First things first: This one’s more serious.
Oh, there’s still humor here — and to butcher the nursery rhyme, when Kevin Hearne is funny, he’s very, very funny. I cackled madly as Atticus geeked out over his favorite author and demonstrated his knowledge of Internet memes. On the whole, though, Hammered is a much more serious story than either Hounded or Hexed. While giving us two books’ worth of side-splitting entertainment, Hearne has been sneakily laying the groundwork for Hammered, building up characters and friendships and subplots so that we care deeply about what happens here.
We begin in medias res. Atticus is climbing the World Tree to Asgard so that he can keep his promise to the witch Laksha by bringing her back one of Idunn’s apples. The trip becomes messier than expected, which leads Atticus to decide that he’s been in Tempe too long. He’s too visible, and it’s too easy for one of his ever-growing list of enemies to use his friends as leverage. Atticus does his best to put affairs in Tempe in order before going back to Asgard to keep a second promise, knowing he might never return. One conversation stands out as particularly beautiful; it’s the kind of conversation we all wish we’d had with a loved one before it was too late, but so often don’t get around to having.
That second promise is to help kill Thor, and he teams up with a group of allies who passionately hate the thunder god. Hearne surprised me by breaking with the usual structure of the Iron Druid books for a little while, employing a “Canterbury Tales”-type section that I loved. It fleshes out these allies, and in telling us why each of them wants Thor dead, it tells us a lot about Thor as well. When we follow Atticus & Co. back to Asgard, we’re good and mad at Thor, too.
The central theme here is the question of how to hold on to one’s humanity when one has great power and can live for hundreds or thousands of years. How do you keep from getting arrogant and seeing ordinary mortals as insects? How do you hold on to what makes you you — and conversely, is it possible to hold on too much, becoming consumed by a grudge that might not be worth all that you sacrifice to it? It’s clear that Atticus is better than most at this balancing act, and it’s equally clear that it’s often his humanity that puts him in so much danger.
Hammered is not the end of this series, but it effectively closes a big story arc. It makes a good temporary stopping point as we await Tricked, due out in 2012. Kevin Hearne is evil, though, and packs in one more spooky plot hook at the end. It’s not a cliffhanger for the plot of this book, but it’s sure going to cause some trouble in the next one!
All that said, I think it’s a little skeevy when Atticus [SPOILER here, highlight if you want to read it:] tells the frost giants they can have Freyja if they help him invade Asgard. It turns out that he didn’t think it would really come to that and he feels bad about saying it, and it’s left up in the air whether it does come to that. It’s consistent with what motivates the giants in the actual myths… but it still skeeved me out.[END SPOILER]
After all the help he got dealing with the bad guys in Hounded and Hexed, Atticus owes favors, so he sets out to get those paid off in Hammered. The theme is Norse mythology — first Atticus has to steal one of Iðunn’s golden apples from Asgard, then he must help Leif, his vampire lawyer, kill Thor. Leif must have been planning for this for a long time because he’s bringing along a bunch of other guys who want Thor dead, too.
Hammered feels much different from Hounded and Hexed. Instead of the modern Tempe, Arizona setting, most of the action in Hammered takes place in, or traveling to and from, Asgard. Oberon, who provides the comic relief, is left at home, and so is Granuaile, the wide-eyed perky apprentice. Thus, Hammered is quite a bit darker than the previous novels. The action is forestalled for a while when the characters stop to tell stories about why they want to kill Thor. This works well with Leif, who we have grown to care for, but perhaps not so well (at least for me) with the other guys, who I didn’t feel like I knew well enough to care about. It does, however, serve to explain why Thor must die.
Hammered was certainly entertaining, but I didn’t enjoy this installment as much as I enjoyed Hounded and Hexed, mostly because it focuses less on some of the elements that have made the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES so successful thus far — the bookshop in Tempe, Atticus’s neighbors and, most of all, the faithful and funny Oberon. It doesn’t help that I’m a bit weary of Norse mythology, having read quite a bit of it already this year.
I perked up at the end of Hammered when something dreadful happens and is left as a cliffhanger. I will definitely be eager to learn the resolution to this in the next novel, Tricked, and I’ll definitely be reading it on audio because Luke Daniels, the narrator, is awesome.