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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Kevin Hearne: IRON DRUID CHRONICLES

Author:  Kevin Hearne
Series:  IRON DRUID CHRONICLES 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  Del Rey
The novels and novellas are listed below in the reading order suggested by the author:
          "The Grimoire of the Lamb" (novella .5) (5/2013)
          "Clan Rathskellar" (free on-line short story .6) (also in Hounded e-book)
          "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 Unfettered6/2013)
         Trapped (novel 5) (11/2012)
          Hunted (novel 6) (6/2013)
          Shattered (novel 7) (6/2014)
          “A Prelude to War” (novella 7.5) in Three Slices (5/2015)
          Stacked (novel 8) (1/2016) 
          Novel 9 (Date and Title TBA) (FINAL) 

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 2/4/2016 to include a review of Staked, the eighth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first seven novels and four of the novellas. 

                         NOVEL 8:  Staked                         
PUBLISHER’S BLURB: 
     Iron Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, has a point to make—and then drive into a vampire’s heart. When a Druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers—led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus—have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand. 

     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.

MY REVIEW: 
    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.” 

     As you can infer from the title, this novel is all about Atticus’ war with the vampires. Theophilus, the oldest vampire in existence, has been trying to kill off all of the Druids for centuries, and he has now targeted Atticus, Granuaile, and Owen. Assisting Theophilus is Werner Drasche, the arcane lifeleech who killed one of Atticus’ oldest friends and stole all of Atticus’ money. 

     This novel has the same structure as Shattered: an opening “Story So Far” section that hits the series highlights followed by alternating chapters written from the perspectives of each of the three main characters: Atticus, Granuaile, and Owen. The three Druids travel separately, each completing a series of adventure-filled tasks before they reunite in the requisite, climactic showdown scene in Rome. For further explanation as to how Hearne manages the three points of view, read my review of Shattered (below). Here are the tasks that our intrepid trio must complete:

>> First, Atticus must take down Werner Drasche. Then he has to track down Theophilus and kill him once and for all. Along the way, he wants to make time for revenge against his one-time friend and former attorney, the vampire Leif Helgarson, who has now betrayed Atticus several times and needs to be taught a lesson. Because getting rid of Werner and Theophilus is such a huge challenge, Atticus requests assistance from a former enemy, Rabbi Yosef Bialik and his Hammers of God. In the midst of his vampire-related adventures, the Morrigan appears to him and tells him that he has to visit the dark elves and negotiate peace between them and the Æsir dwarfs, who are about to attack the dark elves. He also has a run-in with the goddess Diana.

>> Granuaile has to get Odin’s help to rid her of the mark that Loki branded on her arm. Then, she must get a cloak of divination from the coven of the Sisters of the Three Auroras in Warsaw, Poland, so that she will be completely hidden from Loki, who has vowed to kill her on sight. But in exchange, the witches want Granuaile to bring them a magical white horse that can make battle predictions—a horse that is being held by Weles, a dangerous trickster serpent-god comparable to Loki. After that adventure ends, Granuaile sets out to destroy her cold-hearted step-father’s anti-environmental oil business as the first step in her plan to save the world from encroaching pollution. (Granuaile’s chapters have a heavy save-the-planet vibe.) During the step-father revenge chapter, we get more information about Granuaile’s childhood years. Granuaile does not meet up with Atticus and Owen until the very end of the book.

>> Owen is settling in with Greta and the Flagstaff pack. Greta has bought some land, and the pack asks Owen to provide Druidic training for several human children of newly turned werewolves—a request that Owen is happy to oblige. The new apprentice Druids represent a variety of races and cultures, which means that Owen’s chapters heavily emphasize the value of diversity. Owen also has the responsibility for delivering fae-made magical wooden stakes to Atticus and Granuaile—stakes that cannot be splintered or snapped and that can unbind (destroy) a vampire just by scratching it anywhere on its body. Finally, Owen has to deal with the fact that his old enemy, Fand, has managed to escape from the prison in which he placed her.

