[bursts into the room playing a kazoo]

The Hounded sporking is FINISHED!!

If you’re new to the sporking, or if you just wanted to skip years’ worth of bullshimflarkus and get to the actual point of the sporking, I’m going to go ahead and say it so you can rest easy: Hounded by Kevin Hearne is not a good book. It’s a bad book. Admittedly, it’s not garbage fire, and I’ve read worse…

[Looks at a copy of Angelopolis and flicks holy water on it, and it immediately steams and hisses.]

I know that sounds like a low bar, but after that monstrosity I tend to value these things quite a bit. If you have been reading the sporking, I know you’re probably saying something like, “C’mon, we went through this with you! You can’t possibly say, ‘It’s not that bad!’” And, yeah, I can. The characters in Hounded are terrible, but they’re still more memorable than the ones in Angelopolis. The chapters themselves are consistent; we don’t have details contradicting each other every couple of pages. And as reprehensible as Atticus is, at least he’s not a Nazi, like the angelololologits are in Angelopolis.

But let’s not kid ourselves with this comparison: “Not as bad as Angeloplis Award” is like a Cookie for Basic Decency. Hounded is a bad book. Atticus is a terrible protagonist, the other characters exist to serve him, the thin veneer of Plot warps itself to Atticus’s convenience, and the world this story’s set in makes no sense. The dialogue sucks, the humor sucks, the action sucks… this book just sucks all around!

Let’s take a deeper look.

CHARACTERS

Atticus O’Sullivan

Our protagonist and narrator.

Atticus is a terrible choice of protagonist. I don’t just mean that he’s a terrible person the reader can’t relate to (though that is also true), I mean he doesn’t make sense as the hero of the story. In theory, I understand the desire to have an immortal and powerful Druid as the protagonist, but Hearne failed to make it work. What this means is that Atticus is a character who has ended his Hero’s Journey. He doesn’t want for anything, he’s not on a quest for something; he already has the Macguffin that everyone’s freaking out about. He’s not trying to save anyone or anything, or get revenge. He has no love interest he’s actively pursuing. He doesn’t have to go anywhere or figure out anything. His only goal is to be left alone, which in and of itself could be a fun story, a sort of urban mythological fantasy version of John Wick. Except it’s not, because Atticus doesn’t care. He sits around and waits for things to happen to him, not concerned about a threat until it plops in front of him, despite his continued insistence that he’s paranoid and this paranoia has kept him alive for so long. He has such a massive lack of agency, he has to be manipulated into fighting the villain in the end.

And anything that could be interesting character development or conflict is dropped with little fanfare. Faeries attack? He’s a badass fighter who heals and has an iron elemental on speed dial that doesn’t appear or get mentioned for the rest of the book. Atticus is the last Druid? Not only does he apparently not care at all, it’s never explained why being so powerful were rendered almost extinct. Atticus has a powerful magical artifact? It turns out he only has it because it happened to land in front of him thousands of years ago, and he picked it up because he was told to. His immortal enemy is rolling into town? No problem, the Morrigan just made him immortal. His father was abusive? Who cares, he’s long dead! Here’s a shout-out to Field of Dreams. His neighbor witnesses him kill an enemy? Good thing he knows about her personal history in the Troubles so that he can claim the guy was English and she helps him bury the body! She doesn’t even hold it against him when he tells her the truth about the supernatural world! He can’t beat the entire coven of witches on his own? No worries, his werewolf friends will help without being asked, half the witches will leave, and a helpful and powerful witch will appear out of nowhere to kill Radomila! It’s not just that there’s no effort on the part of the character to do anything, it’s that the author refuses to let him grow at all as a person. This is the first book in the series, and Hearne’s first novel ever, so I’m not surprised that it’s not an introspective character study. But he slams the door shut at every opportunity to give this character any depth or admirable qualities.

Because make no mistake: Atticus is a terrible person. He pals around with a serial-killing vampire who has a clean-up crew on standby, he makes deals with the Irish goddess of violent death, he cheerfully admits to killing his allies when it gets him what he wants, lets the Morrigan kill civilians without bothering to try to stop her, he sells drugs to college students, he steals municipal money, harasses his elderly neighbor, kills zoo animals for funzies, assumes his so-called friends will die for him without being asked, and delights in other people’s misery.

