Many of us benefit from a change every now and then, and if you've been reading what feels like the "same old, same old" in the urban fantasy genre, I encourage you to give "Charming" by Elliott James a try. The lead character, John Charming, isn't a run-of-the-mill romantic hero. Although he comes from a long line of Charmings, they're not exactly the storybook princes one might expect. In fact, they're Knights Templar, whose job it is to maintain the barrier between the supernatural races and the mundane world. And although vampires and werewolves, arguably overused in recent years, are among those supernatural beings, so are others whom I haven't encountered in quite a while, if at all.
That variety was one of the things I enjoyed most about this book. I welcomed the chance to meet new types of characters — and even the vampires, the primary baddies here, had a different feel to them. Since Charming is living the racially-lengthened life of a kind of enforcer, he knows a lot about the backgrounds of assorted races and how they interact, and that information is shared with the reader. While some may not care for the "world-building", I found it interesting, like snippets from a good (and very wry) documentary. It often explained things that many authors gloss over. If it's really not your style, don't worry, it's only support structure, not the main focus. You can skip some of it if you absolutely must, just make sure you pay attention to the concept of the Pax Arcana.
If I were to pick my favorite aspect of the book, it would be how authentic Charming sounded. I admit to having gotten a bit disenchanted lately (small pun intended), feeling that a fair number of the first-person narrators I'd been reading sounded interchangeable. Worse, the snarky attitudes that many authors were trying to convey simply sounded labored and affected. Not here! Charming sounds like an actual person, not a construct. If he makes a snide observation, there's a good reason for it, and that reason isn't because an author is struggling to make a character seem "cool". What's more, Charming talks and thinks like a man, not like a masculinized woman. I'm reluctant to attribute that to the fact that his author is also male (if his brief, pseudonymous bio is to be trusted), in contrast to the more numerous female authors of urban fantasy whose work I've read, but I may possibly have to concede that point. At any rate, I found Charming's voice to be delightfully recognizable, slyly funny, appropriately gritty, believably incisive, and consistently genuine. What a pleasant and refreshing surprise.
While I was reading the book, I had a reaction that demonstrated to me how real that voice had become. Charming was facing a dilemma and had determined that a certain course of action was the way to deal with the situation. I instantly thought, "That means he's going to do such-and-such instead" (I don't want to give it away), and on the very next page, he did precisely what I had guessed. That's when I knew I was living in his head. Or perhaps he was living in mine. Either way, it's been a long time since I felt I knew a character's personality so fully.
The nature of the fantasy genre these days, whether urban or otherwise, frequently means that titles are published as part of a series. I have found myself getting more selective about which series I pursue beyond the first book. The time factor alone may cause me to cut candidates as if they were underperforming athletes on a professional sports team. There is no hesitation for me in this case, however. I am absolutely looking forward to reading the sequel, "Daring", which is due this September.
Incidentally, although our book group is "ladies only", I'd venture a guess that men can safely read and enjoy this selection without being embarrassed. With equal opportunity for equal fun, all are invited to have a Charming time.