Book review: Kevin Hearne’s HOUNDED (Iron Druid Chronicles #1)

Big publishers are great, aren’t they? They have access (read: money) to do all sorts of things you couldn’t do on your own, and that small publishers couldn’t either. For instance, Ballantine/Del Rey (Random House) can do things like shell out the cash for Barnes & Noble to put your title in featured places throughout their stores, giving your title more visibility, therefore upping the possibility that your genre junkies will locate your title and take a seven dollar and ninety-nine cent (plus tax!) gamble on you.

I mean, that’s the way it ought to work. I unpack some of the shipment we receive, and shelve a whole hell of a lot of it. And I spend my Tuesdays setting up those Places of Increased Visibility, so I see a lot of titles. And occasionally – because I judge the crap out of books by their covers – I see one that makes me go huh.

I picked HOUNDED up on a whim, because the cover was shiny and it was a straight-to-mass-market-paperback. (Don’t judge me. Often, they turn out well.) I dug what the back copy had to say, and laughed out loud twice in the first two pages. I mean… that never happens. And it didn’t open in the traditional urban fantasy way, a bit in medias res, as it were, getting right into it and hooking the reader on action in the first thousand words. It started with some cleverly written opinions on how it felt to be two thousand years old.

Gist: Atticus O’Sullivan is a two-thousand-year-old Irish Druid living in Tempe, Arizona. He’s feuding with Thor for some undisclosed reason, but more importantly, that sword on the cover? He’d lifted it from the Celtic god of love, Aenghus Og, several centuries before, and had been hounded (see what the author/editor/publisher did there?) across the world trying to get it back. Atticus has come to Arizona, settled in, gotten a rather telepathically entertaining Irish Wolfhound named Oberon, opened a book shop and employed a Goth who is entirely too perky for his wardrobe, and just wants to be left alone. Enter a coven of Polish witches, a pantheon of Celtic gods with questionable moralities, and some cops who have, frankly, watched too many cop show marathons on TNT.

Now, let’s get something straight. I love nerds. Nerds, geeks, gamers, con-goers, whatever we’re calling them today. Admittedly, however, Cassandra Clare’s Simon character in The Mortal Instruments series pissed me off. But that’s because he came off as a pandering by the author – so that we were sure to know not that Simon played Dungeons & Dragons or whatever RPG of the week, but that the reader knows that the author plays them/has played them/knows about them/knows her target audience. It comes off as an attempt to pull in the “urban fantasy” crowd (because, look, we all know what that demographic is based heavily on, or at least started in). And that’s frustrating. And insulting.

But in HOUNDED, Hearne drops in references to pwnage, “frakkin’ Cylons,” and a list of things I can’t remember what giggled at. (I do, however, remember, “This is not the Druid you’re looking for,” and am currently giggling at it.) Why doesn’t this bother me? Because Hearne is part of the scene, man. He’s not trying. He’s dropping geek pop culture references as easily as Wil Wheaton tweets, and it’s obvious it isn’t an effort to suck up to the target audience.

And why is that? I think it’s the breadth of reference. Simon references D&D – and wears that Choose Your Weapon shirt at the end of CITY OF GLASS, and that’s it. There’s nothing else, really. Nothing that an outsider (listen to me!) wouldn’t be able to fake their way through.

All that aside, I really enjoyed the hell out of this book. It had a good plot, great pacing, and a really likable badass protagonist (like Dr. Who!). The kind of likable badass protagonist that sorts of slouches along, doing convenient things, not wanting to exert himself beyond what’s really necessary – though you get the impression he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve – and then in the final climactic scene, just f’ing unloads. One of the things that got me on the back copy was someone’s blurb that Harry Dresden finally has competition.

Agreed. Because John Taylor is fine, if trying too hard, and Sandman Slim is, well, sort of terrifying in a truly noir way… but Atticus is the only one who can give the finger to someone and then blast them into another dimension. Hell yes.

Can’t wait to start HEXED.

4.5/5 stars. Visit Kevin Hearne at his website and follow him @KevinHearne. HEXED is out now (you can find it at your local Barnes & Noble on their mass market paperback tower), and HAMMERED drops July 5.

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