Book Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne
It has been a very long time since I have seen an Urban Fantasy book doing something new while remaining an Urban Fantasy book. Most often they take the more financially rewarding detour into paranormal romance. Sometimes they skew off into the literary world of magical realism. Sometimes they even wander into alternate history and conspiracy theories. Very rarely do you get a book that taps the pure vein of Urban Fantasy and manages to do something new and interesting with it. Enter stage left: Hounded, the first book of the Iron Druid series.
The author has based the story in ancient Irish faith and history. You can tell how deeply it has been researched by how casually it is mentioned throughout the story. The gravity that it adds to the situation is remarkable. Events in the book are not just isolated incidents hidden away from “normal humans,” there is a rich and complex history to the supernatural world that has clearly intersected constantly with mundane history and influenced events.
This book isn’t perfect. I am not going to pretend that it is. The generic magical system laid out in the book has been lifted wholesale from the Dresden Files series. The narrator’s voice has some problems with consistency, something that is always going to be an issue when you are writing a character that has lived through so many different time periods. While the author generally does a good job there are odd moments where the supposedly affected American voice of the character appears outside of pretence and the same problem rears its ugly head with several of the other immortal characters that are supposedly disconnected from the modern world. That is all of my complaining over and done though.
The world of the Iron Druid series is what I like to term a “kitchen sink” universe. Every mythology is based in reality, all of the mythical monsters and gods of every faith are wandering around in the world. Despite the druidic protagonist focusing more often on his own pantheon and their related monsters for obvious reasons, every religion and culture are all treated with equal respect. Something that the vast majority of Urban Fantasy neglects to do and which I really cannot praise the author enough for.
Where the story really shines is when Atticus O’Sullivan, the druid in question, interacts with the rich characters scattered throughout the book on both sides of the supernatural wall. Atticus’ dog has more personality than you see in some blockbusters heroes. His undead Viking lawyers, the widow that he does chores for, his deities that come visiting for a chat, all of them are distinct people living their own lives outside of the story and all of them are dragged along for the ride. If you had told me in advance that one of my favourite characters was going to be an old Irish widow getting drunk before church I would never have believed you but here we are.
If you enjoy Urban Fantasy but have always felt that it lacked the mythic quality that you find in more traditional fantasy books then this may well be the series for you.
The one point that I really want to hammer home about the Iron Druid books is this:
I am heaping all of this praise on the first book and as a general rule, the quality of an author’s writing only improves as time goes by. Kevin Hearne is up to the eighth in the series now, I am more than a little excited to play catch up.