The Iron Druid Chronicles
Reviewed by Berni Phillips Bratman
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:9 (#350) in September 2011.]
If you wander into an Irish pub in Tempe, AZ or visit the local occult bookstore, you may run into a misplaced surfer dude, Atticus O’Sullivan. Don’t be deceived by the casual charm of this young slacker. He claims to be 21; what he fails to mention is that he is 21 centuries, not years, old. Atticus is the last of the Druids, and he has met Galileo. Genghis Khan, and Jesus.
Atticus has carved out a comfortable life for himself in modern Arizona. He has a faithful Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom he can speak telepathically. He owns his own home, being on good terms with his neighbor, the Widow MacDonagh, and not so good terms with another, more paranoid, neighbor. Atticus’s legal team consists of the local head vampire, alpha werewolf, and the alpha’s second. Some lawyers may be sharks, but Atticus’s are wolves and literally blood-suckers.
As Hounded begins, Atticus’s peaceful existence is disturbed by a variety of personages from the Celtic pantheon. The Morrigan is evidently a frequent visitor who sometimes pops in just for a booty call. This time, however, she has come to warn him that Aenghus Óg has come to kill him. Oh, and she would like Atticus to make her a necklace of amulets similar to his own.
Aenghus Óg wanting to kill him is nothing new — it’s the reason Atticus is keeping a low profile in Arizona to begin with. Centuries ago, Atticus stole an enchanted sword, Fragarach, and Aenghus Óg wanted revenge. Atticus’s necklace, on the other hand, took him centuries to forge. It allows him to store up strength, spells, and protection in the various amulets. He will guide her, but she has to make her own.
This being a fantasy novel, of course Aenghus Óg does come to Tempe for Atticus. The events in Hounded sets off a chain of events which are continued in the two following novels. As Hounded is centered on the Celtic pantheon, Hexed revolves around covens of witches, good, bad, and indifferent, with Bacchants thrown in for good measure. As you might guess from the title of the third book, Hammered, Atticus goes up against Thor and the Norse gods. Hearne’s Thor is not the cuddly good god seen in Marvel comics (and which Hearne refers to in his book). No, everyone wants to kill Thor, and they need Atticus to get them to Asgard.
These books were published in close succession — May, June, and July of 2011 — and they are really one continuous story with three major sections. And the end of the third book seems to be leading into a fourth.
These books are fun. If you’re tired of “chick” fantasies and want something featuring a guy but you’ve already read all the Harry Dresden books, you should check these out. While Atticus is considerably older than the local vampire and werewolves, he has made it a point to stay up to date with pop culture to allow him to blend in better. He is constantly correcting the idiomatic usage of Leif and Hal, the respective vamp and wolf who are not as with-it. This is fun now, but I fear they will not age well because of this.
Leif and Gunnar craned their heads around once we were stopped and saw Bacchus trying to deal with a very annoyed pair of large cats.
“Oh noes, kitteh haz major angriez!” I said. I turned around to share a laugh with my companions and found them glaring at me. “What?” I asked.
Leif shook a finger and said in a low, menacing tone, “If you tell me I have to talk like an illiterate halfwit to fit into this society, I will punch you.”
“And I’ll pull out your goatee,” Gunnar added.
“Lolcat iz new happeh wai 2 talk,” I explained to them. “U doan haz 2 be kitteh 2 speek it.” [Hammered, p. 148]
One thing Hearne does very well is integrate his expository lumps so they do not seem lumpish. He takes on an apprentice, an Irish bar maid who is possessed by a Hindu witch, in Hounded , and this allows him to have a sensible reason to explain various technicalities such as who’s who among the ancient gods of Ireland. Hammered opens with discussion of a giant squirrel, Ratatosk, and between the conversations with the druid’s apprentice and the rodent of unusual size, we are up to speed on Norse legends.
My only complaint about the books would be that the breakneck pace comes to a screeching halt at the end of each volume so it feels very abrupt — as if you’ve narrowly averted a car wreck. This is a minor quibble, however, about a series of fresh, new fantasy from a very promising author.