     As Atticus travels back and forth between Earth and various otherworldly planes of existence, he takes the time (as usual) to tell Oberon some tales about the past, including why it’s very dangerous to be Nigel in Toronto (a story dating back to 1881 and 1953) and the story of Julie d’Aubigny (aka Mademoiselle Maupin) (circa 1700).

     All through this book, Atticus has money problems. He has to rely on some minor shop-lifting and in one case, he steals money from a pair of pickpockets who tried to lift his empty wallet. Unfortunately, Atticus owes gold to lots of magical folks. In particular, he owes payment to the Yewmen, who have been killing vampires around the world at Atticus’ behest. When he can’t pay them, they refuse to keep killing.

     Owen also has money troubles, mostly centered on times in the distant past then he snuck across troll-controlled bridges without paying the toll. Now that Owen is back in the world, the trolls want their gold (no paper money accepted), and they keep tracking him down—clubs in hand—no matter where he is. 

     At one point, Owen must make a quick trip to Toronto to rescue Atticus, which drives Owen to humorous distraction because it means that he has to deal with Google maps and “small pieces of paper with the number 20 on them and a picture of an old woman wearing a necklace of white beads”—otherwise known as Canadian 20-dollar bills. Obviously, Owen still hasn’t quite adjusted to the 21st century. To his consternation, Owen is forced to ask Oberon for help in using the phone, finding food, and understanding the currency system.

     Granuaile’s adventures give her a deep appreciation for Atticus’ tough training standards. “I appreciate the time it took me to get to this place. Had I not trained in languages and cultivated different headspaces over those twelve long years, I most certainly would have succumbed to the poison” of Weles, who can morph into a gigantic poisonous serpent. “When you’re dealing with years two through ten you think, holy hells, this is a slog—I certainly thought that on more than one occasion—but those ancient Druids know how to train and discipline a mind. All of that training was saving my life now.”

     The final quarter of the book includes a tragic event that will forever change Atticus’ relationship with the Arizona werewolf packs, and at the very end of the book, a major relationship adjustment occurs between Atticus and Leif Helgarson. Now that the vampire situation is resolved, for better or worse, it’s time for Atticus to take on Loki in the final book of the series. I can’t wait.

     As always, this book has a complex plot full of separate-but-related story threads that weave back and forth among the three lead characters. The triple perspective format works just fine, though, because each character has his or her own separate set of clearly delineated adventures that must take place before they can reunite for the big climax in Rome. I do recommend that you read “A Prelude to War” in Three Slices anthology before you read Staked so that you will fully understand the current tension between Loki and Granuaile and why getting rid of the brand on her arm and attaining the cloak of divination are so very important to her emotional and physical well-being. You can read my review of “A Prelude to War” at the end of this post, but it won’t give you the intimate details that you need to fully understand Granuaile’s dilemma. That story also explains why Atticus has to get to Toronto very, very quickly.

     This has always been a terrific series, but with the threat of Ragnarök looming, the suspense is at an all-time high. What will Loki's next move be? Can he be defeated once and for all, or is Ragnarök inevitable? Will Atticus get the support he needs from Odin and the supernaturals of the myriad of pantheons with whom he interacts (and frequently enrages)? Will Atticus and Grenuaile get their HEA or will they go their separate ways? If so, what will happen to Oberon and Orlaith's new romantic relationship? Will Oberon find a source of poutine (his new favorite food) in Arizona? So many questions to be answered in that final novel. I'll miss all of these characters when the series is ended. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Staked.

                         WORLD-BUILDING                         
    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 Ógwho 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.


     As the series moves along, Atticus has serious problems with various gods, goddesses, and preternaturals that force him to ask for help from other gods, goddesses, and preternaturals. His rescuers ask for favors in return for their aidalways putting Atticus into confrontational situations with even more gods, goddesses, and preternaturals. This soon becomes an unending, wicked spiral that causes Atticus to lose control of the peaceful life that he has created for himself in Tempe.

     If you are still not sure about the series, click HERE to read the first 6 chapters of HoundedAnother interesting page on Hearne's web site takes you through the process of putting together the book cover for Hounded, including the creation of the Atticus' magical necklace. If you'd like to hear the pronunciations of the various Polish and German phrases used in the books, click HERE and scroll down to the bottom of the page. That same page has a link to a Google map of Tempe with markers for key locations in Hounded. Just click on the + arrow to get a close-up view. Click HERE to read "Clan Rathskeller," a free short story that takes place ten months before the beginning of Hounded.

