Published by Del Rey
May, 2011, Mass Market Paperback
Urban Fantasy – that subgenre of speculative fiction often featuring wizards, witches, vampires and the like – in a modern-day setting has been one of the most popular subsets of the genre in recent years. So, writers looking to break into the Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Simon R. Green crowd need to set themselves apart in some fashion. Well, not many feature a Druid as a protagonist, for one. Some of them feature all mythological/religious pantheons coexisting in the world. Many also feature a pet/familiar for their protagonist. Chances are; however, only Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles features all three elements, though I could be wrong. Mixing up familiar elements isn’t always a guarantee of success, but fortunately, Hearne is a terrific storyteller, with (and his protagonist Atticus O’Sullivan by extension) a great snarky wit.
Atticus is a 2,000-plus year old Druid who lives with his Irish Wolfhond Oberon in Tempe, Arizona; runs a shop that specializes in herbal remedies and arcane books; communes with Celtic and native American tribal gods, witches and all sort of supernatural characters. When his arch enemy cranks up the hunt for Atticus, the Druid decides to stop running and confront the Celtic God Aenghus Óg. Aenghus has a somewhat fair reason to have hounded Atticus (whose true name is Siodhachan O’Suileabhain), appropriated Aenghus’s magical sword Fragrach during a battle. So, Aenghus sends his minions after Atticus and the minions get more powerful as the novel progresses until there’s an all-out spectacular battle of magic, gods, and Tuatha Dé Danann to cap off this fine novel.
The plot is fairly straightforward, which allows Hearne to flesh out his characters and the magical world in which the story takes place. It seems as if All Myths and Gods are true in Hearne’s world or the world is a Fantasy Kitchen Sink, but in Hounded he focuses primarily on the Celtic/Druidic mythologies, such as the Morrigan (goddess of birth, fertility, and strife); Brighid (goddess of healing/fertility, patroness of fighting, and goddess of poetry), and of course the aforementioned Aenghus; the goddess of love. The only seeming consensus among all these gods is that none of them much care for Thor. Additionally, Atticus shares a mental bond pals with his Irish Wolfhound Oberon, as well as werewolf and vampire lawyers. Throw in references to comic books, genre, and hard rock music, and the book (and series for that matter) has all the makings of a terrific read sure to set off the buzzers for geek-savvy readers. Hearne’s writing/storytelling ability is on equal par with his ability to throw everything into his world, which amounts to a terrific and engaging debut novel and superb start to a series.
The tagline I’ve seen thrown around for this book/series is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods meets Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, which I feel is more than apt. Primarily for the heavy Celtic flavor, I’d also recommend these books to readers who enjoyed Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy. Hearne’s pacing and humor make the page turnings rather quickly, he’s got an addictive storytelling style. As a person who grew up with dogs and currently has a dog, I was very impressed with Hearne’s ability to really “get” the relationship between human and canine companion so much so that I imagine my dog thinking some of the same things Oberon says to Atticus. In the relationship between Atticus and Oberon, I was also reminded of Vlad Taltos and his familiar Loiosh, or even Harry Dresden and Bob the Skull. Having the protagonist/sidekick relationship allows for good story progression without the protagonist monotonously spouting a monologue at the reader and Hearne captured this element quite brilliantly, perhaps my favorite aspect of the novel.
At this point in 2011, Hounded is probably my favorite debut novel of the year, fast paced, entertaining and humorous. On to Hexed!
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford
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