I know that quite a few urban fantasy series take a few books to truly find their feet, The Dresden Files being one of the most prominent examples of “stick with it for at least three books, and it will get good.” Books 1 and 2 of this series were fine, though some characters were rather weak, and the main character seemed to have some issues with considering consequences intelligently. However, rather than slowly improving as a series, this novel is actually my least favorite so far, and while there was an intriguing comment at the end, I do not feel all too inspired to continue the series unless someone can tell me it’s worth sticking out.
I think there are a few things here that are potentially working against the book:
- The time line. Hearne chooses to have the first three novels of his Iron Druid Chronicles take place within about two months of each other. Considering how close to death Atticus repeatedly comes, it seems like it would make some sense to factor in a bit more recovery time; also, it would be easier to buy the teacher/apprentice relationship if more than a few weeks had passed.
- The ever present issue of Granuaile. I hate the way she is written. I think there are a few factors at play here. Hearne chose to introduce her as the hot bartender that Atticus was lusting after, and then afterwards, he decides to give her a “personality” (she’s pretty boring, but gets all of Atticus’s pop culture references if one wants to count that as a personality). To me, that kind of built in an immediate skeeve factor since he is over 2,000 years old, lusting after her and decides to take her on as an apprentice. I feel like this would have worked much more if the initial introduction hadn’t been, “she’s so hot, she makes me tongue tied.” Not to mention she feels like a cheap copy of Molly from The Dresden Files. As much as we talk about the need for diversity, and as irritated as I get when there are no female characters in a novel, sometimes I am not sure what is worse – no women in a novel or very badly written women. Granted, after the initial few chapters, it becomes a complete sausage fest so I guess Hearne decided to mostly opt for the first option. If someone repeatedly points out their machismo upbringing does that excuse it? Or does that make it worse? Because Atticus likes to point out how he was brought up in the super macho Iron Age to excuse his behavior. Basically, “hey, I know this is annoying, and I know I am wrong for this, but I mean, I’m old, so it’s kind of okay.”
- Too many pop culture references. A few are fine. Between this series and the Bobiverse books, I am kind of wondering what it is with the Star Trek obsession among male writers. At least Bobiverse was sci-fi. And I don’t dislike Star Trek; I even have fond memories of watching TNG with my dad growing up! I don’t mind an occasional pop culture reference, but all the jokes about sensei and master (less so in this novel) are really not my thing. I also enjoy Shakespeare but still find the Shakespeare quote off during a high speed chase obnoxious rather than endearing (Toby Daye also features a decent amount of Shakespeare quotes but this is also explained within the world building as iambic pentameter makes spells work better). And the LOLCats speak? Seriously? Why? It was only two or three sentences but I am with the vampire: cut that shit out! In fact, maybe Leif should be the main character going forward. I like a mix of modern and old in urban fantasy, but I am more interested in how the authors reimagine old myths and legends in a modern context than their interpretation of Star Trek.
- Community. I think a big part of the appeal of urban fantasy is the protagonist’s ties to their communities. Kate Daniels and Atlanta, Harry Dresden and Chicago, Toby Daye and San Francisco. Yes, they have occasional adventures in other cities/planes of existence, but their cities are just as much a part of the novels as they are. Once Atticus decides it’s time to cash in on his promise to Leif to help him kill Thor, he starts packing up and arranging to leave Tempe. Seriously? I am here for the side characters. If Atticus abandons Tempe with his apprentice, he takes the weakest parts of the series and leaves behind the best parts. Also, didn’t really want series about a road tripping druid.
- Thor and Asgard. So this is more of a timing issue, because I actually do normally enjoy reading different versions of interpretations of characters. As a result, I have no issues having the Rick Riordan version of Thor (all brawn, no brains) and Marvel’s version. Still, Thor: Ragnarok is my favorite Marvel movie so I was probably less than enthused about a novel that portrayed Thor as an evil villain and involved a mission to kill him, with a larger part of the Norse pantheon as potential collateral damage. In the other two novels, Atticus was reacting to a threat. In this one, he takes the fight to Asgard, making him very unsympathetic. It also doesn’t help that he gets a giant squirrel, Ratatosk, killed within the first two chapters, so I was basically mad at Atticus from the beginning, and don’t feel like he did much of anything to redeem himself after, only digging himself in further and further and getting more and more people/creatures killed despite repeated warnings from friends.
For me, this is the novel where Atticus goes from flawed protagonist to total asshole (why are you antagonizing Bacchus? Shouldn’t you maybe try to be a bit less of an ass to prevent future fall out?). Here’s one quote: “I laughed, because I knew he could hear me and I wanted him to know I’d seen his humiliation” – yep, that’s who I want to be cheering on, a guy that kicks his enemies when they are down and therefore makes it even less likely they might be willing to calm down later and agree to a truce. Unless I run out of ideas for things to read, I don’t see myself getting back to this series anytime soon. But at least this time the villains weren’t evil witches, so that’s one for the plus column.