Which might be interesting if he was a smart villain protagonist, but he’s not. For starters, Atticus is dumb as a box of rocks. Every time he hears that enemies are on their way or that he’s being watched, he goes about his day as if nothing’s wrong. He avoids his house when the police are watching it, but he still walks around town with a sword, goes to his neighbor’s house and hangs out on her front porch, and goes to his favorite pub; essentially, he hides from the police by going to all of the public places he’s known to frequent. When Atticus needs to heal, he lays out in his yard all night assuming no one will just bomb his yard from the next house over. He constantly tells us why he tries to fight smart, adding things like, “Yeah, it’s dishonorable/not like the movies, but that’s how you win!” and then goes and does something completely unrealistic, like making an enemy rip his own feet off. When he’s questioned by Malina, he decides he has to answer with the truth, for no reason, but stipulates that he doesn’t have to give the whole truth. And when asked about whether or not he has Aenghus’s sword, he thinks he’s clever by replying “It’s not his,” and acts like this was a clever thing despite it telling Malina exactly what she wanted to know—that he has it. He’s constantly telling us witches can’t be trusted, but he’s always trusting them and when he learns that the witches are against him he acts shocked. And Atticus continues to act shocked every time it’s brought up. Towards the end of the novel, he keeps asking why the villain would possibly want a sword that can cut through anything. Then he’s trying to free his chained friend, and doesn’t realize that maybe he can use his cut-through-anything sword to break the chains.

But the novel tries to convince us that Atticus is actually a clever individual. He’s constantly patting himself over the back at how he’s outsmarting his opponents, even when he’s giving them exactly what they want. Hearne thinks that because Atticus talks back to policemen and can recite Shakespeare by heart that he’s created a smart character; never mind that the former is a terrible idea no matter where you are, and the latter doesn’t make any sense for the character, a proud immortal Irish man.

But it doesn’t matter, because the character’s so ridiculously overpowered that his stupidity never causes any problems. We’re told that as a Druid, his only real power is “binding,” but that apparently includes shapeshifting, potion-making, super strength, healing, invisibility, and whatever else the author feels like at the moment. Along with that, he has friends who will happily clean up his messes for him, he’s an expert swordsman, immortal, and has a magic amulet that helps him defy the rules of regular magic and makes him deadly to the touch of magical creatures.

In summary: our lead is an annoying evil git who is overpowered and gets away with everything. We’re supposed to be getting the impression of someone like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden or Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus; instead we’ve got a moronic frat bro who won’t shut up about how awesome he is.

Oberon

Oberon is Atticus’s dog, and the method by which Hearne delivers a lot of his “witty” one-liners. Most of them are pretty stupid and lead to several conversations that go on for too long, killing any tension or urgency in scenes because he keeps cracking “jokes” about Genghis Khan or how he wants a harem, or quoting South Park in the middle of the final duel.

We’re supposed to care about him, by virtue of him being a dog I think, and to Hearne’s credit he does have sympathetic moments. When he’s mind-controlled into killing a man, when he wakes up he’s very confused and terrified about what he’s done. Too bad this doesn’t form a character arc. If he has a character arc in this story, it’s about how he wants to have sex with poodles. Never mind that as a creature of near-human intelligence, his fixation on having sex with dogs who don’t share that intelligence is creepy. Never mind that he won’t shut up about poodles.

It’s disturbing that I can honestly tell you guys that I read a book in which there’s a subplot about dog sex.

Widow McDonagh

I call her “the Leprechaun” because she speaks with a ridiculous caricature of an Irish accent. According to the acknowledgements section, Hearne actually consulted someone about keeping the accent consistent. And that someone teaches at a university. Think about that for a few seconds.

She’s barely a character for most of the novel, other than to be “The Cool Old Lady” that Atticus can talk to and make inappropriate comments. One of the first things we’re told is that when he’s working in her yard, she tells Atticus that if she were younger she’d have sex with him. She tells us she’s a devout Catholic, but goes to Mass drunk. She also hates British people and wants them all dead.

What makes her stand out is also what makes her infuriating. She witnesses Atticus kill an enemy, and she helps him hide the body because Atticus tells her that the man was British and it just so happens that her husband was part of the IRA and was killed in the Troubles, so she carries a seething hatred of anyone British! Isn’t that handy?

She’s a Plot Device like most of the characters, but a more irritating one than most because of how she drags the Irish Troubles into the Plot just to make things easier for Atticus. I hate her.

Hal Hauk

Atticus’s werewolf lawyer. He barely has any character. There’s this nice character thing about how he’s been guessing how old Atticus is, but that’s about it. He exists to be the lawyer who gets Atticus out of trouble.

