May, June, and July of 2011 were great months for urban fantasy enthusiasts. For the guys, urban fantasy gained one badass dude with one hell of a smart mouth. For the ladies, urban fantasy gained one badass dude with one hell of a drool-worthy body.
Okay, I generalized there. So sue me. The fact of the matter is that with the introduction of Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles, the world was introduced to the amazing character of Atticus O’Sullivan, a two-thousand-year-old redheaded Irish Druid. And he’s back in the fourth installment of The Iron Druid Chronicles, Tricked.
Being held responsible for the death of multiple Norse deities, Atticus O’Sullivan is a wanted Druid. The novel opens on the scene of Atticus’s staged death for the benefit of the world pantheons. From there, he takes his wolfhound Oberon and his apprentice Granuaile and gets the hell out of Dodge—err, Mesa.
Because Coyote assisted Atticus in the staging of his death, he wants Atticus to help the Navajo people on one of the local reservations. However, this is Coyote, so there are always… unsaid portions to any bargain. Sure enough, Atticus, Oberon, and Granuaile come up against something straight out of Navajo legend: a pair of skinwalkers. Atticus swears that if he makes it out of this alive, he’ll not let anyone fool him ever again.
One would think he would know better than to tempt the universe like that.
Strength in characters
A large portion of Hearne’s talent as a storyteller lies in his character work. Tricked is no exception to this. Coyote, as the title of the book implies, has a lot of screen time and is rather thoroughly developed. Hearne gives him a definite air of mischievousness, but flavors him with more moral ambiguity than some authors. Coyote is definitely only looking to further his own agenda, and helps Atticus only so much as it lines up with his goals—which is a truer interpretation of the character than most authors give, in my opinion.
Now, due to the nature of the premise, many of the regulars from the first three installments don’t make any appearances in Tricked, which may disappoint some readers and worry others. However, Hearne compensates for the lack of familiar faces with lots of development for Atticus and Granuaile. We get some of Granuaile’s history in Tricked, and some of her motivations for wanting to train as a Druid become clear. The relationship between her and Atticus also gets a lot of attention, but more on that later. Atticus experiences the brunt of the character development. We learn more about his past, and for the first time, we can really get a sense of just how much two thousand years of life weighs on him—it’s definitely not all fun and games. It gives a whole new depth to the phrase “world weary.”
Glimpses of series plotlines
At this point in the series, Hearne has given us enough information to start piecing together some of the underlying plotlines of the The Iron Druid Chronicles. One big clue was Jesus’ major forewarning to Atticus in Hammered—and we begin to glimpse the repercussions in Tricked. Atticus also speculates as to where his future might lead—down some darker paths indeed—but one must keep in mind that such information is, to borrow phrases from tabletop gaming, “character knowledge” and not “player knowledge.” This means that Atticus could be downright wrong about something, so we shouldn’t assume that everything he speculates will come to pass.
However, while the plotlines seem to be heading in a darker, more desperate direction, they don’t seem to be too terribly twisty at this point. The underlying plot doesn’t seem to be as complex as that of, say, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. And that’s okay. Being very familiar with Butcher’s work, however, has my brain’s “default” at the Butcher level of trippy-twisty, and so most other underlying plots tend to seem a bit… bare-boned to me. So while I like the direction the series seems to be heading, I do hope that Hearne will start throwing some major curve-plotty-balls at Atticus—and thereby, his readers—in the near future.
This isn’t to say Hearne hasn’t hit Atticus with some major-league fastballs already (to keep with the baseball metaphors prevalent throughout the series). However, a lot of these haven’t been directly plot-related, and so don’t affect the large scheme of things. No, these have been smaller, more personal, and revolve largely around Atticus’s relationships. His dealings with Coyote seem somewhat akin to the deal between Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. I will admit that there were a couple occasions where I heard someone in my head doing a bad impersonation of James Earl Jones, saying, “I have altered the deal. Pray I do not alter it further.” Needless to say, this tends to tick Atticus off just a bit. Additionally, his relationship with vampire Lief Helgarsson proves to be strained, at best, after the events of book three, and this has near-fatal repercussions.
The part where I have to give Hearne serious credit, though, is in regards to Atticus’s relationship with Granuaile. As anyone who has read the series can attest, there are some serious sparks of attraction flying between these two hot redheads. (Yes, I will admit I ship them something fierce.) However, as much as I would love to see them hook up, there’s that whole student-teacher relationship that should remain sacred. Hearne’s handling of their feelings for each other and changing relationship is remarkably well-done, and even if it isn’t necessarily what some of his readers would like to see, I cannot disagree with how he managed it.
Oberon steals the show… again
Order an extra plate of sausage and break out the bacon, because Oberon is back. This is where Hearne’s writing truly excels, because Atticus’s loyal wolfhound is comedy gold, people. It just keeps getting better, and with very little repetition. On top of it all, Oberon gets some truly badass moments in Tricked to go along with his awesome snark.
Someone get that hound a comedy show already!
Why should you read this book?
If you’re looking for something with super-gritty realism and a darker, more serious outlook and atmosphere, this probably isn’t the series for you. However, the “lighter” aspects of The Iron Druid Chronicles don’t diminish the quality of this urban fantasy. In fact, its more lighthearted fare really makes the series stand out in today’s batch of urban fantasy. Tricked is chock-full of everything that makes The Iron Druid Chronicles appealing and entertaining: gods aplenty, lots of action, an Irish redhead badass druid, and one hell of a comedic counter in Oberon. This is the point in the series at which we begin to see the possibilities in the future of the series. Things are not as simple as they once were, and this shows Hearne’s growing strength as a storyteller. With Tricked, Hearne has crafted a highly enjoyable, tough-to-put-down read that takes ample amounts of swords, sorcery, and bacon-filled comedy gold, and then shakes, stirs, and serves.
Now, could I get an extra side of sausage with that?
Garrett received a review copy of this book courtesy of Del Rey.