                    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.


                         NOVEL 1:  Hounded                         
     At the beginning of Hounded, Atticus is attacked by a small group of Fae thugs who tell him they are looking for a sword. Shortly after Atticus fights and kills his attackers, he is visited by the Morrigan, the Celtic Chooser of the Slain and goddess of war, who tells him that Aenghus has tracked Atticus down and will be sending more minions to take him out and retrieve the sword. The sword is imbued with Fae magic and will cut through any armor. Aenghus has always coveted the sword and hates the fact that Atticus, a Druid, has had custody of it for centuries, ever since he confiscated it on an ancient battlefield. The plot, then, revolves around various attempts to get the sword and ends in a huge confrontation between Atticus and Aenghus.

     In between, we meet Atticus' motley group of friends and associates: his attorneys, Hal, a werewolf, and Leif, a vampire; his Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom Atticus has extensive mental conversations; the Morrigan, who has promised to keep Atticus alive as long as he torments Aenghus; Malina, a witch who may or may not be on Atticus' side; Flidais, wily and untrustworthy goddess of the hunt; and Granuaile MacTiernan, a redheaded barmaid who is a bit more than human. Another great character is the Widow MacDonagh, an elderly human neighbor woman whom Atticus has befriended. By the end of book 1, Mrs. MacDonagh has been thrust into the middle of a supernatural world she never knew existed, and she handles with great aplomb.

     For the most part, I do love this series. It has everything I'm looking for in a UF series: humor (both dark and light), action, adventure, quirky characters, and intricate mythology. Add a fresh setting and a sardonic Druidic hero, and it gets even better. Another great thing about it is that the first three books are being published in three consecutive months, so you don't have to wait a year between books. Click HERE to read the first six chapters of Hounded.

                         NOVEL 2:  Hexed                         
     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.

     But the primary action in this book is witch-related, and it begins with a massive magical attack that sends Atticus hurrying to meet with the local coven, led now by Malina. As Atticus gathers together enough magical forces to defeat an evil coven of German witches who have come to Tempe to kill Atticus and the local witches, he puts himself in the position of owing big favors to Leif (who wants Atticus to kill Thor, the thunder god) and to Laksha, an Indian witch (who wants Atticus to steal Idunn's golden apples so that her human form will stop aging). (The fulfillment of both of those favors will be dealt with in the next book.) Laksha helps Atticus defeat the Bacchants (aka Maenads), while Leif and the local coven help him out in a huge knock-down, drag-out climactic battle with the German coven and their demonic helpers. One loose end that will no doubt turn up in the next book is a Russian Kabbalist group who hate all things supernatural and are currently on the trail of Atticus and his friends. 


Maryann Forrester (played by Michelle Forbes)
as she shifts into her Maenad form
(Season 2, True Blood)
 
     Here's a nice True Blood connection: Do you remember Maryann Forrester from Season 2—the wealthy woman who turned the virtuous, upright citizens of Bon Temps into promiscuous fornicators? She was a Maenad, just like the cruel and wanton females who attack Atticus and Laksha in Hexed, where they are called Bacchants for their connection to Bacchus (aka Dionysus). Click HERE to read the first five chapters of Hexed.

                         NOVEL 3:  Hammered                         
     The plot of the third book is tied directly to the promises Atticus made to Laksha and Leif in Hexed: In exchange for Laksha’s assistance in defeating the Bacchants, Atticus promised to go to Asgard and steal one of Idunn’s magical golden apples, which Laksha will eat to keep herself young. In exchange for Leif’s help, Atticus promised to transport Leif to Asgard so that he can kill Thor, god of thunder.

     The first five chapters of Hammered follow Atticus on his apple-stealing adventure, during which he makes the huge mistake of killing some very important Norse demi-goddesses, as well as causing the death of two animals who are extremely important in Norse mythology. These early chapters are extremely dense with mythological Norse terminology—sometimes to the point of impenetrability—so you'll probably be turning back frequently to the introductory pages, where Hearne has included a glossary of names and terms.

