Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
The novels and novellas are listed below in the reading order suggested by the author:
"The Grimoire of the Lamb" (novella .5) (5/2013)
"Kaibab Unbound" (short story .7) (included in Hounded e-book; also in Two Tales of the Iron Druid, 5/2015)
Hounded (novel 1) (5/2011)
Hexed (novel 2) (6/2011)
Hammered (novel 3) (7/2011)
"A Test of Mettle" (short story 3.5)(also included in Two Tales of the Iron Druid, 5/2015)(click HERE for free on-line version)
Tricked (novel 4) (4/2012)
"Goddess at the Crossroads" (short story 4.2) (12/2015; in A Fantasy Medley 3 from Subterranean Press)
"Two Ravens & One Crow" (novella 4.5) (9/2012)
"The Demon Barker of Wheat Street" (story 4.6) (also in Carniepunk, 7/2013)
"The Chapel Perilous" (4.7 frame story) (also in Unfettered, 6/2013)
Trapped (novel 5) (11/2012)
Hunted (novel 6) (6/2013)
Shattered (novel 7) (6/2014)
As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination—a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares.
As Atticus globetrots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won’t come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend.
In Hearne’s introductory “Author’s Note,” he stresses the importance of reading the novella “A Prelude to War” before reading Staked: “This book begins in a very different place from where Shattered left off; if you missed the novella ‘A Prelude to War,’ you might wish to read it first to understand why the initial chapters are set where they are and some of the references to Loki and Mekera.”
In this fresh and inventive UF series, Atticus O'Sullivan (aka Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin) is an ancient Druid—actually the last Druid in existence. In the modern world, he takes the form of a tall, dark, and handsome man in his early twenties. Atticus has owned a bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, for about 20 years. Arizona is the perfect place for a Druid trying to hide himself from the Tuatha De Danann—the Fae—who need oak, ash, and thorn to make their journey into the mortal world. Arizona's deserts aren't friendly to oak and ash trees, so Atticus feels fairly sure that he's safe from his bitter Fae enemy, Aenghus Óg, who is supposedly the god of love, but no...not so much. (Note: Hearne provides a pronunciation guide for the many Irish names and terms scattered throughout the series.) In this world, the supernaturals hide their true identities from mortals by wearing glamours to disguise their actual appearance. For example, the supernatural monsters who attack Atticus at one point in the story look like bikers to mortals, while in reality they are half-naked giants carrying huge spears.
Atticus has the ability to shape-shift into any of the four animals depicted in his Druidic tattoos, which completely cover his body: wolfhound, sea otter, owl, and stag. He uses swords that are imbued with magic, and he wears a cold iron amulet and a bear charm from which he can pull magical power. As part of his Druid heritage, Atticus can communicate with the elementals (spirits embodying the five elements)—particularly the earth elementals. The elementals love Druids, and since Atticus is the last Druid on earth, they will do almost anything to help him and his friends.
NOVELLA .5: "The Grimoire of the Lamb"
This novella takes place before Granuaile comes into Atticus' life, so somewhere during the time period covered in the first three novels. Although the story begins in Atticus' book shop in Tempe, Arizona, the action soon shifts to Egypt where Atticus must track down a book thief. That thief is a powerful sorcerer who steals an ancient grimoire filled with black magic right out of Atticus' hands. Our hero has his werewolf lawyer do a background check on the villain while he heads for the land of the Pharaohs with faithful, sausage-loving Oberon at his side.
Atticus hasn't visited Egypt for awhile because of a long-ago kerfuffle with the cat goddess, Bast, so he has to clear up that situation before he can get on with his search for the sorcerer. Then, the story follows Atticus as he tracks down the thief, nearly dying in the process. As he lurks in the sorcerer's dungeon, Atticus confronts killer crocodiles, a man- (and lamb-) eating stone monster, and the sorcerer himself. Never fear, though, because there are more novels coming in the series, so you know that he survives.
This novella does not interface with the series story arc in any way. It's just another one of the many exciting episodes in Atticus' life, back when he was a lot more arrogant than he is right now.
