Lady Lauren's Panacea
PRESCRIPTION: Hounded by Kevin Hearne
SYMPTOMS: Light-hearted urban fantasy, snappy dialog, magic-heavy action,
DOSAGE: (out of five)
Atticus O'Sullivan is a 2000-year-old druid playing mortal in Tempe, Arizona,
while waiting for Aenghus Òg, the Celtic god of love, to forget he wants him dead.
That isn't likely, since Atticus humiliated him a few centuries before when he
nicked a magic sword, Fragarach the Answerer. Atticus has avoided Aenghus ever
since, but all good things must come to an end and thank the petulant pantheon
they do because Hounded, the first of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series, is one of
the most fantastically entertaining books I've read in ages.
The first person narration is tight and vibrant, its strength of characterization and
voice reminiscent of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. In fact, Atticus has been
described as "the logical heir to . . . Dresden" by SFFWorld, though he's not so
much a sorcerer P.I. as a savant hippie with a justified sense of paranoia. Where
readers might expect a licensed B.A. like Dresden to crack his knuckles and deliver
a snarky "come at me, bro" when faced with his mortal enemy, Atticus books the
next Boeing 747 out of Dangertown. Unless said mortal enemy threatens his dog.
While similar to Storm Front in break-neck pacing, narrative mode, and
unmannered faeries, Hounded shrugs off the city grit and self-deprecation for a
charming swagger that lends the story a feel-good vibe not found in much of the
urban fantasy genre. Atticus's conversations with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon,
break up the excitement with comic relief and little details that hint at Atticus's
protracted personal history give his character believability, despite an age of
roughly two Millennia. Unlike a lot of fantasy fiction's senior citizens, Atticus
isn't jaded or infinitely wise. He stays alive for love of living and sometimes he
gets it wrong. Also, his attorney is a werewolf and he practices swordsmanship
with a viking-turned-vampire. Who wouldn't want to stick around?
Though Atticus avoids conflict when possible, he recognizes when it's time to face
the enemy and makes a conscious effort to minimize collateral damage. His
personal sense of morality and goodwill toward man (and beast) give him both
gravity as a character and an ethos mortal readers can respect. Atticus is the kind of
hero who casually decapitates a god-turned-assassin on the same day he mows his
elderly neighbor's lawn, and does it with an eye toward all that is awesome about
being (and did we mention staying?) alive.
For audiobook lovers, Hounded is a must-listen. Luke Daniels is a master of
accents, nailing everything from Irish to Slavic to Indian, and does a great job
reading women's voices without resorting to a Beegees impression. His rendering
of Oberon is one of audio fiction's great under-appreciated performances.
PRESCRIPTION: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
SYMPTOMS: Young Adult, Alternate History, Steampunk, Adventure, World
DOSAGE: (out of five)
In an alternate WWI, two teens from opposite sides of the conflict work together to
save a living airship, the genetically-fabricated hydrogen whale known as the
Leviathan. The first book in a YA Steampunk trilogy, Leviathan incorporates
elements of all the series I loved as a kid (okay, and now): a girl who disguises
herself as a boy so she can become a soldier, a naïve prince hiding a commoner and
utterly failing his bluff roll, and characters on opposite sides of the war who
readers (okay, I) totally want to fall in love.
Westerfeld has always had his finger on the pulse of teen fiction, but with its
release just at the first swell of the mainstream popularization to steampunk and its
triple threat of relatable characters, exciting story, and unique world-building,
Leviathan hits the sweet spot of current and timeless storytelling. Westerfeld
anchors the details of his alternate elements in familiar events, incorporating the
diverse political tensions of 1914 Europe as a touchstones for his own version of
the conflict: those who use genetically fabricated beasts in place of technology, the
Darwinists, and those who use complex diesel and steam-based machinery, the
Deryn Sharp is Steampunk's answer to Pierce's Alanna. Her dream is to fly like
her father, so she disguises herself as a boy to serve as a soldier on an airship.
Despite her job's inherent difficulties, she never shows self-doubt or wishes she
were a boy, even if it would make her duties easier. In a time when girls are
inundated with timid, self-conscious heroines, Deryn is a breath of fresh air: she is
as comfortable in her own skin as she is in trousers and never once judges her own
worth based on her appearance. Unlike a lot of cross-dressing heroines, she doesn't
need to bathe, put on a dress, and walk slowly down the stairs in front of the hero
to feel confident. Her disguise serves to liberate her, paradoxically allowing her to
be more herself than she ever was in corsets and skirts.
Prince Alek of Hohenberg is the non-inheriting son of recently-assassinated
Archduke Ferdinand. Though Alek's common mother prohibits him from
inheriting his father's title, a secret letter from the Pope names him the next in line
to rule the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With barely a moment to grieve his parents'
death, Alek is dragged away to hide in the Swiss Alps until the war is over. While
Deryn knows exactly who she is, Alek's challenge is reconciling his own self-concept with a world that suddenly shatters around him. He is no longer safe and
no longer certain quite what his role is, though he takes the first step toward
finding out when the Leviathan crashes in the Swiss Alps where he's hiding. Alek
is faced with the choice between allowing the Darwinists and their airbeast to die
and risking what may be his only chance for a stable future.
Anyone who liked Jim Dale's reading of the Harry Potter audiobooks will enjoy
Alan Cummings's performance of Leviathan. He's Scottish like Deryn and
listeners will recognize his talent at the German/Austrian accents, which are well
rehearsed from his roles as X-men's Nightcrawler and Cabaret's Emcee, making
him a perfect fit for both heroes.
Possible discussion topics: what do secrets say about the characters that keep them
and who they keep them from; what do Alek's choices imply about his concept of
self throughout the book; and what obstacles do the characters overcome to relate
to one another "across enemy lines" and how does it compares to modern/real-life
Read more by Lauren Harris