HOUNDED (Iron Druid Chronicles, book 1) by Kevin Hearne
Del Rey, 2011, 304 pages, 978-0-345-52247-4, Mass Market Paperback, $7.99
Every once in a while, I stumble upon a book that I consider so much fun that I’m hard pressed to put it down for a moment. Hounded was this and more. It was immensely easy to read, moved at a quick pace, and had plenty of humor. Before I even get this review started, I’m telling you that I want to read the next two in the series right away, that’s how much I enjoyed it.
I first heard about Hounded on the Suvudu website when Kevin Hearne made a post about considering the audience. I found that I agreed with everything in his “Stuff I Dig But Rarely See” category–most especially I agreed with his interest in druids and Celtic mythology. Back in the day (and I mean way back in the day) I was very much into researching these things myself, and the idea of seeing them put into an urban fantasy novel was beyond exciting to me.
Hearne couldn’t have done a better job. He set the action in a location completely out of the ordinary–Tempe, Arizona–and then gave his main character a good reason for living there. I don’t know much about this state or the city, but his descriptions of the area were refreshing because they were so different from the urban norm. Call me crazy, but it makes me want to visit just to see it. Plus, reading about the Rula Bula pub was almost like getting a recommendation. I’ve never had fish and chips, but I’d try them at Rula Bula. In fact, it’s going on my list of things to do if I ever get around to traveling.
As for the characters, let’s talk about the lead. I loved Atticus O’Sullivan for several reasons (red hair and a bookstore being two of them, I won’t lie), but most of all I liked that he was sure of himself. This man is a 2,100 year old Druid, and he knows his stuff. He’s not worried every time someone pops up to fight him. He’s not going to run if he doesn’t have to, and he’s not going to go easy on his opponent. He doesn’t have time for that. Of course, he doesn’t always come out the victor. He gets his share of beatings, sure, but it’s not for lack of skill. When you’ve got conniving gods and witches working against you, you’re bound to end up in a scrape or two, but Atticus knows what his capabilities are, and he uses them to their full potential. At the same time, he’s not arrogant about it. In fact, he’s pretty laid back and low key about most things. That’s what makes him all the more impressive when he gets really serious.
In an interesting change from the normal urban fantasy fare, the lead is male and most of the other cast members are female. We’ve got Celtic goddesses, wily witches, an old Irish widow, and a cute bartender, all with their own distinct and powerful personalities. It’s hard to say which I liked more. For once, I think I liked all of the women, with the exception of the ones I wasn’t particularly supposed to like. All of the female characters are strong, either because they’re magical heavy hitters or because they simply have opinions and personalities that aren’t easily swayed.
The story itself kept me engaged. There’s certainly no lack of action in Hounded. By page four, there’s already a confrontation, and the pace stays constant throughout the novel. Luckily, Hearne knows when to insert a bit of downtime for the reader, so I never felt tired out by the ongoing activity. As for the main antagonist, the Celtic god of love Aenghus Og, I felt I didn’t know him particularly well beyond what I’d heard about him through other characters. But, to be honest, I didn’t mind that so much. While the final confrontation had its interesting points, many of the best parts come from the obstacles that Aenghus Og throws in Atticus’s way from afar.
One other thing I enjoyed about this novel was the insertion of pop culture references. Atticus has become very good at blending in to the present day, and his knowledge of current media allows him to be convincing. It also provides one of the sources of humor in the novel as these references are sometimes unexpected.
Overall, this novel was extremely entertaining, and I’m looking forward to the next two books. I’ve read the chapter one excerpt of Hexed, and it already sounds promising. While I’m waiting, though, I’ll go read the short story “Clan Rathskeller,” which I happened to find as I was looking for the post I linked above. It takes place a few months before Hounded and will, no doubt, be fun to read.