character was put together:
✓ So he's the descendant of those Prince Charmings…
✓ Oh and he's a half werewolf.
✓ And he has to wield a katana! (cool!)
✓ And a wakizashi!! (double cool!)
✓ And know all these kenjutsu techniques and hand to hand combat shiz!!! (super double cool!)
✓ And how to make things go splodin with guns and grocery stuff!!! (I have gone blind from the coolness that froze my retinas!!!)
✓ And he has to know how to Australian rappel(huh?)
He's a motherchucking badass, we get it, trying too hard kind of negates the message.
This was actually counterproductive to how the plot progressed towards the end because the fight versus the vampires felt grossly skewed in Team Charming's favor that I sniffed out the plot twist a good few chapters before it happened.
I can see those who enjoy their urban fantasy/PNR reads with a healthy dash of humor AND a healthier interest on world mythology enjoying this, so definitely recommended if you fall on both categories.
But proceed with caution AND extreme patience if you're like me who can't skim pages even if your life depended on it (it's a curse I have to live with).
ARC provided by Orbit Books thru NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.