Published 2011 289 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Atticus O'Sullivan, last of the Druids, has a peaceful life running an occult bookshop in Arizona. His neighbours and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old – when in fact, he's twenty-one centuries old. He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.
Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he's hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power – plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish – to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.
Hounded is the first novel in The Iron Druid Chronicles urban fantasy series by newly published author Kevin Hearne. The story follows the modern day magical adventures of Atticus, an ancient druid (the world’s last real druid) in present day Arizona.
Forget any preconceived notions you may have about druids being old men with long robes and even longer beards, Atticus appears to be a youthful 21 year old Irish lad with red hair and goatee combined with the fairest of white skin. Arizona, with its relentlessly sunny days and baking desert heat, may seem an odd choice of living place for a tree-loving druid with such delicate skin, but Atticus has his reasons for choosing the American South West. He is hiding out from Aenghus Og, the Celtic god of love (who’s not particularly loving and certainly has no love for Atticus) whom he believes has stolen a magical sword that should rightfully be his. Arizona is about as far away from the Old World fae gateways as Atticus can get making it difficult for the Celtic gods of old and their fae compatriots to sneak up on him.
Comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s fantasy masterpiece American Gods are pretty much inevitable at this point. Both books litter the streets of America with forgotten deities but while Gaiman’s America isn’t kind to its gods, Hearne’s gods suffer few restrictions – giving them plenty of scope to make mayhem and delivering an altogether more action packed rollercoaster ride of a story.
Hounded is much faster paced than American Gods, its protagonist Atticus is a more easily, instantly likable fellow and its narrative style shows true writer’s craft with so much action and emotion conveyed in a ridiculously short word count. It embraces the best conventions of the urban fantasy genre – supernatural action, snappy dialogue, plenty of kick-ass action and comedy side kick (Oberon, the Irish wolfhound) – without falling into any of the common pitfalls of this genre. The pitfalls are well documented to regular readers of UF reviews on this site but for those who haven’t heard me say this before, as a reader I am turned off the UF genre by some of its overly indulgent female protagonists who appear to be more ridiculous than symbols of female empowerment. In other words I’m fed up with the prevalence of mouthy, arrogant, leather-pant wearing women who would be too-stupid-to-live if they didn’t have supernatural powers to help them out where basic intelligence has failed them. Thankfully, Atticus with his Y chromosome is exempt from UF fail.
Since Hounded has a male protagonist, comparisons with Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden are also fairly inevitable. There are some pleasing parallels between the Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan – they are both nice guys and talented magic users who aren’t afraid to take on bad guys way outside of their weight class. And both like to make nerdish Star Wars asides within the narrative. What self-respecting fantasy fan wouldn’t be pleased to read about that?
Hounded is vividly imagined – it seamlessly combines the gods and supernatural beings of diverse traditional mythologies in new and original ways. Here is a story where a druid, a blood-sucking vampire attorney, evil witches and even Death himself can rub shoulders with assorted gods and goddesses in most believable and entertaining ways.
Hounded is a strong start to the Iron Druid Chronicles. The series benefits from a swift publication schedule with the first three novels all available during summer 2011, meaning that reading momentum need not be lost while waiting for the next instalment. Hounded is hugely readable, vastly entertaining and highly recommended – miss it at your peril!
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