Leif Helgarson

Atticus’s vampire lawyer. He has less personality. He’s a serial killer with a clean up crew on speed dial, and one of Atticus’s closest friends. But he gets Atticus out of trouble, and that makes him A-OK in Hearne’s eyes.

Granuaile

A HAWT recent college grad bartender at Atticus’s favorite bar who doesn’t do anything but flirt with Atticus until right before the climax, where she reveals that A) she shares her head with an Indian witch that’s possessing her, and B) she wants to be Atticus’s apprentice Druid.

That’s… kind of it.

I have no idea how to say her name, and I hate spelling out every time, so I call her ‘Grannie.’

Laksha

The Indian witch possessing Granuaile. She doesn’t appear at all until right before the climax, where it just so happens that she has motivation to help Atticus, and helps him defeat the witches. We’re supposed to get the “She’s into creepy magic but helps because their motivations align” thing from her, but she hasn’t do anything worse than Atticus himself has done.

Radomila

She’s not a character, she’s a cardboard cutout. Hearne acts like she’s a character, this witch that betrayed Atticus and is plotting with Aenghus Og. But Atticus keeps telling the reader that witches can’t be trusted, so this is the opposite of a shock. And she doesn’t appear until the end, and even then doesn’t talk or really do anything to display she has a personality.

Then Laksha makes her head implode, and we’re supposed to cheer, I guess.

Emilya

Her name is Emilia, but she goes by ‘Emily’ in America because… I don’t know why. Apparently she thinks people in the US wouldn’t accept someone named ‘Emilia.’ Her backstory is that she was saved from being raped by Nazis by Malina, another witch, and so she joined their coven. You’d think that because of this backstory, she’d be a sympathetic or complex character. Nope! Every scene she’s in, Atticus is practically screaming “She’s a skank ho!” to the audience. She’s stupid and shallow, and Atticus has his werewolf friends rip off her head so he can use it as a trophy. Except he doesn’t end up using it, so he buries it in his neighbor’s yard.

Malina

She’s the witch that isn’t plotting against Atticus. That’s it—she’s not a jerk. That’s all she is. It surprises Atticus because he automatically distrusts women witches.

The Morrigan

The Irish goddess of war and violent death. She’s often cast in a villainous role, though I think there’s a way to do an interesting, sympathetic portrayal of her.

This isn’t it.

You wouldn’t think that a goddess of violent death would ever be reduced to the protagonist’s flunkey. That’s basically what she is! She arrives early on to warn Atticus that Aenghus Og is coming, and also to have a scene in which she’s naked. Throughout the book she shows up to tell the protagonist what’s going to happen next, provide him eye candy, and help him for no reason.

And she kills people that insult her. Not that Atticus cares.

Also, she makes the protagonist invincible during her first appearance in the second chapter. I wish that was a joke. As a psychopomp who takes those who die in battle to the next life, she offers to never take him to the afterlife in exchange for learning the secrets of making Atticus’s magic iron amulet. There are some loopholes presented, but they’re so miniscule and unlikely, especially since Hearne never inconveniences his protagonist enough that he’s in a situation that some other psychopomp would take Atticus to the afterlife.

The Morrigan is transparently infatuated with Atticus, given how she does stuff for him without being asked, frequently appears naked in front of him, starts groping him, and shows up to warn him of incoming threats. She’s been doing this for centuries. Atticus doesn’t notice; he seems to think that it’s perfectly normal for everyone to be subservient to him, and to be fair everyone else in the story is. Making it worse though is his refusal to take her seriously; when she warns him that Aenghus Og is coming, and cites all her evidence, Atticus dismisses it and tells her she must have done it wrong because he’s a sexist pig.

Aenghus Og

Aenghus Og is a mess of an antagonist. It continues to baffle me that Hearne chose to make Aenghus Og the villain of the story, because the Irish god of love isn’t even remotely villainous in the original mythology. Hearne, through Atticus, tries to justify it by telling us morally reprehensible things that Aenghus has done in the myths, but reading those myths, those actions are put in-context and you see that none of them are unjustified. If anything, the myths paint Aenghus as something of a trickster antihero: not entirely moral, but definitely not evil either. Which, weirdly enough, is the vibe we’re supposed to get from Atticus.

