I will admit, when I saw this book on the bookshelves years ago I snickered a little.
First of all, you’ve got what basically looks like a Santa Monica surf bro on the cover holding a sword. That it’s written by an author who, either as a pen name or legit, has the last name of an English god writing about Irish druids is an added bonus. It’s a story about a twenty-one hundred year-old Druid with an intelligent talking (albeit psychically) dog who is on the run from the Irish god of love who wants the magical sword the Druid possesses. At the time I blew it off as a yet another addition to the growing muddy landscape of urban fantasy, a bit of cultural appropriation that screwed with a mythology I happen to hold quite fondly.
Then there’s the fact that he’s a Druid. Let me just say that I have a somewhat…amused relationship with people claiming themselves to be Druids these days and figured I’d have similar reactions to a fictional one as well.
I was recently sent every single book in the series published to date by my mother-in-law for Your Book is Why Daddy Drinks (I still can’t decide if she’s doing it to encourage the podcast or if she’s doing it to see me suffer; I think I’ve settled on “yes” as an answer to that particular question) as she thought these would be good fodder. When I mentioned them in the Facebook community I got a round of “WHAT?! Those books are great/good/entertaining!”
So I figured, what the hell, and read Hounded, The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book One and see if the taste of anyone joining my podcast’s community could be trusted.
And you know what? I’d like to think if there is one thing I’m capable of doing, it’s admitting when I was “wrong”. And I was. This was a thoroughly enjoyable book.
Now, is Hounded high literature? No. But is it well written with a consistent character, possesses good dialogue, entertaining, has decent pacing and descriptive action scenes, AND, to top it off, plays well with the Irish mythological pantheon/folklore that I love? Yes.
One thing I love about Irish history, especially when it comes to Irish legends, is how the stories are told. I would argue that, among all the people in the world, the Irish are one of the best when it comes to storytelling and poetry (to the point, I believe, that they were the first Europeans at least to develop rhyming poetry) and easily compete with the likes of the Vikings when it comes to works like epics. The voice of Atticus O’Sullivan, the main character, fits that well, especially when he’s telling the story of how he came to have the magical sword. For me it brought to mind The Cattle Raid of Cooley. Hearne’s treatment of the goddesses Brigid, Morrigan (FINALLY A MORRIGAN THAT IS A CREEPY, BACK-STABBING WAR GODDESS FIRST AND ANYTHING ELSE SECOND), and the rest of the featured Irish pantheon was great.
And, I will agree with what others have said: Oberon the dog is pretty awesome.
Now, does this book have some issues? Yes. Already we can see what I’m going to call the Urban Fantasy Power Creep in this book as Atticus is given a completely new power by a goddess to deal with a situation. Then there’s also a point where, in a fight, Atticus is given a goddess’ strength in order to continue fighting. These two things make me look side-eyed at the book because if this is a trend, Atticus getting a new power or divine-assistance every time his bacon is in the fryer, I’m going to get bored quickly; I want to know how Atticus would overcome things, not watch him use a lifeline and get saved by a god(dess) any time he’s in trouble.
That being said, I liked it enough that I’m going to start on Hexed after I finish Scalzi’s latest book. If you like Urban Fantasy, especially not dark and moody Urban Fantasy, then I would recommend Hounded, The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book One.