Just when I think I’ve had about all the urban fantasy that I can handle, along comes something like Kevin Hearne’s “Hounded” ($7.99, Del Rey).
I picked up the book on the suggestion of a friend and fellow Jim Butcher fan, who described it as “Butcher-lite.” I’d say that’s a pretty fair description, and of all the “if you like Jim Butcher, you should try this” recommendations I’ve checked out over the years, “Hounded” is far and away the best of them.
Atticus O’Sullivan – or Siodhachan O’Suileabhain, as he’s known to those more than a few hundred years old – is a druid. Though most people would mistake him for a 21-year-old college student at Arizona State, he’s actually closer to 2,000 years old. He’s the last of the true druids, and he has some pretty interesting friends, including the Celtic goddess the Morrigan and a vampire and werewolf as his legal co-counsels. He runs a new age book and herb store in town, hunts with his Irish wolfhound Oberon and tries to keep a low profile with the fae and supernatural types, which is made easier by the Arizona terrain.
Oh, and he has a magic sword – Fragarach, “The Answerer” – which came to him during a battle. It flew from the hands of Aengus Og, the Celtic god of love, and Atticus stole away with it. Now Aengus, who isn’t a very loving sort at all, wants it back, and waves of deities and supernatural henchman are visiting the desert to join in the battle. But whose side are they on, and what, after 2,000 years, has brought about Aengus’ sudden need to get the sword back?
“Hounded” is a little shorter and a little less involved than the average book of Butcher’s Dresden Files, but very much in the same vein. Atticus is a wise-cracking character full of pop culture references, and there was something on just about every page of the book that at least made me smile, if not laugh out loud.
It’s rare that a dog is one of the best characters in a story, but Oberon was the one that really won me over early on. Hearne has, I think, perfectly captured the loyalty and happy-go-lucky attitude of the tail-wagging sidekick, and he’s just as much fun to get to know as Atticus.
There are a lot of deities from a lot of different pantheons flying around, and a lot of different supernatural sorts. The potential is there for Hearne to try to throw too many things at the reader at once, but he keeps the story spry, light and barreling forward.
It’s not Shakespeare – though there are plenty of references scattered throughout – but “Hounded” is great fun. I highly recommend it.