Hounded by Kevin Hearne (2011)
As much as I try to read what is already on my bookshelf or loaded onto my Kindle, there are times when I just want to buy a new, shiny book. This is how I discovered Hounded by Kevin Hearne. I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to read and I spent a while searching Earth’s biggest bookstore, but I eventually stumbled onto this book and it seemed like it might be what I was looking for, so I took a chance and splurged. Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid Chronicles, didn’t disappoint.
The protagonist is Atticus O’Sullivan, a 2,100-year-old Druid who lives in Tempe, Arizona and runs an occult shop that sells, among other things, various kinds of teas. He rides his bike to work, takes the time to chat with the elderly widow, Mrs. Donaghue, who lives on his street and does various tasks and yard work for her. Mrs. Donaghue is Irish and feels a kinship with Atticus for that reason. He also has an Irish wolfhound named Oberon who he can communicate with telepathically. The relationship between Atticus and Oberon is wonderful; it adds humor and emotion to the story. These two relationships appear to be the most trusting, loyal, and important connections he has with others. For centuries, Atticus has been hiding out from his archenemy, Aenghus Og, the god of love in Atticus’ pantheon of gods. It turns out that over two thousand years ago, Atticus came into possession of a sword of power—Fragarach, the Answerer—and Aenghus has wanted it back ever since. Indeed, that is the main plot of this book—Aenghus Og’s pursuit of Atticus and Fragarach, and the machinations he employs to get what he wants while Atticus, of course, spends his time trying to thwart Aenghus’ evil master plan. True to the conventions of myths involving heroes and gods, Atticus is both helped and hindered by other gods within his pantheon, and also true to convention, the motives of those gods is sometimes suspect and self-interested. Case in point, Atticus has a long history with the Morrigan, goddess of death, and Flidais, goddess of the hunt. In this book he meets Brighid, who is the current reigning god of the Fae realm. As the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that these goddesses are very willing to use Atticus as a pawn to achieve their own ends.
In addition to the supporting characters listed above, Atticus is friends with the local Tempe pack of werewolves, one of whom—Hal Hauk—is his attorney of record. His other attorney—Leif—is a vampire, and at times, Atticus pays Leif’s attorney fees with a glass of his own blood, which of course, being 2,100 years old, carries lots of power. Rounding out the supporting cast is Granuaile, a mysterious young woman who works in one of Atticus’ favorite watering holes and Malina Kosolowski, a witch in the local coven (and by the way, Atticus does not like or trust witches). It seems to me that based upon the way Hounded ends, these two characters have the potential to become integral parts of the world that Hearne is creating. In sum, one of the things I liked about this book is that as a first book in a series, it presents an interesting and, dare I say it, fresh cast of supporting characters that don’t feel like recycled character types and stories. I also liked these characters and wanted to get to know more about each of them. And although Atticus very much belongs in the category of loner, supernatural, long-lived protagonists, I don’t feel like he’s a carbon copy of every other male protagonist I encounter in urban sci-fi/fantasy.
I said this before in my review of Fated by Benedict Jacka, but one of the things I want from the first book in a series is for it to give me a reason to want to pick up the second book in the series straightaway. While I didn’t feel that Fated was as successful as it could have been on that particular level, I do think Hounded succeeds without question. The characters and the world that Hearne is building are appealing and engaging, and the pace of the novel was fast but not rushed or clumsy. I had a hard time putting the book down when bedtime rolled around, and I couldn’t wait to pick it back up again after work. I compare this book to Fated because it was the last first-book-in-the-series that I read, but the reality is that I tend to compare all books in this genre that feature a male protagonist to one of my favorite series—Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. I doubt Harry and Atticus would get along, but I do think they would respect each other. So many of the things I love about the Dresden series are present in the Iron Druid series, and that’s a compliment I haven’t paid to a book in a while. I was inclined to pick up the next Alex Verus book to see how Jacka would continue to evolve his characters and his fictional world, but I wasn’t in a hurry to get my hands on the next installment. My response to Hearne’s series is different in that I really do want to read the next installment and at this point, I can see myself consuming each book in rapid fashion if I don’t restrain myself.
If you enjoy the Harry Dresden books, or if you enjoy urban sci-fi/fantasy featuring strong male protagonists and good supporting characters that aren’t merely tools for advancing the action and creating tension and conflict, or if you enjoy serial fiction and are in the market for a new series, I would recommend sampling this first book in the Iron Druid Chronicles. It’s not the same old, same old worn-out story with the same old, same old worn out characters. It’s fun, light, and satisfying.