Charming by Elliott James
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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…”
This is a pretty interesting concept: Prince Charming is actually a catch-all name for a family of monster hunters down through the ages. Their daring deeds were immortalized in stories until people forgot that the tales had a basis in truth. I’ve read a lot about fairy tales over the years, especially about their symbolism and their function, and this fits in with those theories quite neatly. The idea of couching a lesson or a “universal truth” in the cloak of an innocuous story is hardly a new one, but I haven’t seen it applied in this way before.
Once this is established, the author plays around with the concept of what happens when the good guy is changed into a creature that we think of as the bad guys. John Charming has, against almost all logic, been infected by a werewolf. Classically, werewolves are savage, mindless beasts that kill anyone they come across (paranormal romance authors notwithstanding). Charming spends a lot of the novel in situations that force him to come to grips with something that’s a part of him… something that he’d rather deny.
I found that I really liked Charming—not in the “Oh my God, this guy is so cool” kind of liking, but the “This is a stand-up guy that I can see being friends with” kind of liking. He reminded me of a less snarky version of Harry Dresden. Charming gets in his share of quips and does his share of getting into trouble, but it’s not big and flashy. His werewolf abilities aren’t full-fledged and he doesn’t do magic, but he makes up for it by being resourceful and honest. He’s definitely not perfect, but he does keep trying to do the right thing.
There is a love triangle, which is almost a matter of course in an urban fantasy novel. But while not everyone involved handles it in a mature manner, Charming does (for the most part). There’s less of the angst and woe that epitomizes most relationships of this nature in fiction. It made for a refreshing change from the norm.
The plot made for a fun read, with threats coming to Charming and company from without and within. The action moves around a lot and takes place in several different locations, and it’s not just the same recycled fight over and over again. Nor are they the long, protracted battles that you so often see; instead, what happens here is often short, brutal and bloody.
My one quibble with the book is that there are a few places where the author digresses into infodump territory. The reason given for this is that Charming is writing this book as a roundabout way to warn “normal” people about what’s out there and why certain things happen. Some of it is interesting, but occasionally it’s in a place that slows down the story’s pace. I wonder if it would have worked better to have some of that info in an appendix or something, because I’ve seen that used to good effect in other books.
Charming is a fun start to a series. I enjoyed reading it, and I honestly liked the main character. James has a lot of good ideas and seems to have a solid idea as to how to flesh them out into a cohesive world. I think this is one of those books that is likely to deserve more attention than it gets, so I’ll do my part and tell you to go and pick this one up.