Paper & Blood: Al and Buck go Down Under

Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPaper & Blood by Kevin Hearne science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPaper & Blood by Kevin Hearne

Paper & Blood is the second novel in Kevin Hearne’s INK & SIGIL series which is a spin-off of his very popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. In the first INK & SIGIL novel, Ink & Sigil, which you’ll want to read first (though Hearne thankfully gives us a “The Story So Far” summary – thank you!), we met Al MacBharrais, a sigil agent who uses ink and paper to create magic spells. We watched Al and some of his colorful colleagues solve a mystery and stop the trafficking of, and unethical experimentation on, fae creatures such as pixies.

In Paper & Blood, Al gets some bad news: some of his fellow sigil agents are missing and he needs to travel to Australia to help find them. Al figures this is likely a trap, but he can’t really refuse to go help, right?

So, warily, off he goes to Australia with Buck Foi, his entertaining hobgoblin sidekick. Along with some new characters, Al and Buck Foi are also joined by Al’s leather-and-spike-clad manager Nadia, who’s really good in a fight; Al’s mild-mannered receptionist, a woman who is always enigmatically referred to as “Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite;” Atticus O’Sullivan, the hero of the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES who is now using the name Connor; Oberon, the adorable Irish Wolfhound who is Atticus’s sidekick; and Starbuck, the dog that Atticus adopted toward the end of the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. Another regular character from the IDC novels also has a leading role in Paper & Blood, but I don’t want to ruin that for you, so I won’t say who. (Well, I’ll just say it’s not Granuaile, unfortunately.) It appears that we’ll be seeing more of that character in future installments.

As they look for the missing sigil agents, Al and his companions must battle some horrible chimeric monsters (like fae yak badgers, yikes) which have been attacking visitors to a park. While they search for the source of these creatures, and the missing agents, they have to keep it all secret from the public, of course. Al’s sigils help with this.

Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne

Paper & Blood is a fast-moving and entertaining story with plenty of both horror and humor that creates a nice balance. (Hearne is particularly good at that balance.) Some of the humor in Paper & Blood comes from stories told by the characters around a campfire. Buck Foi’s story about a pot-smoking amateur bomb-maker in Kentucky is hilarious and now, finally, I know the origin of truck nuts).

Though Paper & Blood feels like a self-contained, stand-alone story, we can see progress being made toward a larger story arc. We’ve known from the beginning that Al has been cursed by someone so that his apprentices keep dying in freak accidents and anyone he talks to regularly starts to detest him. (This is why he uses a text-to-speech app which I find extremely amusing, especially in the audio version narrated by Luke Daniels.) Al learns a little more about this curse in Paper & Blood. He also learns that Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite is much more than she appears. Readers will acquire a little more information about how the sigil magic works, too.

I never thought I would ever say that there could be too much Atticus O’Sullivan in one of Hearne’s stories but, in my view, a weakness of Paper & Blood is, indeed, too much Atticus. While I adore Atticus and I’m glad to experience some of what he’s up to after his IDC days, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Hearne, who seems more comfortable with Atticus and Oberon than Al and Buck Foi, was having trouble giving up the druid/dog duo. Another interpretation is that perhaps Hearne is using this story as a way to give Atticus a little bit of redemption after a disappointing ending to the final IDC novel, Scourged. As support for this hypothesis, we see Atticus repenting of some selfishness.

Luke Daniels narrates of all Kevin Hearne’s books and he always does a great job. There are a few places in Paper & Blood where his performance goes over the top a bit, getting a little too theatrical, but listening to Daniels has given me so much pleasure over the years that I’ve decided to forgive him for this. The audiobook, published by Random House Audio, is 10 hours long.

Published in August 2021. There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells. But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery. The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help — especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia — and the supernatural world — can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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