fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsHounded by Kevin Hearne

The young-Irish-lad façade does not stand me in good stead when I’m trying to appear scholarly at my place of business — I run an occult bookshop with an apothecary’s counter squeezed in the corner — but it has one outstanding advantage. When I go to the grocery store, for example, and people see my curly red hair, fair skin, and long goatee, they suspect that I play soccer and drink lots of Guinness. If I’m going sleeveless and they see the tattoos all up and down my right arm, they assume I’m in a rock band and smoke lots of weed. It never enters their mind for a moment that I could be an ancient Druid — and that’s the main reason why I like this look. If I grew a white beard and got myself a pointy hat, oozed dignity and sagacity and glowed with beatitude, people might start to get the wrong — or the right — idea.

Atticus O’Sullivan is a 2100-year-old Druid. He’s been lying low for a while, running his occult bookshop in Arizona and romping with his Irish wolfhound, Oberon. Back in the distant past, though, he absconded with a sword that the god Aenghus Og wants for his own. Now Aenghus has found him and is sending his goons to take the sword back.

Atticus is a fun character. He’s a mixture of old and new, wise and youthful. His slang is a blend of the ancient and the current. At times you can sense the years weighing on him, and he has a certain degree of paranoia that explains how he’s survived the millennia. At other times he seems closer to the age he appears, especially when it comes to his weakness for pretty women. Perhaps most importantly, he’s witty, which makes him a great character to spend a book with. His narrative voice is often hilarious. Oberon is a delight, too; he may be smarter than the average dog, but he’s utterly undone by sausages, belly rubs, and attractive French poodles.

The Irish-mythology aspect is very well done. Kevin Hearne has done his homework, and these aspects of the story feel perfectly rooted in the myths themselves. For example, when Atticus reveals the secret of his longevity, I think I actually said “OH!” aloud. It makes impeccable mythic sense.

The plot of Hounded is pretty straightforward, and the book is not very long. It does serve, though, to introduce Atticus, his world and its rules, and the major players, and it moves Atticus into a position where he’ll have plenty of chances to find more trouble (and more story hooks) as the Iron Druid series continues.

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s production of Hounded, read by Luke Daniels. Daniels has a pleasant, unobtrusive voice that carries the listener easily through the story. His narration as Atticus has just the right tone of deadpan humor, and his voices for the other characters are distinctive in their accents and mannerisms without sounding like caricatures of themselves. I recommend both Hounded and Brilliance Audio’s production of it.

~Kelly Lasiter

Kevin Hearne Iron Druid Chronicles 1. HoundedAtticus O’Sullivan is an ancient shapeshifting druid. For a couple thousand years he’s been hiding from Aenghus Óg, the god who used to own the famous sword Fragarach until Atticus relieved him of it on an ancient battlefield. Now Aenghus has some plans to advance himself among the Tuatha Dé Danann and he wants his sword back.

The Iron Druid Chronicles (9 Book Series) by Kevin HearneAtticus is now a 21-year-old (it seems) bookshop owner in Tempe, Arizona, near Arizona State University. He sells occult paraphernalia and brews special herbal teas (such as Mobili-Tea and Humili-Tea) for his customers. He’s got a nosey neighbor across the street and a nice Irish widow a few houses down (well, she’s nice as long as you’re not English!). He also has a blood-sucking lawyer. Literally. That’s because the Tempe area attracts lots of paranormals. Some of them are helpful to Atticus, but others are definitely not.

I don’t read a lot of paranormal urban fantasy, just because so much of it features snarky women with chips on their shoulders and the sarcastic humor usually doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve found that I’m more likely to enjoy paranormal works which have male leads, so that’s why I gave Hounded a try.

Atticus O’Sullivan is an excellent male lead — he’s strong but sensitive. He mows the widow’s lawn and cares for his employees, but he kicks ass when he needs to. Kevin Hearne nearly crosses the border into too-good-to-be-true, but he just manages not to step over that line. Hearne’s other characters are terrific, too. I laughed at the vampire lawyer who drives a hot sports car and wears expensive suits, but can’t manage to update his language. I also appreciated that Hearne shows us that as much as we like to say we hate lawyers, they can be really useful sometimes!