As book 2 opens, we find Atticus dealing with the aftermath of his defeat of two villainous gods in the previous book. As a result of Atticus' infamous exploits, he is faced with a never-ending stream of gods, goddesses, and other powerful entities from all of the world's religions, all begging for assistance in getting rid of their enemies. Atticus knows better than to get involved in further religious disagreements, so he refuses all offers, no matter what the rewards might be. One goddess who does get his help, though, is the Morrigan, who helped Atticus in the previous book in exchange for his promise to help her to create a protective amulet like the one that Atticus himself wears at all times. Unfortunately, Brighid, the fiery Fae queen is not at all happy with Atticus' relationship with the Morrigan, and Brighid wants an amulet as well. Meanwhile, Atticus has to get rid of a few stray demonic leftovers from his fight with Aenghus (which climaxed the previous book), and he gets some help with that from Coyote, the Trickster god. One of the most interesting parts of this series is that it doesn't limit itself to Celtic mythology. Instead, many cultural beliefs are interwoven, including Native American, Nordic, Eastern European, and Asian. At one point, Coyote threatens Atticus by saying, "You'll fix this situation or you'll answer to me. An' to Pima Coyote. An' Tohono O'oodham Coyote, an' Apache Coyote too." (p. 32) What Coyote is saying is that there is not just one Coyote god, but that there are, in fact, many Coyote gods—a different one for each culture that believes in a Coyote god. What an interesting and inventive concept! Watching the interplay among the various religious icons is fascinating.
|Maryann Forrester (played by Michelle Forbes) |
as she shifts into her Maenad form
(Season 2, True Blood)
NOVEL 4: Tricked
This book opens with the death of Atticus—brutally eviscerated by two of the Æsir in retaliation for the trail of death Atticus and his vampire friend, Leif, left among the Norse pantheon during their adventures in the previous book. Appearances, however, can be deceiving, and that isn't really Atticus being sliced and diced by Týr and Vadir—it's the Navajo trickster god Coyote in his Atticus disguise. Atticus needs the gods of the world to believe that he is dead so that they'll stop trying to hunt him down. If he can just have 12 years of relative peace, he can lead his apprentice, Granuaile, through her training so that she can become a full Druid. Since Coyote has the ability to regenerate himself at will, the trickster agrees to help out Atticus—for a price. For his part of the bargain, Atticus must convince the Colorado elemental to move a mine's worth of gold to a specific underground location on the Navajo reservation so that the Navajo can prosper economically. As it turns out, Coyote has "forgotten" to mention one small detail—the fact that two vicious skinwalkers live right next door (on the next mesa over) and they don't take kindly to visitors.
NOVELLA 4.5: "Two Ravens & One Crow"
As Atticus and the Morrigan converse, we briefly see a softer, kinder side of the Morrigan. During that conversation we get further insight into the Morrigan's psyche as she describes her visit to a baseball game, during which she enjoyed the suffering of the players: "They chew gum or sunflower seeds or cancerous wads of tobacco and try to forget their failure, even though it gnaws away at them. They tell one another lewd jokes and speculate about the sexual orientation of the umpires. All of it is an attempt to lift their spirits to the point where they can compete successfully at their next opportunity. The true beauty of the game is in the dugout..."
After the tattooing is completed, Atticus is ready to head back to Arizona, but the Morrigan is not done with him. She teleports them to Oslo for a meeting with Odin and his wife, Frigg. Atticus is understandably nervous about this meeting because he has done some awful things recently to Odin and to other deities in the Norse pantheon. Just as their meeting is moving along nicely—without bloodshed or personal injury—someone takes a shot at Atticus from a nearby rooftop and the action part of the plot kicks in. The identity of the attacker is part of the conflict resolution in book 5, so I won't reveal it here. Suffice it to say that Odin, Atticus, and the Morrigan are an unstoppable trio when it comes to tracking down and capturing a bad guy (or girl).
Several events in this novella are referenced in book 5, so it's worth the inexpensive price to go ahead and read this novella. FYI: The titular birds are Odin's two ravens and the Morrigan in her crow form.
