Charming is a paranormal urban fantasy with strong romantic elements and a good sense of both fun and drama. I liked the main character, I adored the supporting characters, and I enjoyed the book as a standalone although I’m also looking forward to more from the series. Charming is not a Romance Novel but it does have a solid romance at its core.
Here’s the publisher’s summation of the premise:
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 chainmail and crossbows to Kevlar and shotguns, he was one of the best. That is — until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt.
That was a lifetime ago. Now, he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. One that shouldn't change just because a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar… Right?
By far the best thing about this book is that it’s both funny and emotionally engaging. John ends up with a team of fellow demon fighters who are trying to eliminate a particularly viscous vampire and her vampire gang. The characters have real pain in their lives but they also have the ability to cope by using the powerful defense mechanism of snark, and I LOVE snark. Allow me to share a snippet of conversation between John and two of his teammates, Choo and Molly. Molly has limited combat skills but is invaluable in a fight because as an ex-Episcopalian priest she can do things like bless holy water. Molly wears Christmas sweaters all the time because Christmas makes her happy. We love her. With apologies to any easily offended Episcopalians:
“You just quoted something, didn’t you,” I asked
“Yes I did,” Molly agreed. “From Dusk Till Dawn. It’s a vampire movie with George Clooney”.
“Is it too late to get a different priest?” Choo wondered. “Like maybe one who quotes the Bible?”
Later Molly explains,
“Episcopalians will let anybody in. It’s all the drinking that goes on at our conferences. Half the time when our bishops raise their hands to vote, they think they’re ordering another scotch”.
I looked at her suspiciously. “You blessed the holy water before you started this conversation, right?”
I’m sad to say that the book isn’t actually about Molly, but that’s OK, because the lead character, (and narrator) John Charming, is pretty nifty too. He has angst, so you want to give him a hug, and he’s funny and smart, so you want to hang out with him, and he has a tendency to end up nude at the oddest times, which makes you want to, you know, play Scrabble or something. It doesn’t hurt that he has a thing for powerful women. He’s never threatened by Sig (more about her to follow). The tougher she is, the more turned on he gets, and I like that in a guy. I’m not crazy about the fact that he pursues Sig romantically even though she is in a committed relationship. The author hedges here by making Sig’s partner as horrible as possible so it’s hard to be all, “Oooh, bad ethics!” and easy to say “Yeah, get her away from the scumbag! He has no appreciation for snark and therefore he must go! Also he’s a psycho!”
Sig is the blonde that walks into the bar. Unlike John, she has a strong sense of ethics, and even though I wanted her to leave her jerky boyfriend, I respected her for, for instance, refusing to have sex with John until she as officially, face to face, broken it off with her current boyfriend. Sig is a Valkyrie and she is as kickass as you might suppose, given the fact that her name is not short for “Sigourney” but for a kind of handgun. Even though she is a supporting player, she’s not “the chick”. She has her own struggles going on, and some involve John and some don’t. She’s a person, not a convenient indicator that our hero is hot. Still, she largely remains a mystery and I would have loved to have a chapter or two from her point of view.
My biggest test for whether I call something a Romance Novel is whether or not I as a reader care more about the romance than any other aspect of the book. In this case, I cared about the romance, but I was mostly in it because I liked John’s voice, and the ensemble cast, the leather jackets, and the supernatural stuff (and the snark – let’s never forget the snark). That doesn’t mean that the romance is bad, it just shifts it for me from an official Romance Novel to a novel with a strong romance. This distinction is important, because while the ending isn’t a cliffhanger, it also doesn’t feature the main couple running off to the chapel. I loved the ending – I thought it was both satisfying and realistic, and it left me feeling like the lead characters were going to be OK. It’s just not as dramatic and full of lifetime commitment as most romance novels are, which makes a lot of sense given what it going on with the characters at the time.
This book had one major flaw, and that was that the fight scenes are far too lengthy and detailed. They aren’t unusually gory (there’s gore, but not Quentin Tarentino levels of gore). The problem is that the author describes every second of every fight in minute details. Some of those fights go on forever. They are actually fairly interesting, because the details show the techniques and strategy of the hero. It’s not all “Me punch, you dodge, you punch, me dodge”. If this played out visually, in a TV show or movie, I’d be lauding the fight scenes to the skies because of the thought that goes into them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work on the page, because it slows things down. As much as I appreciate the attention to detail, I want story, not a martial arts textbook.
Normally I advise not judging a book by its cover, especially if it’s science fiction, romance, or fantasy. But I adored this cover and frankly it sums up the book pretty darn well. If you like the cover, you’ll like the book. If not, the book will be OK. It will pass the time. Personally, I have just discovered that apparently I have a little fetish for guys with leather jackets and glowing swords and foggy streets and fairy tale fonts. I’m giving this a B+, with the understanding that either this is your kind of thing or it isn’t, but if you do like this kind of thing, you’ll be very happy indeed.