My favorite character, though, was Atticus’s dog Oberon who can mind-speak with Atticus. Oberon is the comedic sidekick, providing most of the humor. Only Atticus can hear him, so his comments are often inserted amongst dialogue that Atticus is having with other characters, and this is very funny. Since Oberon watches lots of movies, many of his interruptions are quotes from movies or reminders to Atticus of how what’s happening now is similar to a movie scene. This is especially endearing to SF fans because Oberon loves Star Wars and Star Trek. Oberon always seems to have a current obsession, too. In Hounded, he wants to be Genghis Khan and keeps questioning Atticus about Genghis Khan’s habits, such as did he take his coffee black? (Fortunately, Oberon’s Liberace phase happened before the events of Hounded.)

Oberon is especially effective in the audio version I listened to, narrated by Luke Daniels. This is partly because there are rarely any dialog tags for Oberon (his interruptions are set apart by <> in the text) and partly because Mr. Daniels makes Oberon actually sound like a big dog. So, when the book is read aloud, the lack of “Oberon said” really makes it sound like Oberon is making comments in the background.

Besides the characters, I loved the mix of the modern with ancient mythologies in Hounded. Kevin Hearne’s contemporary setting near ASU is completely convincing (someday I’ve got to stop for fish and chips at Rúla Búla), but so are the ancient and mythological aspects of the novel.

Hounded was a great read — a wonderful hero with the perfect sidekick, colorful secondary characters, and just the right sense of humor. I’ll be immediately starting the next novel in the Iron Druid Chronicles, Hexed.

~Kat Hooper

Kevin Hearne Iron Druid Chronicles 1. HoundedTHE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, of which Hounded is the first installment, have been on my radar for some time now, but I held them off as a kind of rainy day read. They looked funny, they were based on Irish myth (a personal favorite), and on the whole I thought I’d best save them for a time when I needed a nice, relaxing read.

I was pleasantly surprised on some counts and validated on others. Hounded is a fast-moving, funny little book. It concerns Atticus O’Sullivan, an ancient druid in the modern world with a famous magical sword (Fragarach the Answerer is only slightly less popular in some circles than Excalibur) and the enduring enmity of the Celtic quasi-god Aengus Og. The plot is straightforward and really blurs past as Atticus gets deeper and deeper into glorious trouble.

Hearne knows how to spin an easy-going yarn, and his research into Irish mythology is impressively comprehensive. He clearly went above and beyond the call of duty on that score, always a good sign in an urban fantasy author in particular. Atticus O’Sullivan as a narrator is fairly witty and lively (a requisite characteristic in urban fantasy lately), though the jokes occasionally have that strained, slightly over-the-top feel that can crop up when a character has to be funny over a long stretch of text (the wedgie scene in particular comes to mind as a bit of gratuitous “look, he’s funny! Look! Did everyone see?” material). The overall cast of characters is charming, particularly Oberon the Irish wolfhound, who plays all the same notes as usual for the urban fantasy “cute sidekick”, but does it very well.

There is a noticeable eau-de-Dresden about the proceedings, mind you. By this I mean (for the uninitiated) that it feels a lot like THE DRESDEN FILES by Jim Butcher. IRON DRUID is very much its own world, but I would not be surprised at all if its original inspiration was Butcher. Part of the issue is of course simply that urban fantasy has never exactly been a subgenre overflowing with originality as far as tropes are concerned, but from the snark to the mixed-and-mashed mythologies to the frequent beatings to the sensual deities, I did find myself occasionally giving the text a knowing smirk. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Harry Dresden doesn’t have a corner on the witty-magician-with-oversized-dog-and-hot-apprentice-fighting-mythological-creatures market, certainly, and I think Atticus O’Sullivan does certain things better. On the other hand, Butcher’s had longer to refine his formula (and his fanbase), and the similarities between the two works may lead readers to (justly or unjustly) view Atticus as basically Dresden Lite.

