First things first: This one’s more serious.
Oh, there’s still humor here — and to butcher the nursery rhyme, when Kevin Hearne is funny, he’s very, very funny. I cackled madly as Atticus geeked out over his favorite author and demonstrated his knowledge of Internet memes. On the whole, though, Hammered is a much more serious story than either Hounded or Hexed. While giving us two books’ worth of side-splitting entertainment, Hearne has been sneakily laying the groundwork for Hammered, building up characters and friendships and subplots so that we care deeply about what happens here.
We begin in medias res. Atticus is climbing the World Tree to Asgard so that he can keep his promise to the witch Laksha by bringing her back one of Idunn’s apples. The trip becomes messier than expected, which leads Atticus to decide that he’s been in Tempe too long. He’s too visible, and it’s too easy for one of his ever-growing list of enemies to use his friends as leverage. Atticus does his best to put affairs in Tempe in order before going back to Asgard to keep a second promise, knowing he might never return. One conversation stands out as particularly beautiful; it’s the kind of conversation we all wish we’d had with a loved one before it was too late, but so often don’t get around to having.
That second promise is to help kill Thor, and he teams up with a group of allies who passionately hate the thunder god. Hearne surprised me by breaking with the usual structure of the Iron Druid books for a little while, employing a “Canterbury Tales”-type section that I loved. It fleshes out these allies, and in telling us why each of them wants Thor dead, it tells us a lot about Thor as well. When we follow Atticus & Co. back to Asgard, we’re good and mad at Thor, too.
The central theme here is the question of how to hold on to one’s humanity when one has great power and can live for hundreds or thousands of years. How do you keep from getting arrogant and seeing ordinary mortals as insects? How do you hold on to what makes you you — and conversely, is it possible to hold on too much, becoming consumed by a grudge that might not be worth all that you sacrifice to it? It’s clear that Atticus is better than most at this balancing act, and it’s equally clear that it’s often his humanity that puts him in so much danger.
Hammered is not the end of this series, but it effectively closes a big story arc. It makes a good temporary stopping point as we await Tricked, due out in 2012. Kevin Hearne is evil, though, and packs in one more spooky plot hook at the end. It’s not a cliffhanger for the plot of this book, but it’s sure going to cause some trouble in the next one!
All that said, I think it’s a little skeevy when Atticus [SPOILER here, highlight if you want to read it:] tells the frost giants they can have Freyja if they help him invade Asgard. It turns out that he didn’t think it would really come to that and he feels bad about saying it, and it’s left up in the air whether it does come to that. It’s consistent with what motivates the giants in the actual myths… but it still skeeved me out.[END SPOILER]