If Hearne had actually gone with this personality, then Aenghus would have made an interesting antagonist. Because we’d have two trickster characters trying to out-do each other in a battle of wits and magic. But Hearne doesn’t do anything interesting with Aenghus Og; instead, he’s just some dickhead who wants power for its own sake. He doesn’t show up until the final couple of chapters, and even then his lines are generic and boring. He’s not interesting, he’s not fun, he’s not anything really; Aenghus Og is just some douchebag that exists to be someone for Atticus to complain about and then kill. None of what he does in the story makes sense, especially when we find out that he could have mind-controlled someone into shooting Atticus at any point. He spent two thousand years hunting down Atticus, and this convoluted plan, which I remind you, includes rendering himself impotent (?!), is the best he could come up with?

This was Hearne’s first book, so I wouldn’t expect a perfect villain, but you would think he or his editors could have at least worked out how to make a halfway competent or entertaining villain. Aenghus Og isn’t anything but a talking cardboard cutout for Atticus to hit.

PLOT

The gist of the Plot is meant to be that Atticus, the last of the Druids, is retired in Tempe, Arizona and must face his old enemy Aenghus Og, who has finally caught up with him. As I said within the sporking more than once, in theory it’s an urban fantasy with a Plot like John Wick. Except Atticus is overpowered and the world never does anything to inconvenience him. So instead of him pursuing his enemies before they get him, Atticus just goes about his day until some monster or god shows up.

In Das_Sporking’s spork of Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer, Mervin mentions that the book has a Plot, but the characters all ignore it. We’ve got a similar deal here. Several times Atticus is told what’s going to happen, and though he insists that he’s a paranoid loner running away from his problems and who is prepared for everything, he doesn’t care. When he’s told that ogres are going to lay siege to his house, he informs us that all he does is get a good night’s sleep. The pace of the Plot keeps slowing down so Atticus can leisurely go about his business as if nothing’s going on, or explain something in-detail that could be shown to us instead.

This is part of why this book doesn’t work. The main character doesn’t care! And so why should we care?

DIALOGUE

It’s not great.

Atticus and company frequently add obscenity into sentences for no reason other than because he wants to sound adult. It doesn’t sound adult, it sounds like a teenager who just learned swear words and doesn’t know how to use them correctly. I’m not saying I dislike books with swearing, but here it felt unnecessary. There are good books that have characters swear a lot, and do it well: American Gods or Orcs come to mind. Heck, recently Eoin Colfer’s book Highfire wasn’t really my cup of tea, but the characters all swear worse than sailors and it still reads more natural than Atticus ending a chapter with “Bring it, muthafuckas.”

That line is meant to be representative of how a modern person speaks, by the way.

Aside from that, even without swearing, no one really talks like a real person? The Leprechaun speaks with a Lucky Charms accent. She’s not the only one with a ridiculous accent tacked on, but the most egregious example.

Atticus constantly uses “hip” modern language and pop culture references, insisting that it makes him so much cooler and smarter than the immortal or long-lived beings who don’t keep up with pop culture. Except that so much of that modern language consists of things that are now pretty dated or really stupid, like ‘PWNED’ or jokes about Cylons. And then there’s the time he apparently made a Jedi Mind Trick joke to immigration services when they appeared on his doorstep. This is meant to make him sound cool, I think? Instead, it reads like a teenager’s idea of a cool action hero, minus any sympathetic traits.

This goes back to the ‘Atticus thinks he’s clever’ thing. Actually, this goes to the idea that Hearne thinks Atticus is clever. He and others keep making “witty” quips that are more groan-worthy than amusing, especially when they’re stretched out for long past their welcome, like Oberon’s poodle fetish or the gibes about Bres’s armor. The final battle has Atticus and Aenghus shouting “NO, U!” at each other. It’s not funny, it’s just annoying.

IRISH MYTHOLOGY

Look, I don’t know where Hearne expects his audience to be on the subject of Irish mythology.

There are times when the book acts as if you’re already supposed to know quite a bit about Irish myth. When describing how he received Fragarach in the first place, Atticus vomits a bunch of details about a particular battle, and doesn’t explain what any of these terms mean nor explain the background behind them. He gives vague hints as to certain things, like Airmid’s herblore or how Mac Lir takes souls to the Tir na nOg.

