Hounded by Kevin Hearne was Fantasy Aficionados’ August group read (Urban Fantasy division) (the last one I was part of), and it was a fun read. Not perfect, but fun. My comment at one point was to the effect that this felt like an Irish whiskey-flavored Dresden. It’s not Dresden – Harry is still the king of urban fantasy (and Mercy Thompson is the (unrelated) queen) – but it was … well, fun.
There was some reluctance on the part of the male half of FA to read this, in large part because of the cover. I like it, a lot – but I’m not male. Hey, he has his shirt on, I don’t know what the problem is … Unless it’s that it garnered quite a bit of, shall we say enthusiasm? – from the female half. Pride, and prejudice. I like it. I like the ones for the second and third books even better.
It wasn’t PNR (paranormal romance). There was something that might be considered a romantic element, but which was actually simply the main character having sex with any willing female. It wasn’t graphic, and some of the willingness was more along the lines of insistence, some of the females in question being in fact goddesses… Anyway. Atticus didn’t mind.
Atticus O’Sullivan is he who is hounded, in more ways than one. (It’s kind of a great title.) He is a 2100 year old Druid, powerful and determined to add a couple more millennia to his tally. A while back – a long while – he absconded with a sword of great power, and ever since then one of the gods, Aengus Óg, has been after him to claim it. Fortunately for Atticus, not all of the Irish gods are on the same page, and he has some partisans – most notably the Morrígan, goddess of battle and fertility – and death. She’s the maiden and mother and crone, the one who claims the souls of the dead under her purview – and she has refrained from taking Atticus’s soul on a few occasions when she had a right to it. (Which doesn’t mean that the god or spirit of death from some other faith can’t snatch him, so her restraint is no guarantee of immortality. All gods are real, in this world – Jesus and Mary are great people, thanks very much, though Americans’ image of them is so muddled that they can’t appear as often as others. Can’t argue with that.) The Morrígan is not quite an ally, quite – but she’s on roughly the same side. Mostly. From Wikipedia: “She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors, and in the Ulster cycle she also takes the form of an eel, a wolf and a cow.” – Here she is often the crow; the ability to appear in a quartet of animal shapes is something Kevin Hearne weaves into the story. Well done.
The other aspect of the pun in the title is Atticus’ constant companion, an Irish wolfhound named Oberon – otherwise known as the most universally adored part of the book according to the other reviews I’ve looked at. He’s a rescue whom Atticus has taught to speak mind to mind, and who provides both heart and simple fun to the story. I loved Oberon – no, she added hastily, thinking of FA, not nearly as much as Harry Dresden’s Mouse; but he was lovely. My only hesitation was that his thoughts were in sentences a little too well-constructed, his vocabulary a little too broad. I would not want a book full of “Me want poodle”, but a little more simplicity would have felt more right to me. There was a “doggy” feel to some of his comments, but it was the sort of “doggy” that you get in cartoons – happy, eager, simple, and a little slobbery. I liked it, it read well for me for the most part, but it was a bit too humanized. The goddesses who made appearances seemed to function on a more basic level than Oberon – but I pretty much excused it as a result of hanging out with a Druid. That’s bound to have an effect.
Another quibble I had with the book – and it is explained, but is still a quibble – was Atticus’s power. He’s just about as powerful as the gods – more powerful, in fact, as he has defeated a couple. Killed them. Granted, he’s brilliant and has had a couple of millennia to hone his power, whereas the gods seem to use their time in pursuit of amusement for the most part … Thing is, though, if Atticus is so brilliant, and he’s trying to hide out from Aengus in Arizona, why does he use the name O’Sullivan? His actual, original name is (insert version of Seamus O’Sullivan here) – it doesn’t take a Druid to figure out that O’Sullivan is simply the Anglicization of his name. Not that it’s the most uncommon name there is, but still – why not at least go with O’Malley or something? (Sorry – minor Dresden humor.) It’s a small quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.
This was well-written. I appreciated the depth of knowledge and respect Hearne seems to have for Celtic mythology and history; I appreciated the tone of the work, and the characterizations of the gods. The Celtic god of love is not Cupid. The sense of humor in the first-person narrative is one of the main reasons to become fond of Atticus – and the humor started with the dedication. (“Hey, Mom!”) It manages to avoid most of the clichés that have developed in urban fantasies, except perhaps in Mrs. MacDonagh (the elderly Irish widow neighbor of Atticus whose yard he keeps up, and whose eyes are opened in the course of the book to his actual nature); I’m not sure how I felt about her. She came the closest to being a “shure and begorrah!” kind of Irish character.
One thing that came up in discussion of the book, which I didn’t really think of as I read but which clicked afterward, was the fact that putting your main character in peril when it’s a first-person narrative from his point of view is tricky – after all, if he’s telling me the story he obviously lived through it. (Jim Butcher manages, though …) Atticus may be a little too indestructible – and it’s no fun to read about the adventures of someone who can simply shrug off most dangers.
Then again, the dangers that Atticus can’t shrug off are guaranteed to be big and bad – and therefore interesting. One more reason to look forward to the rest of the series.
And to the pair of short stories available, one posted free on Hearne’s website. And it is in that story that I found this:
“They were waiting for one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and those were precisely the Irish gods from whom I was hiding. Originally they were mere Druids, like me, and were bound to the earth – as I am – through their tattoos. At first glance, it would be easy to mistake me for one of them.”
Which actually throws me off … the Tuatha Dé are not usually human, by any stretching of the word. So now I’m having doubts about his worldbuilding. But it does go a ways toward explaining Atticus’s comparative strength.
I’m not going to make a spectacular effort to get my hands on the rest of the series to date; three of the six projected books have been released to date, and I may just hold out a little while longer. But it’s nice to know there’s a series out there in which the Irish is a whiff of peat and whiskey, and not Lucky Charms. I’m grateful for that.
People used to say obvious things ironically or as a form of understatement, but in the last few decades they seem to say it with a sense of discovery, and it worries me. – from free short story Clan Rathskellar