Written in 2011, Hounded is the first in a 9-book urban fantasy series by Arizona native Kevin Hearne. It’s exactly the type of book that I’m initially drawn to but rarely read: a multi-book series with a good chance of turning into pabulum seeped in stereotype and hard-body fueled fluffery.
But Hounded surprised me. While it’s not the deepest well on the farm, and while there’s plenty of “been there, done that a few dozen times over” and “oh, c’mon…!” moments, it’s still mightily entertaining, mainly because it’s so charming in a fun, self-deprecating yet completely earnest-when-needed way.
Attractively scruffy 20-something Atticus O’Sullivan is the proprietor of Tempe, Arizona’s Third Eye Books and Herbs occult shop where he brews special teas and attracts a quirky clientele. But Atticus is more than what meets the eye. He is actually Siodhachan O Suileabhain, last of the Druids; over two thousand years old and one of the most cerebrally powerful earth-based creatures in existence. He’s currently hiding out in Tempe due to having angered the Celtic god Aenghus Óg by seizing the magical sword, Fragarach, on the field of battle centuries earlier. Now, powerful forces are in play in the world of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and Aenghus is determined to get the sword back.
What’s so entertaining about Hounded, however, is author Kevin Hearne’s ability to voice a central character who can straddle the outlandish without appearing outlandish. His Atticus is smart and sardonically witty, but also limited and fallible; his greatest resource after thousands of years of survival is knowing his own limits and how to best utilize his inestimable knowledge, whether while fighting off a group of firbolgs sent to assassinate him, or by stymieing a meddling neighbor. And because of this down-to-earth take on a fantastical being, we readily accept his interactions with both the supernatural and the mundane, and easily accept the more farcical elements of the story.
Additionally, the incorporation of Celtic mythology is splendid. Not only does Atticus have to contend with Aenghus Óg, but he also consorts with Flidais, goddess of the hunt, wins the protection of the Morrigan (goddess of war) and elicits the wrath of Bres, former king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, among others. Plus he deals with various witches, werewolves, faeries, vampires, etc. – some helpful, others distinctly malevolent.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention Oberon, Irish wolfhound and Atticus’s loyal companion. The pair can communicate with each other in a kind of Druidic telepathy, often to hilarious results. (The canine character is so endearing, he even has his own real-life Twitter handle, where he continues his literary extolling of sausages and fancy French poodles.) The comic relief that this relationship offers is another boon to a story that needs to keep from taking itself too seriously in order to be successful – something that is fully understood by the author who crafted it.
The jury is still out on whether I’ll read the entire Iron Druid series, but I thoroughly enjoyed this first volume and enthusiastically recommend it to other readers who appreciate urban fantasy with a Celtic – and delightedly witty – bent.
~ Sharon Browning