But then there are times when the book definitely assumes you know nothing. There are mountains of exposition when context could have given us enough. But more frustrating is when he describes Irish mythological characters in a way that’s contrary to the myths. I’m not a purist when it comes to fiction: I don’t think that an author needs to stick to the myths too closely as long as he or she can tell a good story. But things like Aenghus Og’s characterization come out of left field, and the novel acts like this is totally in line with who he is in the myths, citing actions that in-context aren’t really villainous. There are other minor details that don’t quite add up either. Bres has quite a bad rap sheet in Irish myth, as when he became king he favored his Fomorian heritage and had the gods enslaved. None of this is brought up—the “heroes” characterize him as worthy of death because he’s ugly and stupid. Him having enslaved the gods is apparently not worth mentioning, and he’s killed minutes after he arrives.

I’m not even really sure that Hearne has a solid grasp of Irish myth. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but he frequently refers to it as “Celtic mythology;” and while Irish mythology is a Celtic mythology, it’s not the only one, and in a world in which apparently all myths are true, that’s an important distinction to make, as there must certainly be Welsh and Gaulish deities somewhere in this setting.

The Irish gods that appear in the story seem to have their names and a couple of basic traits in place, like the only research Hearne did was a ten second look on Google. And if this was a book like American Gods which featured a bunch of different gods, many of whom are mostly glorified cameos, and interacting outside of their original setting, I’d give it a pass. But this isn’t that; the central character is someone who is an ancient Irish man steeped in Irish lore and mythology. So I should feel that these are characters steeped in myth and legend, and instead I just feel I’d be doing more research than Hearne by glancing at the Wikipedia pages for ten minutes.

Mind you, this applies to pretty much anything. Atticus apparently didn’t realize that the reason demons are depicted with goat features is about demonizing fauns and satyrs.

WORLDBUILDING

It’s a mess.

There’s magic that’s not very well-explained, and that’s fine, because I don’t think magic needs to be that well-explained. It’s magic. Fine. But if you give us an explanation, you better stick to it. Hearne doesn’t. He tells us that the only real power Druids have is “binding,” but then goes on to have that include not only things like healing and shapeshifting, but also night vision, super strength, potion-making, controlling the winds, invisibility, seeing through illusions, and giving people wedgies.

We’re also told that Druid magic is inherently good and righteous, and that a Druid’s duty is to protect the Earth. But we don’t see him care about that at all until the very end, where Aenghus is blighting the land by calling up demons from Hell.

And speaking of demons from Hell: the mythology of this series is a massive stupid mess. Plenty of fantasy serieses have this, and usually I don’t mind. Dresden Files doesn’t bother to explain how the figures from different mythologies simultaneously exist, which is fine. But this book tries to give the explanation of ‘mythological being exist because people believe in them,’ and that just doesn’t work because it doesn’t add up. It worked in Discworld or The Sandman or American Gods which were making statements about culture and human nature, but when it just exists without that commentary, it leads to strange contradictions. Atticus tries to play it off as the world “being as big as your mind can encompass,” when that’s not really how it is at all.

I’m also baffled why he went with this system, and then tells us that the Irish gods actually don’t work like that. The Irish gods are explicitly something like uber-Druids that got deified. So why is this “Gods Need Belief to Exist” system in place when the main group of mythological beings he interacts with in this book don’t follow that system at all? It unnecessarily muddles how this world works.

And then demons from Hell are thrown in to make things more dramatic, I guess.

WITCHES

Witches suck. Atticus can’t begin to explain how much he hates them, and he tells us this over and over again, that they’re weird and creepy and can’t be trusted, despite constantly trusting them and being shocked when he’s proven right.

The Acknowledgments section has the claim that he had someone talk a lot to him “on the subject of witches” but I suspect that maybe this person was the Witchfinder General considering how they’re depicted here. From what I can tell, what makes witches different from Druids is that witches get their magic by making deals with immortal beings, oftentimes demons or other spirits. But the coven in the book draw their power from the Triple Goddess they worship, the Zoryas (and no, the Zoryas aren’t a triple goddess in the myths, he cribbed that from American Gods but here we are), who as far as we know isn’t particularly sketch. Still, Atticus acts like all witches just make deals with demons for funzies on their weekends.

They’re not immortal in the same way, as they just use glamour to disguise how old they look, unlike Atticus whose body actually is that young because of potion shenanigans. This is mostly used to illustrate how they’re lamer than Atticus, because unlike him, they’re not actually hawt. The audacity, right?

And there’s this weird emphasis on how the coven in town is Polish. So you have our lead talking about how his magic is so much better and stronger and less evil than theirs, mocking the fact that they aren’t really as gorgeous as they make themselves look, that they can’t be trusted, and he brings up more often than he really needs to that they’re Polish. I don’t think that he’s meant to come across as racist, sexist trash, but with him constantly saying he hates witches I don’t know what else to get from this whole… whatever.

