So I read Skin Game (that review is over here), and I blazed through it in my usual gluttonous fashion. One of my friends knew I’d be wanting more books of a similar ilk to fill my gaping maw while I waited for the next entry in the Dresden Files, and so he recommended Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid series. It turns out that Hounded, the first book of the series, pretty perfectly satisfies my aforementioned appetite. It’s not very long, and it’s not very complicated (except insofar as there are a number of different magical beings, most of whom do not get along with each other), but it’s certainly entertaining. I would say it’s something like literary junk food, with a small helping of mythological nutrition. Good for a light snack.
An important note for those who have felt burned by previous experience with the Dresden Files: I don’t think this book is particularly offensive, though I should leave any final judgement to the consideration of someone with a more sensitive palate. Specifically, there are a number of female characters who don’t feel like they’re only set dressing (it turns out Celtic goddesses show up frequently in a high-mythology urban fantasy about an ancient druid, and the few mortal women you meet aren’t helpless damsels either), but there is a Hollywood-esque imbalance in favor of the pretty, and far more attention is lavished on the descriptions of attractive women than on the descriptions of attractive men. I don’t really see a problem with that focus, given that the narrator appears to be a straight male, but if you’re not interested in stories about a straight man in an urban fantasy setting you should probably look elsewhere. Like I said, this book scratches a similar itch to the Dresden Files, but with less Noir and all that that entails.
Right, so how about more details on the story and setting?
In case you hadn’t guessed, this definitely falls into the category of wish-fulfillment. It’s narrated by an ancient Druid who has been preserved in an apparently 21-year-old body, and who is magically powerful, highly competent, and knows a great deal about a very large number of things. As mentioned above, he also routinely interacts with a large number of very attractive women and is quietly wealthy. Not that there’s anything wrong with wish-fulfillment characters; I thought that he made an entertaining narrator, and he had the standard “witty, wry, but not quite perfect” tone down pat. Hearne clearly knows the genre he’s chosen to write in, and he does it pretty well.
More interesting to me, the main character manages to mix feeling old and yet identifying as young and “hip” (for the purposes of blending in). I won’t say that I consider this to be a perfect treatment of how I envision pseudo-immortal people acting, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for when I finally get around to writing more convincing elves. Just because you’re old and have lived a long time and learned many things doesn’t mean that you don’t still have petty likes and dislikes, nor that you are above conniving to shame or destroy that person who embarrassed you several centuries ago. You just have more time in which to do it, and can afford to be patient about ruining the people you despise. So yes, I liked that aspect of things.
Another piece that I liked is that all things in which people believe and have faith appear to exist. Better yet, pretty much everyone agrees that the original Thor is a total asshole. While none of this is really explored in any depth in Hounded (it begins to show up more in the next book) I rather like the way in which this allows the setting to incorporate pretty much whatever the author pleases. And since nearly all the various gods appear to be entirely capable of dying (even if killing them is difficult), seeing them squabble amongst themselves and catch people up in their proxy wars is rather appealing. It feels appropriately mythological, even if it does at first appear to be a little out of place in an urban fantasy. I guess a better genre title would be mythological urban fantasy.
As far as the story itself goes, there weren’t any sections that really threw me for a loop; nothing felt like it was out of place once I had some idea of how Hearne was treating the genre, and it didn’t feel like he’d done anything exceptional to subvert or defy my expectations. That said, the story is still entertaining and feeds the hunger that I felt upon finishing Skin Game. If you like the genre, and especially if you’re still needing more after finishing Skin Game, I suggest you try Hounded.