Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty — when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.
With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbour’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.
In this second novel in Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, we get more magical and mythological shenanigans in Arizona. This definitely lived up to my expectations, and this is fast shaping up to be my favourite Urban Fantasy series. Hexed is a great addition to the series, but one that doesn’t work as a standalone, as Hounded did.
In order to avoid reference to too many spoilers, I’ll keep this review brief. In the second novel of the Iron Druid Chronicles, we join Atticus pretty much where Hounded left off. Not a lot of time has passed, and Atticus is still getting used to his new situation (he did, after all, kill two gods in the previous book). A couple of his deities are waging a new turf-war in their realm, while simultaneously attempting to gain Atticus’s loyalty for themselves. This doesn’t form too much of the novel, however, as the most immediate threats are a travelling group of Bacchants and an evil coven of witches who have decided to make their home in Atticus’s city. With a little help from his friends, Atticus must keep the peace, while also deflecting the attention of the Tempe PD, who are becoming very suspicious of how often Atticus appears connected to mayhem, mysterious deaths and considerable property damage.
Hexed didn’t seem as focused as Hounded, with a much more transitional feel to it. (There’s a fair amount of mention of Thor, for example, who is important in book three, Hammered.) Usually, this will have a negative impact on a novel, but with Hexed I didn’t find myself remotely bored or disappointed: it’s an immediate continuation of Hounded, so there is some tidying up of loose ends (escaped demons most immediately), and some of the witches who are his allies were some of his enemies in the first novel. There’s some groundwork laid for book three, which promises to be pretty action-packed and epic.
Atticus’s relationship with Oberon, his wolfhound companion, is key to the story. Through druidic techniques, Atticus is able to communicate with Oberon as if by telepathy, and they have bonded over both of their magically-extended lives. It’s incredibly endearing, and helps give us a greater understanding of our protagonist. Indeed, it is through their relationship that Hearne gives us much of the exposition we need – there are things, of course, that Oberon doesn’t know, so he asks Atticus questions. It never feels like an info-dump, which I think has a lot to do with Hearne’s love for the subject matter and characters (more on this, below). I really like Oberon: he’s such a sweet character, highly enthusiastic about many things, but also prone to develop temporary, passionate loyalties to ideas and themes, often acquired through movies or Atticus’s stories. In this novel, Oberon has an obsession about Sticking it to the Man and a ’70s outlook on life.
Hearne’s writing is tight and brisk, and both action scenes and calmer moments are interesting and engaging. The climactic battle was awesome – the magic and creatures involved were pretty monumental. And Atticus is on the receiving end of some pretty brutal treatment, while also coming up with some pretty ingenious solutions to obstacles he finds in his way.
If I had one quibble, it would be with Hearne’s decision to write dialects – I understand why he chose to do it (Atticus makes a point of blending in with others, usually by adopting speech patterns), but it’s always a bit of a tricky proposition, and is something I usually dislike.
Learning more about the witches – both the evil ones and Atticus’s new allies – was particularly interesting, and I like the range of mythology and occult lore that Hearne has drawn on to create such a diverse supernatural world. No pantheon is ignored, no mysticism excluded. It’s diverse, entertaining, and expertly woven together. One gets the impression that Hearne really loves writing these characters, and I think his enthusiasm bleeds through the writing and into the reader’s enjoyment of the novel. It doesn’t take itself or the subject material too seriously (Atticus has a pretty snarky sense of humour), but at the same time Hearne manages to avoid veering into flippant territory. Hearne shows that Atticus is so much more than a wise-cracking druid, as he faces down gods and monsters with equal aplomb, and a variety of inspired methods. He acts like a new-age youth, but he can certainly bring the goods when called upon to deal diplomatically or violently with threats to his stable, comfortable way of life.
It’s very clear that Hounded was no one-hit-wonder, and this series has moved on strongly. I’ve got Hammered already, and I’ll try to read it ASAP. If you’re looking for a fun urban fantasy series with endearing characters, you can’t do better than this. Highly recommended.
Iron Druid Chronicles: Hounded, Hexed, Hammered, Tricked (Apr.2012)
Also on CR: An Interview with Kevin Hearne