I’m really beginning to see unfortunate signs of the pattern I mentioned before, as the books I’ve reviewed so far have been alternating between excellent and mediocre. Thankfully, it was time in the pattern for an excellent novel. While “Hounded” isn’t quite up to the amazing level of “Ancillary Justice” from a few weeks ago, it was very definitely a solid read. I had some small personal issues with bits of it (that, as they are entirely person preference, I won’t hold against it), but overall I rather enjoyed the book and fully intend on reading the rest of the series when I can find the time. Now, onto the review proper! And before I forget, the book is Urban Fantasy, a rather rare genre for me. It is, in fact, one of only a dozen or so I’ve ever read in said genre.
While this review is going to be generally positive, I admit that I was a touch uncertain about the book out of the proverbial gate. The novel’s hook was, in a word, weak. Most of the first 20% of the story is devoted to a fairly meandering introduction to the world and a few of its major characters, with a whole lot of mythology and half-explanations thrown at the reader for good measure. The sheer amount of information and the meandering way it was delivered might well have deterred many people. Thankfully, I’m fairly well versed in mythology, and find the subject interesting enough that the occasional bits I didn’t know were enjoyable rather than dragging. Even when it meant I had to close the book for a few minutes to employ google in a bit of research. Even so, despite enjoying that sort of thing, I was getting a little anxious for the plot to get a move on by the time I got a quarter of the way through the book.
Thankfully, the book rapidly picked up speed at roughly that point, and the price of admission to reach said point proved worthwhile. More than worthwhile, as the author proved his early meanderings had a solid purpose. Virtually every last bit of the information imparted was woven into a nice, twisty and complex plot that kept me happily turning pages right through the epilogue.
I’ve read and written so much over the years that it has become somewhat difficult to surprise me, and while “Hounded” didn’t manage any major shocks, it did manage to keep me pleasantly uncertain right up to those final pages. While that might seem a small thing, it really isn’t. In order to hit that sweet-spot, the author had to employ enough foreshadowing to let me construct a solid guess, without tipping his hand entirely. Striking that balance is no easy task, and Hearne impressed me with his ability to walk that knife-edge.
On the downside, as plot goes, the overall climax wasn’t as awesomely climactic as could have been wished for, the author seeming to struggle a bit whenever it came time to write a proper ass kicking. As proper ass kickings aren’t the main focus of the book, that doesn’t majorly detract from the experience, and overall the plot gets a very solid thumbs up in pure spite of the weak hook and early drifting.
Moving on to the characters, the main cast are all solid and well-developed. The main character, Atticus O’Sullivan, was particularly well written. He’s an enjoyable, believable mix of inner sarcasm, outward charm, and overall intelligence that leave him as one of the better protagonists I’ve ever encountered. Hearne managed that rare bit of genius that lets his character act properly genre savvy and competent without losing even an ounce of believability. It’s rarer than I’d like to admit to encounter a book where the intelligent reader never goes “You idiot! What did you do that for?” in reference to the actions of the main character. This book is one of those all-to-rare exceptions.
The secondary characters are no less exceptional. Oberon the Irish Wolfhound is a brilliant example of how an intelligent animal character ought to be handled. The various mythical gods and goddesses capture the ruthless morality of a bygone age in a frame that gets the reader thinking, and the werewolf and vampire lawyers Atticus often relies upon are amazing and humorous additions. Hearne even managed a few late additions to the book that, despite their minimal screen time in this particular novel, are so amazing that I’m itching to get my hands on the rest of the series!
Spice the entire novel with a well-developed Urban Fantasy setting, a solid dash of imaginative use of mythology, and plentiful humorous pop culture references, and you get a very solid book. With the weak hook and trouble with action, as well as a certain lack of “vibrancy” that you normally expect in fantasy works, I can’t quite justify calling this book “amazing,” but it’s certainly “excellent.” And, given that I understand this to have been Kevin Hearne’s debut novel, I can’t help but think that the rest of the series may well have repaired those minor issues. I’m certainly eager to find out!
Final Rating Breakdown:
Score Adjustments for Misc:
Final Score: 8/10
Personal Recommendation: Give it a read! Probably. The one issue that very much bothered me personally throughout the book was the way religion was treated. I make absolutely no attempt to conceal the fact that I’m an actively practicing Christian, but normally that doesn’t affect my ability to enjoy books, moves and games of all flavors. I love Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars and dozens of other universes with all sorts of views on sex, drugs, rock and roll, gods and goddesses. In this particular case, however, the way the book treated religion did end up rubbing me a bit the wrong way. As such, if you’re a practicing member of…pretty much any major world religion, actually, you might find bits of the setting a little off-putting. That, however, is purely a personal evaluation and in no way reflects on the overall technical quality of the novel.