Atticus O’Sullivan is an ancient shapeshifting druid. For a couple thousand years he’s been hiding from Aenghus Óg, the god who used to own the famous sword Fragarach until Atticus relieved him of it on an ancient battlefield. Now Aenghus has some plans to advance himself among the Tuatha Dé Danann and he wants his sword back.
Atticus is now a 21-year-old (it seems) bookshop owner in Tempe, Arizona, near Arizona State University. He sells occult paraphernalia and brews special herbal teas (such as Mobili-Tea and Humili-Tea) for his customers. He’s got a nosey neighbor across the street and a nice Irish widow a few houses down (well, she’s nice as long as you’re not English!). He also has a blood-sucking lawyer. Literally. That’s because the Tempe area attracts lots of paranormals. Some of them are helpful to Atticus, but others are definitely not.
I don’t read a lot of paranormal urban fantasy, just because so much of it features snarky women with chips on their shoulders and the sarcastic humor usually doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve found that I’m more likely to enjoy paranormal works which have male leads, so that’s why I gave Hounded a try.
Atticus O’Sullivan is an excellent male lead — he’s strong but sensitive. He mows the widow’s lawn and cares for his employees, but he kicks ass when he needs to. Kevin Hearne nearly crosses the border into too-good-to-be-true, but he just manages not to step over that line. Hearne’s other characters are terrific, too. I laughed at the vampire lawyer who drives a hot sports car and wears expensive suits, but can’t manage to update his language. I also appreciated that Hearne shows us that as much as we like to say we hate lawyers, they can be really useful sometimes!
My favorite character, though, was Atticus’s dog Oberon who can mind-speak with Atticus. Oberon is the comedic sidekick, providing most of the humor. Only Atticus can hear him, so his comments are often inserted amongst dialogue that Atticus is having with other characters, and this is very funny. Since Oberon watches lots of movies, many of his interruptions are quotes from movies or reminders to Atticus of how what’s happening now is similar to a movie scene. This is especially endearing to SF fans because Oberon loves Star Wars and Star Trek. Oberon always seems to have a current obsession, too. In Hounded, he wants to be Genghis Khan and keeps questioning Atticus about Genghis Khan’s habits, such as did he take his coffee black? (Fortunately, Oberon’s Liberace phase happened before the events of Hounded.)
Oberon is especially effective in the audio version I listened to, narrated by Luke Daniels. This is partly because there are rarely any dialog tags for Oberon (his interruptions are set apart by <> in the text) and partly because Mr. Daniels makes Oberon actually sound like a big dog. So, when the book is read aloud, the lack of “Oberon said” really makes it sound like Oberon is making comments in the background.
Besides the characters, I loved the mix of the modern with ancient mythologies in Hounded. Kevin Hearne’s contemporary setting near ASU is completely convincing (someday I’ve got to stop for fish and chips at Rúla Búla), but so are the ancient and mythological aspects of the novel.
Hounded was a great read — a wonderful hero with the perfect sidekick, colorful secondary characters, and just the right sense of humor. I’ll be immediately starting the next novel in the Iron Druid Chronicles, Hexed.