     The rest of the book focuses on Atticus’ second trip to Asgard, this time accompanied by Leif, Gunnar, and three mysterious men from other pantheons: Zhang Guo Lao (Chinese), Väinämöinen (Finnish), and Perun (Slavic). The Norse gods are already on Atticus’ trail to punish (i.e., kill) him for his actions on his first trip, so he has to get out of Tempe very quickly. Before he leaves, however, he is warned by Jesus (yes, that Jesus) that he’s digging his own grave by going after Thor. A bit later, the Morrigan shows up to tell Atticus that she has foreseen his death if he carries out his foolhardy plan to help Leif kill Thor. Since Atticus has sworn an oath to Leif, he refuses to compromise his honor by changing his plans—typical male bullheadedness. When Atticus, Leif, and Gunnar meet up with their traveling companions, Atticus insists that each man must tell the story of why he wants to kill Thor—supposedly to help them bond enough for him to transport them as one big group to Asgard. In the next five chapters, Hearne goes all Chaucerian on us as each man recounts his woeful chronicle. After all the tales are told, the adventure kicks back into action, with Atticus’ team taking on Odin, Thor, and company in an apocalyptic battle that will change the Norse pantheon forever. The violence level for this book is definitely a very high 5, with lives being brutally taken on both sides. The book’s ending is a cliff hanger that leads right into the next installment, with Atticus, Oberon, and Granuaile on the run and in grave danger from a variety of deities and their minions.

     This is not my favorite book in the series, partly because the heavily detailed emphasis on Norse mythology really slows down the first chapters. Additionally, Hearne tries to get cute with his constant references to popular culture (e.g., rock groups, song titles, movie quotes), and that didn't really work for me. I like it much better when Atticus is hanging out in Tempe, fighting whatever evil supernaturals come after him. The two incidents in the early chapters in which Atticus kills the Norse mythological icons didn’t ring true to me. The Atticus I remember from the first two books kills only really bad guys, but his victims in this book are not evil—they’re just in his way. I’ll keep reading, though, because I’m dying to see how Hearne is going to get Atticus out of the catastrophic predicament that he has brought down on himself through his own stubborn willfulness.

     Click HERE to read the first four chapters of HammeredClick HERE to read "A Test of Mettle," a free on-line short story that takes place concurrently with the events in Hammered. 

                         NOVEL 4:  Tricked                         

     This book opens with the death of Atticusbrutally 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 Vadirit'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 Atticusfor 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 detailthe fact that two vicious skinwalkers live right next door (on the next mesa over) and they don't take kindly to visitors.

     Add that to a surprise visit from Hel (Loki's daughter), who somehow discovers that Atticus is still alive and decides to remedy that by making him the skinwalkers' personal target and then sending a hellhound to make extra sure that he is dead. If Atticus just had to deal with the previously mentioned enemies, that would be more than enough, but when he is betrayed by one of his long-time friends, his situation gets markedly worse. (FYI: As part of their defense system, Atticus and his friends use a box of nails as caltrops. If you (like me) don't know what caltrops are, click HERE.)

     Coyote is always an interesting characterone of the most duplicitous of the treacherous gods that inhabit the various mythological pantheons depicted in the series. Although he tricks Atticus more than once, Coyote also comes to his rescue several times, so their relationship remains balanced in an uneasy sort of way. Granuaile's character is more fully developed in this book as she and Atticus deal with their mutual attraction to one another while trying to maintain their student-teacher relationship. The "Will they or won't they?" question simmers between them in every scene. Oberon continues to be an important supporting character, but his dialogues with Atticus are getting kind of annoying for me, with the hound's constant talk of bacon, sausage, and other meaty delights, which are always, always on his mindeven in the midst of bloody battles.

     In several interesting interludes, Atticus tells Oberon and Granuaile parts of his life story, including his early marriage in Africa and his eventual journey to North America. This is another solid addition to the series, with the exception of the Oberon overload. Click HERE to read the first four chapters of Tricked.

