Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: 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.
If you live long enough, you rack up a fair number of enemies. Atticus O’Sullivan is a 2,100-year-old Druid, and he knows this much to be true – especially since he’s had an ongoing tiff with the Celtic God of Love, Aenghus Óg, for a few centuries now. It’s over a sword. And the fact that Atticus isn’t as easy to kill as Óg would like to believe.
Luckily for Atticus; Tempe, Arizona has the least number of gods per capita, and for the most part he’s left to run his occult bookshop, Third Eye Books and Herbs, in peace. Sure, he has a vampire and alpha werewolf on retainer as his lawyers. He has a wobbly treaty with the local witch coven. And The Morrigan frequently pops in for a visit and foreboding. But for the most part, Atticus is content to blend into this University town and play up his 21-year-old looks and live a quiet life as the last Druid in the world. He’s content with his Irish wolfhound companion, Oberon (whom he shares a telepathic link) and to ogle the local bartender beauty, Granuaile.
Life is good.
And then Aenghus Óg steps up the attempts on his life. Suddenly there’s no one Atticus can trust, and his quiet little life is about to come under threat . . .
‘Hounded’ is the first book in Kevin Hearne’s urban fantasy series, ‘The Iron Druid Chronicles.’
This series started back in 2011, and since then Hearne has kept a steady pace of releases – with six ‘Iron Druid’ books currently out, and at least three more in the works. I actually bought ‘Hounded’ when it first came out, based on little more than snatches of the blurb and that fabulous cover. Hearne went on to release three more books in 2011, and I decided to sit back and amass the series a little bit, enjoy the build-up and anticipation before plunging in. It’s 2013 now, and I've managed to collect all six books, so now I think it’s high time I leapt in . . .
These books are funny. That has to be said first of all because when other elements weren’t quite working for me, it was Hearne’s wit and Atticus’s humour that kept me going and ensured I'd be back for more. Atticus was really the saving grace for me in this book, because if his first-person narrative hadn’t been so entertaining I’m not sure I'd have been as sold on the world-building promises. But Atticus is a fine hero to go on a journey with (good to know, when I've got six books to spend with him!). He’s 2000-years-old, and seen things. He lets little bits of his history show, but as this is the first book Hearne & Atticus are keeping the cards close to their chests – so you’ll get a little aside about the Crusades being what turned Atticus off violence, or that his father threw him in a tar pit to teach him to ‘man up’ – but he doesn’t dwell on his past and lets very little slip. Sometimes this didn’t work for me, but I also loved that Atticus is a character beautifully blended of modernity and history. So occasionally you’ll get one-liner gems like his one (discussing Thor);
. . . in the parlance of our times, he was a douche bag.
Brilliant. Also adding to the humour in the book is Atticus’s trusty Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom he shares a telepathic link. Oberon was marvellous, and probably my favourite character ever (someone tell me he’s won a sidekick award!). Oberon is poodle-obsessed and very impressionable; one bath-time tale about Genghis Khan and he starts begging Atticus to start a land war in Asia. I also relied on Oberon to bring me back to this series, because he’s the one aspect of Atticus’s life that hinted a bit at the dearth of his loneliness and revealed his true heart.
And that was the thing; Atticus was funny and wise, but throughout the book I felt a disconnect. Here he is, the last Druid. Two thousand years old, the very last of his kind. But I felt like at the end of the book, I didn’t really know Atticus all that much and besides thinking he had a good sense of humour, I wasn’t entirely sure I had learnt a whole hell of a lot about him. Now, like I said, this is the first book in a long series so I'd hate for Hearne to lay all his cards on the table. But I wanted to get a sense that we (as readers) were meeting Atticus at the start of this series, at a time when he’s ready to reconnect. And I felt there was plenty of opportunity for Hearne to highlight Atticus’s loneliness – there’s a pack of werewolves, a coven of witches and the gods all seem to be in cahoots . . . but Atticus is on his lonesome. Except he didn’t seem all that fussed. Sure, Oberon has clearly filled some of that love and affection for him (because, make no mistake, these two have got ‘buddy-cop’ written all over them) I guess I wanted more evidence that Atticus was ready for more human connections.
He is friends with a widowed Irishwoman neighbour, Mrs. MacDonagh, but their bizarre friendship was often used as comic relief as opposed to genuine connection. Then there’s barmaid Granuaile, a beautiful red-headed twenty-two-year-old who Atticus can’t quite figure out. She’s woefully under-cooked in this first book, but looking at the cover for ‘Trapped’, I can guess she becomes a bigger player (drats that it’s five books down the queue though).
The world-building was pretty good in this book, though I did feel like Hearne was chucking everything in for good measure. In this world, all gods are real – from Allah to Jesus and Buddha. They all exist right now, in some form or other, and for the most part they piss off the little supernatural’s with their godly behaviour;
“So God really exists?”
“All the gods exist, or at least did exist at one time.”
“But I mean Jesus and Mary and all that lot.”
“Sure, they existed. Still do. Nice people.”
“I've never personally met him, but I have no doubt he’s around somewhere. Allah is doing his thing too, and so are Buddha and Shiva and the Morrigan and so on. The point is, Mrs. MacDonagh, that the universe is exactly the size that your soul can encompass. Some people live in extremely small worlds, and some live in a world of infinite possibility. You have just received some sensory input that suggests it’s bigger than you previously thought. What are you going to do with that information? Will you deny it or embrace it?”
This world premise is quite fun, and I can now see why the series has a nine-book trajectory. When no gods are off-limits; every religion, myth and magic could potentially crop up in the books, no wonder Hearne has yet to tap the bottom of the ‘Iron Druid Chronicles’. Though in this first book he brings out a lot of minor Celtic gods that were hard to keep track of; on top of a brewing witch war, mentions of werewolf pack hierarchy, some Native American tales . . . he put a lot in this first book and at times it was overwhelming, bordering on confusing.
I will say that the ‘Iron Druid Chronicles’ are shaping up to be a very manly fare. Maybe when/if Granuaile comes to mean more this will change; but in ‘Hounded’ at least there’s no romance, apart from a running joke that three female minor gods fawn over Atticus and there’s minor bedroom hijinx that’s referenced, not described. The lovey-dovey stuff is minimal and brushed aside quite quickly, which is actually a nice change when paranormal romance has been creeping in and blurring the lines of urban fantasy more and more. But I do hope that, further along in the series, Atticus does look for more in his life and someone to share it with – I think that will go a long way to addressing my initial concerns that Atticus seems to be a very unemotional man.
All in all, ‘Hounded’ didn’t WOW me like I had hoped it would . . . but I’ll be sticking around because (detached as he is) Atticus was a great hero, Oberon is my favourite new side-kick and I’m hoping that future book-covers hint at deeper human connections in store for this lonesome Druid.