In case you aren’t familiar with my “On the shelf” blog posts – this is a series of posts about those authors whose works I collect, respect, recommend and pass along.
I don’t blog specific book reviews, because I read a bit much for that. Friend me on Goodreads if you want those book-by-book opinions. I’ve started posting a new On the Shelf blog every Thursday, according to my schedule, but I’m not very worried about running out of favorite authors.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Kevin Hearne.
How I Found Him
I started reading Hearne’s books the same way I found Patricia Briggs and Neil Gaiman: Brett insisted I read it. (I wouldn’t say that I married Brett for his fantastic taste in books, but I can’t lie. It didn’t hurt.)
Brett picked up Hounded via the Amazon recommendation engine on his Kindle, and then insisted that I find myself a paper copy (I still hate that you can’t easily share e-books). He read me a few excerpts. I caught him chuckling out loud at a few pages. I raised an eyebrow and got myself some Iron Druid. I was hooked.
Why I Love Reading his Work
I read a lot of the genre – the real world overlaid with magic that some people know about and most think are stories and myths. Hearne and Atticus are often touted as the heir to Butcher and Dresden. I can see that. They have very similar appeal.
What sets the Iron Druid series apart is partially the Druid aspect – most of the magic users and systems are not so *ahem* grounded.
Another part that I have to point out is the humor. I like the random chuckles that I get when I’m reading most modern books, but Hearne has managed to take that to the next level. Particularly via my favorite literary dog: the Irish Wolfhound named Oberon. Atticus – the Iron Druid – can speak with Oberon mentally, and has taught him language, history, geek culture and concepts that are filtered through a particularly canine perspective. Even when the tone and topic are dark and scary, Oberon can keep the feeling light and fun.
I wrote that I need to take breaks between reading Dresden books because the pacing kills me. He wears me out. I want to take Harry aside and hide him so he can take a nap. I think Hearne uses Oberon as a tool to help keep the reader from that same sense of exhaustion, even when Atticus faces the same sorts of huge challenges as a Dresden, and with similar panache and improvisation.
What I Learn About Writing from Him
Like most of the On the Shelf authors, I learn both the things I do like and the things I don’t like in the books by authors I respect and read. In Hearne’s case, his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness: Perspective.
For most of the series, the POV character is Atticus, a.k.a the Iron Druid, a very very old Druid who looks like a modern 20-something hunk. For most of the narrative, everything is filtered through his unique perspective. In the same way that Oberon’s dog’s-eye-view adds humor and sausage to just about every scene he’s in, Atticus adds historical insight, pop culture references, a masculine sex drive and a reasonable level of humanity and fallibility to the tale.
For example, Hearne writes about goddesses and an apprentice (now full Druid) named Granuaile who are certainly of the strong-female-character ilk, but he doesn’t get tied up in gender nuance, because their personalities and appearances are all filtered through Atticus’s respectful and occasionally horny, sometimes clueless lens.
So how is this a weakness? When he gives the perspective to someone else.
Sometimes, it seems necessary to get a whole big honking backstory from another character in this series. So, there’s a Celtic-knot image and then someone else talks in their voice, tone and style for a few pages. I hate these. Hate them. I’m there for Atticus, not a mourning dwarf. I get it – as a reader, we need to know what happened to the dwarves. But honestly, I’d rather have the dwarf’s story summed up and filtered and quoted by Atticus in his perspective, rather than listening to the dwarf.
I have two major problems with this perspective shifting.
First, I’ve built up my empathy and interest and compassion in the main characters. I don’t care about this tertiary character who is talking, and frankly, he’s not going to be able to make me care. I’ve invested the reading of a series of books in the protagonists. I care about them. I care what they think and feel. Going back to the dwarf example from Trapped (book 5 of the series), he had every right to be sad, angry and upset. I wanted to hear his story from Atticus’s perspective because I wanted to know how sad, surprised, angry, upset, or guilty he felt about it. I learned that later, but I would have liked the immediacy of my main character’s reaction even more.
Second: pacing. I’ve already said that mostly, Hearne gets it spot-on. I can read most of these novels on one rainy Sunday with no interruptions. The pacing is tight, but not break-neck. It’s exciting and engaging and I want to know what happens next.
In contrast, the Third book, Hammered took me… I hate to say it… at least a month to read. A MONTH. I read about 1-2 books a week at a normal pace, and faster if I like them. One novel took me a month. The reason was because most of that novel was story-time in other characters’ POVs, and I just didn’t care. It was a slog. It pulled me out of the narrative so completely, it took Brett badgering me about finishing it to move forward. If I hadn’t been promised that book four was back to earlier standards, I would have abandoned the series.
I’m currently about 4 pages into the opening scene of Hunted (book 6, just published earlier this summer), and I’m certain I’ll be waiting impatiently for Shattered – which doesn’t yet have a release date.
Does anyone else read Hearne’s books? What do you think?