Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)
Not only is Hounded and incredibly entertaining fusion of Celtic myth and present-day American culture, but I absolutely adore the story's lighthearted exuberance. From the moment I saw the dedication page ("Look, Mom, I made this! Can we put it on the fridge?"), I knew this book was going to be fantastic. Hearne gives a pronunciation guide, but notes that "readers are free to pronounce the book however they see fit. It's supposed to be a good time, so I do not wish to steal anyone's marshmallows by telling them they're 'saying it wrong'." Hearne so clearly has an awesomely down-to-earth attitude about writing that I knew, before I even hit chapter one, that I was going to love this book.
Not only have the Celtic gods come to life, they're apparently all visiting Arizona. Atticus O'Sullivan is a 2100-year old druid who has spent the last few thousand years on the run. Thousands of years ago, he stole a magic sword from Aengus Og, one of the Tuatha de Danann and the son of the Dagda, and he's been in flight mode ever since. But it looks like his running days are over. As Atticus discovers, apparently Tir na nOg got hooked up to the internet, and even if the Dagda's all-seeing eye cannot find you, a Google search will. So now the Morrigan has come to croak out dire words of prophecy, Aengus Og is willing to bring in every force to bear from the local police to the Fir Bolg, and, if that weren't enough, a local witch coven has Atticus embroiled in yet another debacle. Even with the help of his lawyers (they're vampires and werewolves) and his loyal dog Oberon, it's going to take a lot to get Atticus out of this mess.
I positively loved this book, even though the protagonist is very different from my normal reading fare. It was just way too entertaining to watch all of the Tuatha de Danann start running around Arizona, eating milkshakes, scaring off customers, and being totally bewildered by plugs. When I was a lot younger, I used to read a lot of ancient legends, including the Celtic myths. Because of this, it was incredibly amusing to see the casual mentions of various gods, from the Morrigan to the Fir Bolgs to the Formorians to Bres the Beautiful. Even better, Hearne uses an actual legendary sword, Fragarach, as the part of the basis of the plotline. Hearne clearly did the research, and although the name-dropping might be irritating if you aren't familiar with the Tuatha de Danann, if you have even my limited knowledge, it's tons of fun. He has a fantastic ability to keep within the old stories while still adding personality to the De Danann, combined with a ruthless willingness to change the present circumstances of these mythological figures.
When I started reading mythology, I probably had some initial belief it was highbrow, but I quickly discovered that myths, especially the Irish Celtic ones, are astonishingly immature, crass, and bawdy. So although Atticus might not be my type of protagonist, he's very much in the tradition of the original Celtic mythos. Personally, I like my protagonists more in the "tarnished knight" style immortalized by Raymond Chandler. Instead, I found Atticus the be quite cavalier about killing and death and surprisingly unconcerned about potential danger to his friends and allies. It really pisses me off that he finally snapped when the land was destroyed, not because a bunch of his allies got killed or two of his friends were kidnapped. But I guess when you're immortal, your priorities shift.] When he's finished sticking a sword in someone, he's more likely to be worrying about where to hide the body rather than dwelling on any guilt or regret. But it's hard to judge Atticus because this attitude is so well in tune with the old Celtic myths. Ebullience, violence, and a generally teenage mentality is what they are all about. After all, they have the only mythology I know of which has an entire story surrounding the the gorging and subsequent bowel movements of the head god. I did ask myself how Atticus has managed to live over two thousand years without actually growing up, but again, this is in line with the immortal Tuatha De.
I really enjoyed Atticus' narration style. It was very interesting to have a narrator who is already incredibly powerful; usually urban fantasy characters start out as small fry and gain their power as the series proceeds. This impossibly ancient, impossibly experienced, and yet quite immature narrator felt similar to Gaiman's American Gods, although with a much less cynical tone. Atticus's incredible powers made it a little difficult to build up much suspense, and the actual action scenes of the book are short and sporadic. A lot of the time is necessarily Atticus waiting for Aengus to send the next wave of attacks against him. I actually enjoyed the slower pace, as well as the interactions (through a psychic link) between Atticus and his dog. The overall tone felt similar to the Nightside series, and if you enjoyed those, you'll definitely love Hounded.
Overall, this is a totally original and entertaining addition to the urban fantasy genre. It will especially appeal to anyone with a little past knowledge of the Celtic myths. I was absolutely ecstatic to see the old Celtic gods come to life. The only thing that could possibly have made this better is if Hearne had included some of the (constantly overlooked but totally awesome) Welsh patheon. Well, enough for now...I'm off to get hold of the next in the series!
Note: I received this as an e-book from the publisher, Random House Publishing Group, via NetGalley.