STORY 4.6: "The Demon Barker of Wheat Street"
Most of the events in this book put Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon (Atticus' Irish wolfhound) in grave danger, and each can be traced back to Atticus' own actions in previous books in which he did great damage to various members of the Norse pantheon. Particularly serious is his killing of the Norns (the Fates) and his collusion in the death of Thor (in Hammered). Atticus' former friend, Leif Helgarson, the vampire—now a not-to-be-trusted frenemy—also shows up to add his own twist to Atticus' troubles. Atticus also has a rematch with Bacchus, whom he alienated back in Hexed. Not to mention Hel, who gets her just desserts here after having caused some painful trouble for Atticus in Tricked. So...Atticus is up to his usual antics: antagonizing old enemies and creating new ones in the ranks of various theological pantheons.
In this book, we see Greek and Roman gods and goddesses working in unison against Atticus, an unlikely partnership that demonstrates just how much danger Atticus has brought down upon himself and his two comrades. This book is steeped in Norse, Greek, and Roman mythology—even more than some of the earlier books.
This book has a thin romance thread that follows the relationship between Atticus and Granuaile. Eventually and after much disruption, Atticus finishes Granuaile's tattoos and she becomes a full Druid. At that point the couple finally acts on their long-time mutual attraction (but off the page, so no details).
By the cliff-hanger ending, we learn exactly why the sixth book is entitled Hunted: Atticus and Granuaile are being pursued by Olympian gods and goddesses (both Roman and Greek), an ancient vampire and his minions, the Svartálfar (Dark Elves), and Hel and her draugars—and don't forget that crazy Loki is still out there.
Although this isn't my favorite book in the series, it's still a great story. I'm happier when the mythology is incorporated with a lighter touch. With Atticus and friends in such dire straits, I look forward to reading book 6 to see how the author manages to get them out alive. This is definitely not a stand-alone read. The novels should be read in chronological order because almost every event in Atticus' life has a complex cause-effect history in a previous book. Click HERE to read the first five chapters of Trapped.
NOVEL 6: Hunted
This book is really the second half of the story that began in book 5. The action picks up just after the ending of that book as Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon are still in Romania on the run from the goddesses Diana and Artemis. The Morrigan has stayed behind to fight them off, but Atticus soon gets a telepathic message from her that she is losing the battle. The Morrigan instructs Atticus to run across Europe, swim the English Channel, and get to a magical forest in England, where he and his friends will find safety—at least temporarily. They aren't allowed to use any type of transportation besides their own feet, so it's a very long and dangerous journey, peppered by attacks by a variety of supernatural and human adversaries.
As you can guess, the plot basically follows the race between Atticus and his pursuers. The good guys manage to get some minimal help from Odin and his buddies, but mostly they are on their own. Through his ravens, Odin explains to Atticus that the Greco-Roman gods (aka the Olympians) are all betting on who will win the race, but they are not going to interfere directly. They are very sure that Diana and Artemis are perfectly capable of defeating (i.e., killing) Atticus so they're not worried at all about the outcome. Atticus, of course, has a few tricks up his Druidic sleeves, so the Olympians have some surprises in store.
The underlying problem through the past few books is that Ragnarok (the end of the world) is at hand because the insane trickster god, Loki, has been released and will soon unite his power with that of Hel (Loki's daughter) and Muspellheim (Norse realm of fire). Generally, it would be Thor's job to fight off Loki and his allies, but Atticus killed Thor in a previous book, so now he feels responsible for alerting the Olympians so that they can make a preemptive strike at Loki. Unfortunately, due to some of Atticus' audacious actions in earlier books, the Olympians aren't in any mood for peaceful talks. In those instances, Atticus was extremely thoughtless and arrogant in the use of his powers, and he did a lot of damage to several mythological pantheons. Now, he is dealing with the consequences of his actions, and he's not nearly so full of himself any more.
The most touching part of the story is the death of the Morrigan, which takes place in the first few pages of the book. She has been a complex and fascinating character all through the series, and we have just begun to see that she has a softer side (particularly in the novella, "Two Ravens and One Crow," which is included at the end of the paperback version of this book as well as being available as an e-book). At this point in her long and eventful life, the Morrigan has realized that even though she wants to change, her goddess state won't allow that to happen. She tells Atticus, "Change has become impossible for me. I cannot make friends. I cannot be gentle except under the most extraordinary circumstances. My nature will not allow it. All I can do is terrify, seduce, and choose the slain....Long ago I was merely a Druid like you and could do whatever I wished. But once I became a goddess, certain expectations came with the power. Call them chains, rather. I didn't notice them until I tried to break free. My nature now is no longer my own to do with as I please." (p. 5) Naturally, Atticus is devastated by the Morrigan's death. Their relationship has always been complicated, and he regrets that he will never be able to tell her how he really feels about her. Click HERE to read the first chapter of Hunted, which includes the death of the Morrigan.
