Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: "Scourged" by Kevin Hearne

If my glowing reviews of the early books in any way influenced you to pick up Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, I’d like to take this moment to apologize.

At one time, this series was energetic and fun. I looked forward to each new installment. The fact that I waited months after its release to read the appropriately-titled “Scourged” ($27, Random House) speaks volumes about my opinion on the last couple of books. Still, I had faith that Hearne would pull it together for a grand finale. Instead, he basically did the equivalent of throwing a flaming bag of Irish wolfhound feces on his readers’ front porches.

Ragnarok is upon us … sort of. The story feels both rushed and like it takes forever to get to the point – what little point there is. Atticus is hurriedly making preparations for the final battle, while Owen and Granuaile are doing … things. That’s pretty much the plot of the first half of the book, which if I’m being honest, wasn’t awful. Granuaile seemed less annoying than usual, and Owen is always fun. We get to spend a little time with Oberon (basically all we’ll get in this story) and we meet a new dog named Starbuck who brings a little levity into the situation. I still had hope Hearne might pull it together somehow.

Then Ragnarok begins.

I’m a lifelong fantasy reader. I have a very high tolerance for suspension of disbelief. Even I couldn’t stretch this far. If you’re hoping for the three druids united to save the world, that’s about as far from this story as you’re going to get. Some of Hearne’s characters begin acting contrary to their established nature of the previous eight books, and don’t even get me started on the most anti-climactic end of the world ever.

(SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH -- though the real spoiler is the book itself.) First, Atticus’ anticipated battle with Jormangundr, which has been building since he helped kill Thor way back in book three, takes up a whole few paragraphs, and, like just about everything else in “Scourged,” resolves far too neatly and easily to be believed. The final battle with Loki and Hel gathers the gods of just about every major pantheon for something that should be about as epic as you can get. (Thor, by the way, is back, but it hardly matters since he doesn’t really do anything but show up.) Instead, the battle is kind of boring and far too easily finished as Granuaile, who has trained with the Monkey King Sun Wukong for (literally) about a cup of tea, suddenly becomes a god-slayer. She just pops in and easily defeats Loki, who, to that point, had been taking down warrior gods and goddesses left and right.

But it doesn’t end there. Oh, no. We can’t just have the world saved and call the story done. We have to make everyone even more miserable and guilt-ridden while we also squeeze in a little virtue signaling. Hearne clearly takes the Buddhist tenet that all life is suffering, pain and misery to heart.

I don’t need a happy ending. Happily ever after is not how things ever really go, after all. But I do need an ending that makes sense and a storyline that leads naturally to that conclusion. This just leaves me scratching my head and wondering why the hell I read nine books to get here. The only thing that I can guess is that, over the course of writing this series, Hearne has come to truly hate Atticus – and quite possibly his readers as well.

Really the only redeeming thing in “Scourged” is Owen’s storyline. The journey that he takes with his new sloth friend Slomo, and their wonder at exploring the world, actually reminds me a bit of Atticus’ story earlier in the series. That said, it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in the rest of the book, and it makes you wonder why Owen was built into a viewpoint character if he’s just an afterthought in the grand finale. (Yeah, yeah, making sure Druidry survives and all that. He’s an afterthought here, plain and simple, or maybe a more entertaining storyline to try to offset some of the utter miserableness of the rest of the book).

Though I have a couple of other Hearne books on my reader – “A Plague of Giants” and “Kill the Farmboy” – they've moved to the very bottom of my TBR list. I’m not ready to jump back into a series with him after this jumbled mess of a conclusion.

“Scourged” has slightly changed my point of view on one thing, though. It’s the proof of why we shouldn’t push the George R.R. Martins, Patrick Rothfusses and Scott Lynches of the world to just write the next book. As much as it frustrates us to be left hanging, this is what happens when an author doesn’t have the drive and passion for the story anymore and just wants to wrap it up.


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