I’d argue that Hearne’s plotting is actually better than that of the early Dresden books, but on the other hand, Atticus’s adventures in general lack the sense of urgency with which Butcher usually invests his novels. I was never particularly concerned for Atticus because he’s just so supercapable, to the point of smugness at times. Where Harry Dresden’s various neuroses tend to keep him out of Mary-Sue territory, Atticus slips perilously close to the red line at times. He never quite gets there, but the book is not as suspenseful as it might have been otherwise. Even in the combat sequences, the novel is more good-naturedly cheesy than pulse-pounding, entertaining and well-done without being necessarily gripping. Something else to watch for is that, while Hearne is good at plotting and characterization and his vocabulary is fine, his prose is often a touch uninspiring, something which I hope improves as time goes on.

Overall, though, I’m pleased with Hounded. It was worth the price, at least, and I’ll probably purchase Hexed sometime in the near future, though I don’t feel any particular rush about the matter. Perhaps that’s the best way to sum up the book. I wouldn’t seize your coat and sprint for the bookstore, but if you happen to find yourself in the stacks with nothing else in mind, why not wend your way over toward a bit of Irish goofiness?

~Tim Scheidler

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsI picked up Hounded, the first book of THE IRON DRUID series, last weekend. This is Kevin Hearne’s first book with the character of Atticus O’Sullivan, an ancient Druid living incognito in Tempe, Arizona.

I would probably have passed this by, but these books got rave reviews from Kelly, Kat and Tim. It’s hard to walk away from those recommendations. I’m pleased to report that the first book is every bit as entertaining and enjoyable as predicted.

Atticus is a twenty-one hundred year old druid living in Tempe with his wolfhound companion Oberon, running a metaphysical bookstore. Tempe is full of supernatural creatures. Atticus has both a vampire and a werewolf for lawyers; the perky barmaid at his favorite tavern is sharing head-space with someone or something, and Atticus is on cool and wary terms with the local coven of witches. Soon, however, the Morrigan, the Celtic goddess of death, warns him that another Celtic god is coming after him; Aengus Og. Millennia ago, Atticus took a magical sword, one that Aengus, right or wrong, claims as his. Now he has located Atticus and is coming after him full throttle. Atticus has no intention of giving up the sword, or, for that matter, dying.

Everything comes together in this book and that is a tribute to Hearne’s hard work. Like acting, dance or athletic events, hard work on the writing leads to easy reading. This book flows. The pacing is exactly right; the balance of action (and there is plenty of action) to back-story is precise, the characters are interesting and Atticus’s mental conversations with Oberon add just enough humor. Hearne’s descriptions of landscape show a real love of Arizona, whether it’s the college town itself or the wilderness of the Superstition Mountains.

We meet several Celtic deities during the course of Hounded. Like the Greek and later Roman gods in fiction, they are less like lofty divine beings and more like powerful, scheming family members. Hearne didn’t get fancy with the magical systems and stuck to the classics, and that was a wise choice.

Atticus spends much of the book acting petty and arrogant himself. He is charming to his widowed Irish neighbor but plays cruel pranks on the grouchy guy next door. He is provocative and aggressive with a local witch — not that she doesn’t deserve it. None of this makes him unlikeable but I was starting to question his maturity, until he faces Aengus. To give himself a specific advantage, Aengus has drawn power from the earth for a half-mile around him, killing the earth. When Atticus realizes this, he is outraged. This goes to the core of his being as a druid, and makes him more than likeable; it makes him relatable.

Hounded was a fun read with just enough seriousness to make it worthwhile. Don’t take my word for it; read what Kat, Kelly and Tim have to say — or better yet, read Hounded.

~Marion Deeds


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

    View all posts
  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

    View all posts
  • Tim Scheidler

    TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

    View all posts
  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

    View all posts