Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne
The Iron Druid Chronicles have been on my radar since Chelle’s cover feature on them. Nice covers, but want to shave that soul patch thingy. Anyway, when I found a copy of Hounded for sale at my library’s sale area, I grabbed it.
The Premise: Atticus O’Sullivan is a two thousand year old Druid, but he looks anything but. In fact he looks like a young twenty-something kid and that’s the way he likes it. No one suspects that the young occult bookshop owner in Tempe, Arizona, is hiding from the Old Ones.  A god named Aenghus Óg holds a grudge against Atticus because of a magic sword, and has been searching for him for hundreds of years. Whenever Atticus feels Aenghus get close, he usually moves, but this time Atticus is tired of running. Arizona is home turf, and a good place as any to take a stand against a god who is hellbent on destroying him. Atticus has made preparations and allies, but even so, it’s impossible to guess what tricks his longtime enemy may have up his sleeves.
Read an excerpt (the first 6 chapters) of Hounded here
My Thoughts:  Atticus O’Sullivan has been laying low for centuries, and he’s good at it. He’s over two thousands years old and the last living Druid. His latest residence is in Tempe, Arizona, which is as far from those hunting for him as possible, and blessedly low on gods and the Fae. Of course, given time, his enemies find him yet again, forcing Atticus to decide to run or make a stand. The sword Aenghus Óg is after is a big prize, and Atticus is visited by other gods and creatures with a stake in the outcome of the upcoming battle and who muddy the waters on who to trust.
Despite all that hangs over his head, this is a fun main character. Atticus narrates with a keen awareness of the humor in almost every situation.  It’s a constant source of amusement and an inside joke with the reader that he’s older than everyone he knows, including the local paranormals (a coven of witches and a pack of werewolves), while he pretends to be a “young-Irish-lad” (he hasn’t survived this long by being incautious). Helping to maintain this sense of humor is Atticus’ beloved Irish Wolfhound Oberon, with whom Atticus can speak to mind to mind. I love a dog sidekick (one of my favorite tropes), and the relationship between Atticus and Oberon is quite amusing and heartwarming. Here’s a sample mind-to-mind conversation between the two (Atticus is in italics, Oberon in <angled brackets>):

[…] I don’t trust witches.
<You think she’s going to try something? Should I move behind her?>
No, she knows you’re here. She can see through the camouflage. But I think she’s hiding something from me, and I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
<When did she drop the first shoe? I missed it.>
Never mind. Just listen. Once she drinks the tea, she will try to surprise me with something. She is waiting for the contract to be fully in effect before she says anything.
<Well, then give her back the check and send her packing! We don’t need to play her witch’s games. They always want to get you and your little dog, too.>
I knew I never should have let you watch The Wizard of Oz.
<Toto didn’t deserve that kind of trauma. He was so tiny.>

As the conversation shows, the humor in Hounded has a lot of pop culture references (but not obscure ones). This is big part of the humor in the book, as well as a sort of “foiling the bad guys is fun” schtick. What I mean by this is that Atticus goes though these trials and tribulations but you always end up feeling like he’s going to come out of it relatively unscathed, a “Phew, still alive” grin on his face. If I were to compare it to anything, I’d say that Atticus is like the urban fantasy version of Michael Westen from Burn Notice (if Michael Westen was a kick-ass Druid undercover as a twenty-one year old). It’s hard to believe that anyone is going to get the best of him. He’s so paranoid and he’s seen it all, plus he has his backup. Hounded has of several attempts by Atticus’ enemy to box him in, but Atticus survives because he plans ahead and thinks on his feet. And he has friends who will help him bury the bodies. After a reading string of darker urban fantasy, it was nice to sit back and just enjoy Atticus handling the latest debacle, which runs the gamut from goddesses to giants, getting knocked down in the process, but rallying pretty quickly (thanks to his Druid powers).
Being a Druid is a pretty nice gig, particularly when it’s combined with Atticus’ accumulated knowledge. He’s figured out how to stay young for an extremely long time and how to ward off most attacking spells without selling his soul. Part of the world building in the story is explaining what being a Druid entails, but the other part is describing the supernatural world Atticus is aware of. In this series, all pantheons exist at the same time. It isn’t directly explained, but I understood the existence of deities and other mythical creatures to be a result of human belief. If an idea is worshiped by enough people, it will exist. This means that there may even be different versions of the same god (Thor is an example), in existence at the same time. There’s a mix of supernatural creatures and ideologies, but in Hounded the pantheon Atticus mostly deals with is from his own Irish upbringing. As for the setting, I have a lot of family who live in Arizona and Hearne captures the Tempe area like a true Arizona native. It was well done and made me look forward to my next visit (and also eager to check out some of the places referenced in the book).
I don’t think Hounded really sets out to be serious, so when I think of my one complaint about the story (that I wish that there were deeper relationships between the characters), I’m not really sure I can make that complaint really stick. There are plenty of side characters, but hiding his past and his power is Atticus’ modus operandi. So far, the deepest relationship is the one between Atticus and Oberon, and I wish there was more than that, but the events in Hounded may have created an opportunity for relationship development in later books.
Overall: Hounded is a refreshingly lighthearted urban fantasy. I liked the mix of action and improvisation, presented by a narrator who appreciates the comedy of pretending to be innocuous while being much, much older and more powerful than he appears. It made me smile often, which is quite a nice pick-me-up, and I’m looking forward to enjoying the next one.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
My Favourite Books – positive
Karissa’s Reading Review – 5 out of 5
The Book Pushers – B
Star Metal Oak – positive
Ticket to Anywhere – positive

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