As usual, the humor comes primarily from the dialogue, particularly the conversations that include Oberon, Atticus' telepathic Irish wolfhound. In one whimsical non-Oberon scene, Atticus makes a deal with Odin in which Odin promises to get Atticus some assistance in crossing the English Channel in exchange for some fine Irish whiskey and a case of Girl Scout cookies. (Odin is particularly partial to Samoas.)
The main difference between this book and its predecessors is that five chapters are written from Granuaile's point of view. At first, you'll wonder why the author has made this huge change, but by Granuaile's second chapter (Chapter 10), you'll understand what is going on—you won't like it, but you'll understand it. (I can't say any more without a spoiler.) The main problem with Granuaile's chapters is their overload of introspective interior monologues. When she finally gets back to describing the action, her chapters get much better.
Although the story of the big race is exciting at the beginning, it tends to bog down periodically, particularly when Atticus gets carried away with descriptions of the ins and outs of various mythologies (always a weakness in this series). When the enemies are drawing close, and when Atticus out thinks and out maneuvers them, that's when the story is engrossing—page-turningly compelling.
I love Granuaile as a strong female character who demonstrates her intelligence through her well-planned and skillfully executed actions and her smart—but not smart-mouthed—repartee. It's a relief to have a bold and resourceful heroine who doesn't rely on profane snarkiness and black-leather bustiers to get her point across. The book ends with the resolution of Atticus' primary, short-term problem, but leaves some loose ends to be tied up in the next (final) two books, including the strong probability of the Ragnarok—the apocalypse.
NOVEL 7: Shattered
This novel is different from all of the previous ones because the character list now includes three Druids, each one narrating alternating chapters in his or her first-person voice. Atticus narrates his chapters in the past tense (“I raised my right sleeve…” “He leaned on me..”). Granuaile MacTiernan (Atticus’ former apprentice) and Owen Kennedy narrate their chapters in the present tense (“I fold the paper bag…” The hounds gambol ahead…”). I don't know why Hearne chose to differentiate the narrators' verb tenses like this because the tense change is noticeably awkward. Each narrator has a distinct icon as a chapter header: a Celtic knot enclosed by a mirror-image pair of identical animals—Irish wolfhounds for Atticus, horses for Granuaile, and bears for Owen (his primary shape-shifting form). Hearne is still awkward in his approach to the voice of Granuaile, packing her chapters with emotional interior monologues and clothing descriptions in a manner that comes off as stereotypically chauvinistic. He does do a slightly better job with Granuaile's voice in this novel than he did in Hunted, so maybe he'll improve even more in the next book.
As usual, much of the humor in the story comes from the sausage-obsessed Oberon (although those too-frequent, overly-cutesy, meat-based dialogues could and should be cut way back), but Owen also contributes to the levity as he attempts to deal with the complexities of modern civilization. Remember, Owen has been isolated on a Time Island for 2,000 years, so he hasn't got a clue about anything modern, including languages (modern slang), communications (cell phones), transportation (cars), food preparation (microwaves), sanitary facilities (toilets), and—especially—political correctness. Rule number 1: Modern waitresses don't operate under the same societal rules as "roll-'em-in-the-hay" tavern wenches during the Roman Empire.
As the story opens, each of the main characters has a specific set of tasks:
As the characters tell their stories, the three, separate series of events appear at first to be unrelated, but that is just an illusion. All of the story lines eventually merge into a major showdown filled with danger, death, and heartbreak—and ending with a lingering feeling of unrest.
