Thursday, 5 January 2012

‘Hounded’ – Kevin Hearne (Del Rey/Orbit)

It was way back at the end of December (well, last week actually but it feels like such a long time ago now...) that I broke the habit of... ooh, several months and decided to start reading some Urban Fantasy again. To cut a long story short, I’d had enough of certain tropes being criminally overused and it took M.L.N. Hanover’s ‘Unclean Spirits’ to get me back in the groove again.

And you know what? I don’t want to get out of that groove. When Urban Fantasy works, for me, it works really well with the modern day world being twisted ever so slightly out of kilter with the addition of werewolves, vampires and so on. I love that ever so slightly creepy feeling I get when I imagine that this all could be happening out of the corner of my eye :o) What could I read though? You see, I’m still not keen on the overuse of those aforementioned tropes... Then it struck me. Way back in June last year I read Kevin Hearne’s ‘Hexed’ and, despite a couple of issues (see the review Here) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In one of those weird twists, I’d somehow managed to read ‘Hexed’ (the middle book; well, so far...) first instead of starting at the beginning. I’ve got both ‘Hounded’ and ‘Hammered’ sat on the pile so the New Year looked like an ideal time to go for it and finish reading this series. As it happened, I had just as much fun reading ‘Hounded’ as I did with ‘Hexed’ (if not more so). Why can’t all Urban Fantasy be like this?

The neighbours of Atticus O’Sullivan think he is nothing more than a young Irish guy who runs an occult bookstore and has a wolfhound that’s prone to misbehave itself from time to time. And that’s just what he wants them to think. Atticus O’Sullivan is actually a druid who is just over two thousand years old and wants to grow a lot older in peace and quiet. Atticus might have some trouble on that score though... A very angry Celtic god is after the sword that Atticus carries and has hounded the druid for it down the centuries. Now the god has tracked Atticus down, to his home in Arizona, and isn’t going to leave without the sword he came for. Atticus doesn’t want to leave either though; he likes his current home and is done running. It’s going to take all of Atticus’ power to face down this challenge; all his power, the Goddess of Death, a team of werewolf attorneys (plus one vampire) and a Hindu witch in the body of a bartender. And even all that extra help may not be enough...

I said ‘may not be enough’ but the fact that I’ve reviewed ‘Hexed’ (and will also be reading ‘Hammered’ sooner rather than later) suggests otherwise. All credit to Hearne though; even though I’d already read ‘Hexed’ he still managed to keep me on my toes and wondering how ‘Hounded’ was going to turn out. In those intervening pages, ‘Hounded’ ended up being a thoroughly entertaining and compelling read that I couldn’t get enough of. Just reading ‘Hounded’ has pretty much guaranteed that ‘Hammered’ will form a large part of my weekend reading.

As it happened, I did approach ‘Hounded’ with some initial reservations based on a structural issue that stood out in my reading of ‘Hexed’; an issue that went along these lines...

‘...there is too much of a dividing line between the three main elements of the plot itself. Atticus sorts out ‘Job A’ and there’s a real sense of closure that stops ‘Job A’ linking into ‘Job B’ (and so on). It felt to me like ‘Hexed’ was actually three short stories cobbled together into one novel and the pacing suffered as a result. I felt like I had to keep stopping and starting...’
This was something that I wanted to avoid, if I could help it, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that ‘Hounded’ more than delivered on this score. No having to jumpstart the plot here; while there are separate plot elements to the story everything dovetails together very well and the book flows incredibly smoothly as a result. I found it all too easy to turn each page. I wasn’t too sure about how certain elements of the plot held up under scrutiny but it all seemed to work out and made sense by the end. I just wish it had been a little more clear in the meantime (although, that vagueness did pique my interest and keep me reading).

This is also in no small part down to the cast of engaging characters that Hearne brings to the page. Whether you’re a major player or minor character filling in a gap at the edge of the page Hearne imbues you with a real spark of life and individuality that had me wanting to learn more. Having read ‘Hexed’ I already knew some of Atticus’ background but had no problems being told it all over again. Hearne’s easygoing style means that you’ll read all this stuff without even realising it. Atticus is engaging as he was in ‘Hexed’ (refreshingly honest about his lot and showing a strength of character, in the face of adversity that had me rooting for him all the more) and I was really glad to spend more time with his incorrigible Irish Wolfhound Oberon. Hearne is a writer with a unique insight into the inner workings of a dog’s mind :o)

The plot itself is a fast paced affair full of little twists and turns to keep readers like me on their toes. There are no big surprises but there is plenty of tension to drive the plot forward and all of this makes for a suitably explosive finale when pretty much every supernatural creature you can think of (ok, no zombies) all pitch in for a massive scrap that had me glued to the page. The plot positively drips with evocative Celtic atmosphere as well and this helps to give you an idea of just how old Atticus really is (as well helping ‘Hounded’ really stand out from other Urban Fantasies that I’ve read). You just can’t lose.

A couple of niggling doubts over certain parts of the plot end up doing very little to detract from what is an excellent read that not only will appeal to fans of the sub-genre but will also do a lot to get jaded readers, like me, reading Urban Fantasy again. Bring on ‘Hammered’!

Nine and a Half out of Ten

P.S. 'Hounded' is published by Orbit in the UK and Del Rey in the US. I think I've posted the UK cover art but there really isn't a lot of difference between the two.

4 comments:

Al said...

I enjoyed the first two books in the series, but the third book disturbed me a bit when the main character offers a woman for gang rape to achieve his goal. On the other hand, it does fit into the practical sensibilities of an immortal...

SQT said...

I like this series too. Definitely one of the better UF series out there right now.

Mieneke said...

I adored this book! Oberon rules :-D I've got Hexed and Hammered already on the pile and can't wait to dig in to them!

Graeme Flory said...

Mieneke - If Kevin Hearne ever decides to write a series just about Oberon I'd read it :o)