Saturday, June 8, 2013

REVIEW: Charming by Elliott James

Charming (Pax Arcana, #1) Charming by Elliott James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost rated the book a 2-stars had the positives not outweighed the negatives.

+ the world building

Info-dumping thrived like weeds, and my patience neared bottom level after a couple chapters. Yet, because the info-dumping was relevant and interesting and didn’t interfere with the action scenes, it didn’t become as big an issue for me as it could have easily been. Astoundingly, the plot kept to a brisk pace.

I really liked how the book didn’t stick to a particular Western mythology for its world building, that it went beyond to include Eastern elements. The deft mixing of diverse elements in its world building, from a naga to being one of the characters to the villains using Vietnamese guerrilla warfare √† la Viet Cong, reminded me of the great world building in the Kate Daniel series, one of my favorite Urban Fantasies.

+ the characters

I also liked how diverse the characters were, considering the fact that they were sketched from cliches. For example, Parth was the token geek character. What made him beyond a cliche was the fact that he was a naga, one of the most dangerous paranormal creatures, and thus powerful in his own right. I always hate it when geek characters are made stereotypically weak. Molly was the token priest character suffering a crisis of faith. What made her beyond a cliche was how she was a woman Christian priest who despite the crisis her faith remained strong and an effective weapon against vampires as she tried to work through her issues by kicking paranormal evils’ ass. I loved how she pretty much defied the stereotype of an intolerant, chauvinistic, kill-all-the-nonhumans-(and humans sympathizing with nonhumans) priest.

Molly’s character compensated for the fact that among the villains were the knights who were these fanatic bigots who hate and wish to kill all paranormals no matter the cost, the “who gives a shit if a great number of innocent humans die in the process, it’s for the greater good, let God sort them out” kind of cost. Though the sides were black and white, which usually tugs on my suspension of disbelief, the development of the bad guys made them believable. In other words, it took no effort for me to believe in the bad guys.

One thing that did tug my suspension of disbelief and tugged hard was the character development of the hero, John Charming. Because of his very tragic, frequently detailed past, the guy was supposed to have major trust issues and major aversion to forming social ties. Yet the way he acted throughout the story was completely to the contrary. He didn’t leave town the moment other paranormals were aware of him, he didn’t leave town the moment Sig and her friends found out about his true identity because practically everyone who found out tried to kill him. He fell for Sig despite the last time that he was in love the romance ended on a tragic note with his fianc√© dead. He made friends with some of Sig’s comrades despite the multitude of past betrayals he suffered and how anyone that ever got close to him lived an unexpectedly short life, and the list goes on.

Fortunately, what saved the character for me was his foresight, his strong abilities and success in battles, the fact that he thought things through and thought cleverly, and most importantly, the fact that he confronted his issues head on. I really liked how he openly communicated his thoughts and feelings, especially when they were in regard to Sig, his love interest. I was amused by how some of Sig’s comrades recognized their coupling was inevitable and not-so-subtly matchmade the two, never mind the obstacle that was her ex-boyfriend (It’s Complicated) who wanted her back. The fourth wall was pierced to send a message: lookee here, strong male lead *points to John*, strong female lead *points to Sig*, now get together and kiss *shove the two heads face-to-face*. The self-deprecating romance mixed in well with the save-the-town-from-evil-vampires plot and was far from being angsty as I feared.

The evil vampires were admirably cunning. I loved that vampire queen wanna-be was so cunning, using modern day technology to recruit and avoid detection and putting in the infrastructure for an empire, that the good guys had to think quick and well and do a lot of planning to take down the mad girl. I was delighted that both the villains and heroes were competent, especially with the heroes and their planning because it is rare in Urban Fantasy that heroes plan things out. Irritatingly, way more often than not, Urban Fantasy heroes react to shit as it hits the fan and have to run a good long distance before they catch up with the villains.

In regard to the villains, the thing that anchored the book into “like” territory was its theme of “Monsters versus Humans, oh wait, turns out the Humans are Monsters too,” that it was not what the characters were that mattered but the fact that the evils they did were evils of human provenance. I love it when books dissect the idea of what it means to be human and point out the fact that human and good can be mutually exclusive aspects.

In Conclusion

I rate Charming 3-stars for I liked it. I had issues with the world building and the hero but they had enough good things to win me over.

Goodreads | Amazon

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