Daring – Elliott James (Review)

Daring Elliott JamesDaring is the second book in the Pax Arcana series. I wrote about the first one here. Most of what I said then applies to this book too, so this post will focus more on the differences between them than standing as a full review on its own.

The basic concept is quickly explained – John Charming (a descendant of the inspiration for various Prince Charmings) is a monster hunter. He would rather be left alone by everyone, but that doesn’t happen.

This book picks up where the first one laid off – he’s still exiled from the Templars, still struggling with lycanthropy. His self-imposed isolation is broken when the Templars turn up  and forcibly reestablish contact. At the same time, his valkyrie romantic interest resurfaces, the werewolves are organising, and Eastern European witches are doing unsavoury things in the US.

One aspect of this book that I did like is that we get more background on the world – the Templars were the most interesting aspect of Charming, and in book two, they feature more prominently – actual characters rather than mysterious figures watching from the shadows. There isn’t an amazing amount of detail about them, but there are various Templar characters and settings featured, and we start to get hints that they aren’t as one-note as portrayed in the first book – even amongst the Templar leadership, there are factions and intrigues.

The werewolves also spring into prominence – as Charming adjusts to his lupine side, his involvement in werewolf society begins. The werewolves are trying to modernise, so there is a slightly different flavour to them than most other urban fantasy lycanthropes, but the key points are there – lots of leadership struggles and barely-contained aggression.

The first book had valkyries and lamias in, neither of which is particularly standard for the genre: vampires and werewolves are much more common, probably because they require far less set up than a creature your audience might not be familiar with. Daring likewise introduces some of the more uncommon monsters – wendigos and Baba Yaga (somewhat faithfully portrayed) both feature. It’s always nice to see authors deviating from the obvious, though urban fantasy is now so large that you can find a romanticized portrayal of almost anything now.

The biggest difference between Charming and its sequel is the scale. Charming focused mostly on the emotions of a damaged main charcter integrating into a small group. Even the main antagonist was localised – a vampire from the area, hunting in the area. Everything was very focused on one small area and the people within it.

Daring does not do the same. Charming is catapulted into a massive conflict, spread over a vast area. Characterisation takes a backseat to the twists and turns of the plot – everything hangs together, but some parts feel a little rushed, as though you don’t have time to digest one event before the narrative rockets off again.

One little thing that gnaws at me is the tagline for this book. Like the first, the cover bears the words “Not all princes are…” and then you have the title. It works for the first book, because Charming doesn’t fit the expected fairytale prince mold. It doesn’t for the second at all, because he is reasonably daring – he fights against difficult opponents because it is the right thing to do. Based on the evidence that the book presents, all princes are daring. It is an exceedingly minor quibble, but it worries at me whenever I see the title.

Daring is a solid continuation to Charming – the world gets more fleshed out, established plot hooks get developed in necessary ways. Just like the first book, it isn’t unmissable, but it is competent. It’s still a mostly original look at a genre that is often rather tired, and it tries for greater depth than a lot of other books do. Worth reading if you like urban fantasy, probably not if you aren’t sold on the whole concept.

Buy it here.

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