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Book Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Genre: Celtic Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: April 19, 2011
ISBN-10: 0345522478
ISBN-13: 978-0345522474
Author Website: Kevin Hearne

Druids. Magic. Celtic gods. An unstoppable sword. An epic fantasy, surely. Not for debut author Kevin Hearne. Hounded, the first book of the Iron Druid trilogy, features the comic and exciting adventures of Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the druids. Twenty-one centuries old with the body of a twenty year old, Atticus lives a peaceful life in Arizona. Preferring this area of the world for its “low god density” Atticus runs the local New Age bookshop and health store, using his magic and herblore to brew useful potions for the old, the lovelorn, and the occasional witch. But one doesn’t become twenty-one centuries old without making some enemies. Back in the days of yore, Atticus took a sword from a god, Aenghus Óg, and the Celtic love god wants it back. Beloved of the Morrigan, Celtic goddess of war, Atticus has been able to hide thus far, but when a coven of vain witches, the local werewolf clan (of lawyers), the police, and the goddess of the hunt get involved, Atticus can’t hide for long. What results is a hilarious romp of an action story that is a blend of the modern and the mythic.

Hearne had me hooked from the dedication page. Anyone who would say “Look Mom, I made this! Can we put it on the fridge?” has a keen sense of humor. Couple that with a thorough knowledge of Celtic myth and legend (he includes a pronunciation guide of the Gaelic language though “he does not wish to steal anyone’s marshmallows by telling them they are ‘saying it wrong.’”) with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the paranormal fantasy so popular these days and you get a story that is just plain fun. Hearne entertains because he is entertained by his tale, and while it is obvious a lot of work went into the novel, its reads breezily.

Atticus is a wonderful character to know. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, finds some of the antics of his “younger” paranormal contemporaries rather exasperating (twenty-one centuries of life can get you a lot of wisdom – or at least more crotchety), and is easy to connect to when he spends afternoons helping the local old lady with her gardening (a good occupation for a Druid) and caring for his intelligent Irish wolfhound, Oberon. He is both everyman and ancient wise one, funny and deathly serious depending on occasion. The wide variety of personality traits Atticus exhibits makes him a deeper than average urban fantasy character, but not the angst-ridden self-flagellating archetype widespread in the genre. Atticus is a Celtic Dresden.

The plot moves really fast. Atticus moves from scrape to scrape, and Hearne does a good job keeping several plotlines going without dropping any. Each intertwines into the other, and Atticus moves rapidly towards a face to face confrontation with Aenghus Óg, who previously left attempts at murder to his henchman. The story is self-contained, and while it is part of a trilogy that is being released one a month for the next three months it does not leave the reader on any sort of cliffhanger. Hearne is relying on your love of his character to keep you reading the next story, and I can virtually guarantee you will want to.

This is the best urban/paranormal fantasy I have read in years. Fast paced, funny, clever, and suitably mythic, this is urban fantasy for those worn-out of werewolves and vampires. Fans of Jim Butcher, Harry Connolly, Greg van Eekhout, Ben Aaronovitch, or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods will take great pleasure in Kevin Hearne’s Hounded. Highly recommended.