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Thursday, April 28, 2011

“Hounded” by Kevin Hearne w/Bonus Review of “Clan Rathskeller” (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “HoundedHERE
Read the First Six Chapters HERE
Read the “Clan RathskellerShort Story HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Kevin Hearne

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kevin Hearne was born and brought up in Flagstaff, Arizona. He earned his degree in English literature from Northern Arizona University and then got a job as a teacher in California. After three years, he returned to his native state and got a job in Tempe, Arizona. Kevin is a self-confessed comic book fan and collector. He also collects and paints miniature dwarves in his free time. Hounded is his debut novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Atticus O’Sullivan has been running for two thousand years and he’s a bit tired of it. After he stole a magical sword from the Tuatha Dé Danann (those who became the Sidhe or the Fae) in a first century battle, some of them were furious and gave chase, and some were secretly amused that a Druid had the cheek to defy them. As the centuries passed and Atticus remained an annoyingly long-lived fugitive, those who were furious only grew more so, while others began to aid him in secret.

Now he’s living in Tempe, Arizona, the very last of the Druids, far from where the Fae can easily find him. It’s a place where many paranormals have decided to hide from the troubles of the Old World—from an Icelandic vampire holding a grudge against Thor to a coven of Polish witches who ran from the German Blitzkrieg.

Unfortunately, the very angry Celtic god who wants that sword has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power, plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good, old-fashioned luck of the Irish to kick some arse and deliver himself from evil!

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring the right amount of comedy, action and mythology, Hounded is a worthwhile urban fantasy book in the vein of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and K.A. Stewart’s Jesse James Dawson series.

FORMAT/INFO: The Hounded ARC is 289 pages long divided over twenty-five numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Also includes a Pronunciation guide for all the names and places mentioned in the book and an excerpt from the sequel, Hexed. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via Atticus O’Sullivan. Hounded is mostly self-contained, but is the start of the Iron Druid Chronicles with sequels—Hexed and Hammered—scheduled for publication in June and July 2011. Cover illustration is provided by Gene Mollica.

May 3, 2011 marks the North American Mass Marker Paperback and e-book publication of Hounded via Del Rey. The e-book edition also includes two short stories called “Clan Rathskeller” and “Kaibab Unbound”, which are set ten months and two weeks before the events of Hounded.

ANALYSIS: Kevin Hearne first came on to my attention in the last quarter of 2010 when I read about Hounded and the Iron Druid Chronicles on a blog. After happening upon the book’s description and learning about the quick release schedule of the series, I was entranced and wanted to see if Hounded would stack up against the hype it had been receiving.

Hounded begins with a soliloquy by Atticus O’Sullivan who is actually a 2100-year-old Irish druid, older than the world’s largest religion and apparently the last of his kind. His real name is Siodhachan O’Suileabhain, but for reasons revealed in the blurb, he chooses to modernize himself. He gives the reader his background history in a neat manner, while fending off an attack by five of the Fae. He also learns that this attack is orchestrated by Aenghus Og, the Celtic god of Love. He beats his attackers, but is put on alert by this event since he chose Arizona for its scarcity of Oak, Ash and Thorn, which are required for the Fae/Sidhe to cross over into our realm.

As Atticus contemplates their presence and the meaning of their attack, he’s interrupted by the appearance of Morrigan, the Irish War goddess and slayer of the chosen. She has been on friendly terms with Atticus since the origin of his feud, and warns him about dire omens and his impending death at the hands of Aenghus Og. The reasons for this particular feud are because Atticus, in his youth, stole the legendary sword Fragarach from Aenghus Og’s chosen champion. Atticus discusses his situation with Morrigan who inquires about his particular type of magic, which explains series’ title, and then extracts a promise from him without giving him a promise in return, leaving Atticus with a sense of foreboding.

Next, Atticus is visited by Flidais, the Celtic goddess of the hunt, who relates the same tale told by Morrigan, but with an alteration as to who else is coming. Here, there is a small but important info-dump which reveals the nature of Atticus’ lawyers Hauk (a werewolf) and Lief (a vampire). Atticus agrees to go on a hunt with Flidais and Oberon, an Irish wolfhound mentally bound to Atticus. Thus begins the events which fuel the tale that is Hounded.