Of the three story lines, Granuaile's has the most action and suspense. Her estranged biological father is an archaeologist whose work is his life. When a student named Logan (hint, hint) brings him a mysterious clay vessel covered with "DO NOT OPEN" warnings written in Sanskrit, Dad (naturally enough) breaks it open, only to be possessed immediately by a raksoyuj, a summoner and controller of rakshasas. The rakshasas then go into villages, possess the inhabitants, and infect them with a deadly supernatural plague. Granuaile has to figure out how to find her father and remove the raksoyuj spirit without killing Dad's physical body. A raksoyuj is very hard to kill with conventional magical weapons, so Atticus sends Granuaile into the Himalayas to meet with the world's only real yeti—a set of furry, hockey-loving quintuplets. In keeping with his pattern of passing on legends and myths to whoever will listen, Atticus regales Granuaile with the "true" story of the origin of the yeti. Granuaile's scenes with the yeti are some of the best in the book—serving up some light suspense with a dollop of humor and a few sprinkles of dark emotions.
Atticus spends a lot of time shifting from otherworldly plane to plane and earthly place to place—sometimes with Owen, sometimes alone. He explains his tenuous situation with Loki to Owen and also asks Owen to spy around in Tír na nÓg in an attempt to learn if someone there is behind the recent assassination attempts. In his global travels, Atticus meets up with several deities who inform him of their willingness to support his stand against Loki. Their surprising reason for helping him relates back to a nondescript character from an earlier book—one you'd never guess (at least Atticus and I didn't). This particular aspect of the story comes across like a New Agey Sunday school lesson on the power of prayer. That's not a condemnation—I'm just sayin'...
Owen spends time with Sam Obrist's werewolves in Flagstaff, meets Hal Hauk's werewolf pack in Tempe, and then heads to Tír na nÓg for his meeting with Brighid, to whom he delivers an important, long-held secret message. In Tempe, he has his first hook-up with a woman in two millennium. (Yay, Owen!) In Tír na nÓg he reunites with old friends and comes up with a shocking assassination theory.
Each story line includes a few battle scenes and assassination attempts, but since there are two more books in the series, you can be sure that most of the major characters escape with their lives. The final two novels will almost certainly focus primarily on the Loki story line as Hearne gears up for the big finale. Although Atticus has a few other tasks to complete before he can turn his full attention to Loki and his followers (i.e., wiping out the vampires in Poland, dealing with a villain who escaped him in an earlier book, saving the Dark Elves), I'm guessing that the countdown to Ragnorak will be the primary driver of the plots of the final two novels.
I enjoyed this book more than I did Hunted. The three points of view strengthened the story-telling, even with the problems in Granuaile's chapters. Even though I love Atticus as a character, it was nice to have a break from the all-Atticus-all-the-time narration of the early books in the series. Contrary to many of Hearne's fan-boy reviewers, I give Hearne a lot of credit for including a strong female character like Granuaile. Actually, Hearne includes a lot of strong females among the deities.
Owen is a terrific addition to the series, so I hope that he doesn't get killed off any time soon. Although Owen sometimes comes close to being a gruff-old-geezer stereotype, his canny intelligence, plain speech, and practical common sense make him a distant individual—one who contributes experience, humor, and a few well-earned tongue-lashings for Atticus. Click HERE to read the first 65 pages of this novel. Just click on the right side of the cover art to “open up” the book.
NOVELLA 7.5: "A Prelude to War" in Three Slices
Meanwhile, Granuaile wants to get rid of the rune Loki burned into her arm in Shattered, so she decides to request assistance from Odin. The best scene in the story is the suspense-filled confrontation between Granuaile and Loki in which Loki gets much more than he bargained for when Granuaile pulls out all the weapons in her arsenal and aims them directly at his most vulnerable spots. Again, the ending of this story line is unresolved, with more to come in Staked.
The novella has lots of humorous dialogue between Atticus and Oberon (who, not surprisingly, loves cheese almost as much as he loves bacon). Granuaile's best line comes when she enters Asgard for the first time and tries to suppress her excitement: "I firmly smoosh my desire to take a selfie in Asgard, because I know how deeply uncool that would be." Unfortunately, it falls to Hearne to explain just what tyromancy is, so he has to slow down the pace for a page or two while he explains the process to Oberon while Mekera is up to her elbows in hartebeest rennet and curdled milk. Click HERE to read my complete review of Three Slices: Stories by Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne, & Chuck Wendig.