As we approach the publication date for the final book in the ‘Iron Druid’ series, I thought it was finally time to pick up the first book. ‘Hounded’, and see what all the hype has been about. It’s an urban fantasy series and, as that’s one of my favourite genres, I had high hopes for it.
In ‘Hounded’ we meet Atticus O’Sullivan, a 2,100 year-old ancient druid who looks like a 21 year-old young man. He has been the possessor of the magic sword Fragarach for some time but its original owner, an angry Celtic love god called Aenghus Og, has decided that the time has come to reclaim it. Facing an array of powerful beings sent to kill him and retrieve the sword, Atticus must call upon his friends, werewolves, vampires, Hindu witch spirits, just a few regular pals, for help if he wants to stay alive. Not only that, but other gods are getting involved, sensing a bid for power that goes far beyond the lust for a simple sword. If he can distinguish friend from foe and just keep his dog Oberon from getting killed, Atticus might come out of this on top or at least not dead and that’s pretty much the same thing, right?
The thing I enjoy about most urban fantasy novels is that they generally don’t take themselves too seriously and ‘Hounded’ was no exception to this rule. It has a real streak of humour that helps to keep the story flowing from page to page and from one unbelievable encounter to the next. If I tell you that one of the characters is an Irish wolfhound called Oberon, who has a real longing for a harem of white French poodles, you might get a flavour of the tone. Seriously, Oberon is a wonderful character and his interactions with Atticus are laugh-out-loud funny at times.
Perhaps the only downside to this is that urban fantasy books also tend to end up with a lack of tension and, again, ‘Hounded’ follows this pattern. When you are experiencing all the events with a kind of flippancy, it makes it extremely difficult to feel that villains are serious threats. So what could be very creepy and sinister moments end up lacking any real depth. Do we ever really feel scared for Atticus as he faces all these creatures and unexpected events? No. Does it matter? Arguably not, because the whole thing is a light and enjoyable read that works very well as just that. It doesn’t try to be too dark and, if we don’t get the same tension as in books that are a bit more serious in tone, then that contrast really isn’t a bad thing.
I guess what I’m trying to say, in a convoluted kind of way, is that this book was great fun and it doesn’t need to be anything more. I enjoyed it and my expectations were mostly met. I think that I only have a couple of negative things to say about it. Firstly, because it is so similar in tone to a lot of other books in this genre, it did take me a while to view it as a new series as I felt like I’d been there before. In fact, at the beginning, I was reminded very strongly of the start of Benedict Jacka’s ‘Alex Verus’ series. Both main characters involved with magic, both choosing to run magic shops for very similar reasons and both with a similar sense of humour. There was maybe just a little too much of a familiar thing there, though this one was published first. My other negative point is that I think there were too many characters introduced in this short book. It was a bit hard to keep up with who was who at times and maybe leaving out one or two would have helped me to engage more with the rest of the characters. As it is, there were a lot of bit parts that flitted in and out in a bit of a blur and it’s a shame they weren’t used to better effect.
All in all, if you like this kind of thing which I do, you’ll like ‘Hounded’. If you already know you can’t stand the ‘Alex Verus’, ‘Harry Dresden’ and ‘Peter Grant’ books, you probably won’t get on with this one. Nothing surprising in here but it was a fun read and is a series I know is always going to brighten my day.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2011. 292 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 8.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-52247-4
pub: Orbit, 2011. 289 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50119-2)