Some thoughts on the Iron Druid Chronicles

I finally got around to getting a library card a few weeks ago because I saw that you could download audiobooks, which is great when you have a hard time justifying dropping $20 on one otherwise. I was also excited to test out the ebook loan program, which let me download and plow through the latest 3 novels and 2 novellas in The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. (They are: The Grimoire of the Lamb, Tricked, Two Ravens and One Crow, Trapped, and Hunted). This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive review, but here are a few thoughts I have on the series so far. Spoiler alert, I’m a fan.

Atticus O'Sullivan

Freagróidh tú! Wait, shit, is this Moralltach?

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS (For Dresden as well as Iron Druid)

I read the first Iron Druid book, Hounded, this winter and loved it. I’ll admit I was a little wary going in – I hadn’t read a lot of urban fantasy aside from Dresden, and I had seen Hearne compared unfavorably to Jim Butcher in reviews.

I was pleasantly surprised. Iron Druid does have a lot in common with Dresden – but mostly to its credit rather than its detriment. Both feature snarky magical protagonists up against staggering – and rapidly escalating – odds. Both have snarky non-human sidekicks. Both have precocious pets. Both have uncomfortable sexual tension with their nubile apprentices. Both have panoplies of supernatural baddies, from gods to demons, werewolves to vampires, and witches to holy warriors.

“I don’t have anything against God. Far from it. But I don’t understand Him. And I don’t trust a lot of the people that go around claiming that they’re working in His best interests. Faeries and vampires and whatnot—those I can fathom. Even demons. Sometimes, even the Fallen. I can understand why they do what they do. But I don’t understand God. I don’t understand how He could see the way people treat one another, and not chalk up the whole human race as a bad idea. I guess He’s just bigger about it than I would be.”

So there’s a lot in common. But I think there are some key points of departure that give Iron Druid its own unique character.

First, there’s the character of Atticus himself. He’s got that same snark-under-fire thing going on as Dresden, but his is couched in about two millennia of practice and cultural references. Of course, most references are still pretty recent, because how often do you really get to casually slip the Eddas into conversation?

In a lot of ways Atticus makes me think a lot more of the Doctor than Harry Dresden as a character. He’s an unimaginably old loner working for the good and protection of humanity who has experienced more love and loss than most of us could ever imagine. But unlike the Doctor, Atticus settles down from time to time. Later in the series Atticus reveals the tragedy of the centuries he spent married to a woman in Egypt, and the debacle that ensued when he shared his immortality with his wife and children. Not that Dresden doesn’t have some real shit in his past (and present for that matter), but we’re just seeing the last little blip of Atticus’ life, and Hearne does a great job at hinting at the shape of everything that’s below the surface of the water. The man has lived.

One little quibble I have with Iron Druid is its larger cosmology. When you have gods created by every little belief people have ever had, you end up with a LOT of gods. Part of the problem I have is with seeming inconsistencies or just things that haven’t been clearly explained (caveat, I did read these very quickly. It’s entirely possible I’m an idiot and missed things.). For example, there are lots of different Jesuses because people imagine Jesus in lots of different ways. But they’re all unique individuals. But for some reason the Thor that Atticus and friends kill in Hammered is Thor Prime, Ultra-Alpha-Omega Thor, so when he dies the Norse are a little fucked because he won’t be around to take on Loki in Ragnarok. Someone suggests they just get a different Thor to do it, like the Marvel Thor! (Wait, fictional characters exist because of belief now too? So is Superman running around somewhere? Sauron? Little Bunny Foo-Foo? I don’t know what to believe!) But for some reason no other Thors are worthy, because apparently he was only imagined in one way? I don’t get it.

Zeus, get your hand off my ass!

Zeus, get your hand off my ass!

In Iron Druid’s mythos, Gods’ powers come from belief, so those with the most believers are the most powerful. Atticus tempts a few forgotten gods like Bast with the promise that this or that action will attract new followers. But why do these gods even exist anymore? There are passing comments that the Greek and Roman gods aren’t nearly as powerful as they were in their heyday, but it doesn’t seem to be a proportional decline. That one guy sacrificing a goat to Jupiter in a shaded grove somewhere apparently still gives him enough power to zap the living daylights out of Europe? So is belief only used to create gods, and then they’re there forever, but if they lose believers they just power down a little bit? This hasn’t been explored enough for my satisfaction, but I imagine future volumes will investigate a bit further. As I said, it’s a minor quibble and didn’t impede my enjoyment of the series. If an author wrote a compelling enough story for me to ask nitpicking questions about his magic system after plowing through 3 novels and two novellas in less than a week, he’s doing several somethings very right.

Also the Druid power set is a pretty cool major magic system. It brings some interesting limitations/moral questions into play – for example that he can’t use is unbinding powers to directly harm or kill, but Gaia doesn’t care so much about the plenty of loopholes he’s able to find. I feel like Atticus is going to have some major, even deeper guilt issues in future volumes at the body count in his wake, even if the bulk of them end up being demons, draugar and vampires. Seems to me that Atticus has had to become a War Druid, and in Granuaile he’s creating another of the same. I can see some major self-reflection in the future. We’ll have to see what crotchety old Arch-Druid has to say about what Atticus has been up to these past two millennia.

It’s okay Oberon, you could totally take Mouse.

I also thought it was bold of Hearne to do the 12-year time jump between Tricked and Trapped (spanned by the excellent novella Two Ravens and One Crow.) As I was reading the early series, I was a little disappointed at the 12-year training period for Granuaile, because I wanted to see two kickass War Druids, dammit! But I also didn’t want to cheapen her training by doing a “Oh my gosh she’s a prodigy here’s a training montage!”-type thing, and Hearne didn’t disappoint. The time jump gave a little lacuna of druidic peace in between some major clusterfucks. It felt right, and for me gave the series a greater feeling of having a longer arc rather than being a big-bad-of-the-novel type serial. If you haven’t caught up on Iron Druid, do it! The next novel, Shattered, comes out June 17! I don’t imagine I’ll have the patience to wait for the library to pick up a copy, and I will definitely be done by Skin Games well before then (As in, within 24 hours of its release). This is going to be a glorious pair of months, reading-wise.

Those are a few of my thoughts, such as they are, on the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for my favorite Druid since Allanon!

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Hang a lantern on it

Lampshade Hanging is the writers’ trick of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the audience’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief, whether a very implausible plot development, or a particularly blatant use of a trope, by calling attention to it and simply moving on.

– From TV Tropes

So why did I name my blog after a screenwriting technique? I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of writing advice lately as I’ve been focusing in on my novel-writing aspirations. I’ve heard the term “Hang a lantern on it” bandied about in more than a few places, and I’ve been mulling over it.

In a way, hanging a lantern on something is an admission of failure – it’s a wave of the hand through the fourth wall. It simultaneously breaks and reinforces the fictional illusion. My experience lately has been that all writing is an experiment at failure – it’s about failing over and over again. As they say, the first step is admitting it.

So this blog is about admitting the failure – not just in writing, but in every path. I’m waving a hand, I’m letting you know that I’m in on it. This is about acknowledging my shortcomings, and maybe in so doing, moving beyond them. It’s about hanging lanterns all over the world and examining their hues – and maybe making harsh lights a little softer.