Other subplots include a witch who requests Atticus’s apothecary skills in return for help/favour from her Coven, and the bartender Granuaile MacTiernan, who’s more than she appears to be.

Kevin Hearne’s writing is competent, led by skillful prose that adds to the book’s refreshing setting and protagonist. Atticus as the narrator particularly excels. Even though he’s the hero of the story, you can discern certain moral ambivalences from his actions since Atticus is a bit of a rogue when the situation demands it. For instance, Atticus relates his own versions of various historical moments, but these accounts seem a bit shady. Overall, Atticus is lovable and trustworthy, but he’s also the sort of chap you wouldn’t want as your enemy.

Humor is one of the major plus points in Hounded, with the dialogue/banter between Oberon and Atticus the highlight of the book. In particular, Oberon’s fascination with Genghis Khan, his love for Poodles and the ultimate allure of hunting, all of which increases the reader’s fun quotient.

Another promising front is the multitude of mythologies utilized in the book, which are reflective of the real world. The author’s use of mythology is very smartly executed, while providing enough of an explanation to satisfy the reader’s curiosity. Lastly, the pace of the book never lets up, with Atticus going from plot point to plot point with as few breaks as possible, thus creating a sense of urgency for the reader.

Negatively, the book has a bit of a PG-13 feel to it. For example, bad things occur, but the author has them wrapped up neatly to lessen their darkness. There is also quite a bit of info-dumping in the first fifty pages of the book, but since Hounded is the opening volume in a series, it was necessary for the author to lay out all this information for the reader. Plus, it was easy to overlook the info-dumping since it was presented in an entertaining manner through engaging character dialogue. Finally, urban fantasy stories tend to be predictable and Hounded does not differentiate much in that regard. It remains to be seen if Kevin Hearne will be able to deviate from the norm and give readers a more refreshing story throughout the rest of the series.

CONCLUSION: Despite a few deficiencies, Hounded is a very good debut which introduces a worthy and refreshing urban fantasy setting and a clever, yet morally dubious protagonist. I was especially amazed by how polished Kevin Hearne’s debut was and anxiously look forward to reading the remainder of the series ASAP!

BONUS REVIEW — “Clan Rathskeller”:

Clan Rathskeller is a free short story featured on the author’s website. It is twenty-six pages long and the events in the tale are set about ten months prior to Hounded. It will also be included in the e-book version of Hounded.

The short story begins with Atticus and Oberon chilling in the Tempe Market place. Amidst their banter, Oberon notes that there’s something inhuman about the Santa giving out presents to the kids assembled. A quick glance by Atticus reveals that Santa’s helper elves aren’t elves at all, but gnomes. His curiosity overrides his safety instincts and he instructs Oberon to fetch one of the gnomes who then reveals its identity in return for Atticus’s own. They also reveal that they are awaiting a certain member of the Tuatha Dé Danann and thought Atticus was doing the same. From here, the reasons for the gnomes’ presence is laid bare and Atticus & Oberon have to decide whether they wish to get involved or not.

Clan Rathskeller” is well-paced and readers without any knowledge of the series will be able to jump right in and understand what’s going on. Kevin Hearne manages to insert enough of the characters’ background in the story to make it feel a part of the larger series, but it also works well as a short introduction to Atticus O’Sullivan and the urban fantasy world he inhabits.

Overall, “Clan Rathskeller” is a very enjoyable read and I would ask readers to give this short story a try before deciding on Hounded and the rest of the series, since it encapsulates very well the nature of the books. And now onto Hexed & Hammered!


UK said...

In Hounded, we find Atticus - the last of the Druids. Though he looks young, he has lived incredibly long, and has the enemies to show for it. After running for much of his life, he has settled down in Arizona under a different name. Unfortunately, just because he has stopped running doesn't mean his enemies have stopped chasing. The fun really begins when Atticus is warned by the Morrigan that his identity has been discovered and a Celtic God is determined to destroy him.

I can honestly say that this is one of the better fantasy novels I have read. The story is interesting and fun, while moving at a pretty good clip. The characters have depth to them, including Oberon the wolfhound. The story is plausible while remaining firmly in the fantasy camp (Gods, demons, vampires and werewolves all have a part to play here), and the writing flows very well.


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