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?
If you haven’t read the Dresden Files, this is not the place to start. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the series, I’m not quite sure how best to describe it based on this book. The Dresden Files began as noir-inspired urban fantasy, focused on the straight white male wish-fulfillment protagonist Harry Dresden, everyone’s favorite (i.e. the only) wizard Private Investigator in Chicago. According to Jim Butcher, the first book was originally written to prove just how awful formulaic genre writing could be. Lo and behold, Butcher was actually very good at following genre formulae in generally gratifying ways, and the series has been quite successful.
Thankfully, though it’s still noir-inspired urban fantasy, the series has grown and changed. Harry Dresden isn’t the same character that he was 15 books ago, and I don’t believe Butcher is still writing to prove just how terrible his writing can be. The story’s background has grown in depth and complexity, and while not every book has been totally up to snuff (and some of them have their worse sections), I’m still quite thoroughly hooked. In fact, Skin Game is probably my favorite book in the series to date. I know, that whole bit about “written to prove how awful formulaic genre writing could be” isn’t exactly the best selling point. Nor does it put “my favorite book in the series to date” in a very good light.
But the Dresden Files offers up a very specific flavor of story, and it’s one that I have found well-nigh irresistible ever since I read the first book. It’s a little like guilty pleasure junk food, to be honest, and seeing the series get better over time just makes me feel better about my decision to keep consuming it. It helps that the legacy of semi-covert noir-inspired misogyny has been slowly leeching out of the books, and I’m glad that the series has reached a point where Harry will more or less listen when his friends call him on his shit.
Enough about the series, how about the book?