               NOVELLA 4.5:  "Two Ravens & One Crow"               

     The action in this novella takes place six years into Granuaile's training. She's halfway to her goal of becoming a Druid, and Atticus is having a hard time keeping his libido in check as they get up close and personal during her training exercises. One day, the Morrigan shows up at their Arizona desert camp and commands Atticus to shift into his bird form and fly away with her for a few days—without his weapons. She explains that she wants to repair the tattoo on Atticus' hand that was damaged by the Skinwalkers in book 4. Here, Atticus explains the logistics of Druidic tattooing: "A Druid's tattoos aren't the sort one gets in a parlor from an excessively pierced person. The needle has to be livingin other words, a thorn from a live plantand Gaia must be present. She guides where the ink goes and creates the binding that allows us to tap into her magic." 

     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"               


     Following is my summary of this story in my review of the anthology, Carniepunk. Click HERE to read my full review of the anthology.

First Line of "The Demon Barker…": "I fear Kansas."
     The story takes place six years after Tricked (book 4) and two weeks after the events of the novella "Two Ravens and One Crow." Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon visit a Kansas carnival and get drawn into a demonic soul-collection trap. Always fun to watch the dynamic duo of Atticus and Granuaile in action. This story can be read as a stand-alone because it has no connection to the ongoing series story arc.

                         NOVEL 5:  Trapped                         
     As the fifth book opens, Granuaile has finally completed her twelve years of apprenticeship and is ready to be bound to the earth—specifically, to Gaia, the Earth goddess—thus becoming the second Druid in existence. Just as Atticus and Granuaile are ready to begin the binding, Perun, the Slavic thunder god shows up with Loki in hot pursuit. Loki, a terrifying and insane Norse god, has been freed from captivity, and his release heralds the start of Ragnarök (the apocalypse).

     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 ArtemisThe 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 safetyat 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 engrossingpage-turningly compelling.


     I love Granuaile as a strong female character who demonstrates her intelligence through her well-planned and skillfully executed actions and her smartbut not smart-mouthedrepartee. 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 Ragnarokthe apocalypse.


                         NOVEL 7:  Shattered                         

     The author does the reader a huge favor by opening with a section entitled “The Story So Far” that highlights the primary events of the preceding novels and novellas. This section brings us right up to the beginning of Shattered, which begins just after the final moment in Hunted when Atticus rescued his time-traveling Archdruid, Eoghan Ó Cinnéide, from a 2,000 year exile. (Atticus immediately Anglicizes Eoghan's name to Owen Kennedy)Owen has the ability to shift into a bear, a ram, a walrus, or a red kite. (the clawed raptor, not the paper toy). 

    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:


    > Atticus must integrate Owen into the 21st century (the year 2022 to be exact); get more support from various deities for his inevitable showdown with Loki; and find out who is trying to wipe out the Druids by assassinating him and Granuaile. 

    > Owen needs to acclimate himself to modern times; travel to Tír na nÓg to check in with Brighid, the Fae queen; and try to help Atticus identify the person or deity who is behind the assassination attempts. 

    > Granuaile spends most of her time in India, called there by an old frenemy—Laksha Kulasekaran, an Indian witch who has discovered that Granuaile's father has been possessed by a demonic spirit.

     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 placesometimes 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 bookone 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 condemnationI'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                 
     Hearne alternates between two story lines: one from Atticus' perspective and one from Granuaile's point of view. As the story opens, Atticus and Oberon are on a trek to Ethiopia to ask a favor from a long-time ally named Mekera, who is a diviner who predicts future events through tyromancy. Over time, Mekera has made extremely accurate predictions for Atticus in return for his assistance in setting up her isolated cave home in the wilds of Ethiopia. What Atticus doesn't know is that Mekera has not always been a loyal friend to him. This story line ends with Atticus and Oberon heading for Canada, with the vampire Werner Drasche in hot pursuit. It's a cliff-hanger that will be continued in Staked—due in January 2016. 

     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. 

2 comments:

  1. Book 4, TRICKED, is due to be published 04/2012.

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  2. Please see question and answer #7 on the FAQ page of this blog. Thanks.

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