I was looking for something to fill in the wasteland before the next Jim Butcher book, and although Elliott James has a way to go before he reaches Butcher’s standard, I congratulate myself on having made a good decision when I picked this one up.
John Charming, sort-of-werewolf and definite bartender, is the main character. He’s on the run from the Knights, whose job it is to enforce the Pax Arcana, which is a spell enforced policy of leaving supernatural wotsits alone as long as they keep their heads down. Anyone sticking their head up gets it shot off. Being a werewolf is a career-ending state, and the knights would like it to be a life-ending state.
I liked John. He has a nice, self-deprecating sense of humour, and is tough without being an eye-rolling cliche. James puts him in quite a few situations, ranging from the embarrassing to the dangerous, and I enjoyed the way John reacted. Especially to the embarrassing ones. The man actually thinks with his brain rather than his… other parts. In some ways, that’s a pretty courageous decision on the part of the author; it means James actually has to put actual plot in place instead of just have the MC commit hormone-fuelled stupidity to move things along.
Sig, female, is the secondary character. I really liked Sig. If it’s rare to have a male MC who doesn’t commit testosterone-fulled stupidity, it’s even rarer to have a female character who manages to keep her brain operating all the way through the book and doesn’t fall over backwards as soon as a hot guy shows up. There was a lot to like about Sig: she’s intelligent, tough, and a leader.
There are other characters – Molly the episcopalian priest, Choo the exterminator and Man With Van, plus others – who all have their own personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. I seriously hope that James is building a team for keeps here, because I want to hear more about these people. It’s also noteworthy that the MC doesn’t immediately take over and start being better than every other character at what they do. The dynamics between all the characters felt reasonably realistic as a team.
Was not terribly complicated. This is where James has a way to go before he reaches Jim Butcher’s standards. Still, it kept moving, and it kept me interested. The pacing suffered somewhat from a lot of exposition in the early stages, but picked up after that. I would recommend, if you’re a bit ambivalent about the first bits, that you carry on reading at least a third of the way through.
James has some interesting ideas, and doesn’t just follow the usual urban fantasy tropes. It’s not as dark as The Dresden Files, but it’s not rainbows and unicorns either.
The Bad Bits
There honestly weren’t many. I could definitely have done without the heavy slugs of exposition, but hey, it’s the first book in the series, and I survived. Hopefully, he won’t see the need in future books.
And on the very, very last page, he did an irritating thing that actually appears on a couple of ‘reader pet peeve’ lists I’ve seen. But it was only one page and though it scraped across my mind like fingers across a blackboard, I survived that too.
This book didn’t exactly knock my socks off (four out of five stars, but only just), but it’s joined my list of good urban fantasy that I’m going to carry on with. Given the style of the book as a whole, I’m expecting that further books will improve as there is less need for exposition, and more room for plot.