In “Hunted” ($7.99, Del Rey), the sixth book in the Iron Druid Chronicles, Kevin Hearne puts the pedal down hard before giving fans a little bit of a late breather before the next volume.
The book picks up right where last year’s “Trapped” ended. Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, his former apprentice Granuaile – who was recently made a full druid – and his faithful Irish wolfhound Oberon are on the run across Europe – quite literally. They’re being pursued by the hunters of the Greco-Roman pantheon, Artemis and Diana, because of a misunderstanding – sort of. A few books back, Atticus put a stop to some shenanigans by Bacchus, and the only way to escape the mad god’s vengeance was to imprison him in Tir na nOg. Then there was a little thing with some dryads, who were returned unharmed, but the Greeks and Romans still didn’t take things very well.
Their only hope is to reach Herne’s Forest in England, several countries away, and they’ll have to do so primarily on foot. The grove passages to Tir na nOg, which would let them move magically through, have been cut off by Pan and Faunus. The Old Ways that would allow the same access have either been destroyed or guarded. And there’s a bit of a hidden competition going on amongst the pantheons of gods to either help or hinder them indirectly.
While trying to escape from the huntresses, the trio also has to avoid the crazed Loki, who is set on beginning Ragnarok. If he does, Atticus will have to play the role of Thor because of the role that he played in the thunder god’s death. Oh, and did I mention the vampires, dark elves and a possible traitor amongst the Tuatha de Danann?
There’s no preamble or introduction involved in “Hunted.” It opens with a crash of thunder, and from there it’s a breathless race with death for Atticus and Granuaile. As has been the case with the last few books, a much darker and more serious tone comes out in this one. Hearne hits readers with a shocking hammer blow worthy of Thor himself fairly early in the book and gives us a number of reasons to question what we might have thought about where things will end up. This is really a book that proves the series is about much more than pop culture jokes.
Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of those, too. “Hunted” is still a veritable geekucopia of references and jokes, ranging from “Star Wars” to “The Princess Bride” to rock ‘n’ roll and far beyond. So much so that I’m given to wonder what Hearne, who has signed on to write a Star Wars book, will do when he’s unable to load it with “Star Wars” jokes.
“Hunted” also features a healthy dose of Oberon’s humor, which has always been one of the selling points of the series for me. Atticus may be the hero of the books, but Oberon is the true star, and I rank the volumes where he wasn’t a prominent part of the storyline as the weakest.
There’s a little bit of a lull toward the end of this book to give readers a much-needed deep breath before Hearne launches into what will likely be a wild final few books. A recently-signed deal means six more Iron Druid books, but Hearne promises that the current story will end in book 9, which he says was the plan all along. The other three books will be “a little more epic” and explore other facets of his world.
Though things trail off a little toward the end, the first two-thirds of “Hunted,” I believe, is probably the most intense – and the best – sequence that Hearne has put to paper in the series so far. He delivers insights into several of the characters, showing us a different side to some old friends – and at least one of the more mysterious figures of the story. Seven books in, I’m still highly recommending the Iron Druid Chronicles.