THEMES

I’m sorry, I just really like that gif.

Pragmatism Versus Honor

Several times, especially during fights when he’s stabbing someone in the back while invisible, Atticus tells the audience that it’s much better to be practical than to be honorable. It’s too heavy-handed, as in most cases they’re tactics that make sense, fighting enemies who are actively trying to kill him. So Atticus insisting that this is the smart thing to do, and you’re an idiot if you say otherwise, is hamfisted and annoying. It’s like that person you know who is trying to eat healthy, except every time he or she orders food it comes with an explanation as to why this is healthier than going to Burger King. Stop talking about it all the time and just do it!

And of course, this entire thing falls flat because Atticus doesn’t act practically in most situations, other than combat. He and the other characters keep telling us that he’s paranoid, and that this has kept him alive for all these centuries, but this is an Informed Attribute. At no point does he actually act in a way that indicates he’s overly careful or even rational. When Aenghus Og, the witches, and the police are all turned against him, he goes about his business as if nothing’s wrong, only taking slight deviations from his daily life because otherwise he’d be inconvenienced. When he’s wounded, he spends the night healing in his yard; invisible, yeah, and sure his house is magically protected, but if it had rained he wouldn’t have slept, and if Aenghus Og had just hired some goon to lob an explosive into the yard he would have been screwed.

Making things even worse is that I have a hard time caring about practicality in combat the one time he uses it, because Atticus is so overpowered that the narrative is nonsensical. Even before he gains invincibility in the second chapter he’s got super strength, amazing sword skillz, a healing factor, and an iron elemental on standby that comes right the fudge out of nowhere and disappears without being mentioned again for the rest of the book. I remind you all of that is in the first chapter. When he picks up invincibility all his talk of practicality goes out the window. It’s explained that even if he doesn’t die, he can still be wounded, and those wounds would be very painful until he healed himself. But it still stands: he can’t die, unless under extremely specific circumstances like someone summoning another psychopomp.

So we have a character who explicitly can’t die constantly lecturing the audience how you’re stupid if you don’t do what he does to stay alive. It’s like a hereditary millionaire giving you condescending advice on how to get a job.

Furthermore, not only is Atticus not an honorable fighter, which I couldn’t care less about, he’s a morally reprehensible person. The book doesn’t play it for laughs as much as ignore it altogether. The minute he got his hands on Fragarach, he tells us that he ran and cut down fighters on both sides of the battle, including those who were his allies before he got a magic cut-through-anything sword. He pals around with a serial-killing vampire. He steals millions from the city. He’s completely and totally evil, but sure, keeps judging others and declaring how practical he is when everything he does is for his own enjoyment.

A Man Out of Time—Immortality

Atticus is a two thousand-year-old Druid living in modern-day Arizona. He frequently comments on how things have changed. Several of the other immortal characters don’t quite understand the modern world. But this is always depicted in the most shallow way possible. It’s not rampant capitalism, or secular culture, or the school system that throws them. The goddess Flidais doesn’t know how basic electrical appliances work. It’s supposed to be funny, I think, but it comes across as really stupid that she doesn’t know to plug things in. What have the gods been doing if they don’t keep with the modern world? Flidais apparently goes hunting and travelling the wild place of the world, but she has no idea what a bighorn sheep is? She also doesn’t know anything about Christianity, as she’s had to be told who Moses is, when there’s been Christianity in Ireland for over a thousand years.

Worse, Hearne is trying so hard to convince us that his protagonist isn’t like those other stupid immortals who don’t keep up with pop culture. But again, this is done in the most shallow way imaginable, with him dropping pop culture references and slang and acting like that’s the proper way to talk, despite it being dated or a transparent attempt to sound like a Cool, Edgy Kid. I imagine it wasn’t dated when the book came out, but it was obvious that attempting to use pop culture expressions wouldn’t really age well.

When Atticus references his immorality, it’s always in the most obvious way. He’ll name drop historical events and figures, but they’re always ones you would have heard of if you failed middle school history class. So tells us he watched Shakespeare’s plays in the Globe Theater when they were big, or hung out with Galileo or rode in the armies of Genghis Khan (this last one gets brought up quite a few times for some reason), all on the first page or so, but then goes on to say that he tries to keep a low profile.

Here’s a man who claims to do his best to not draw attention to himself, but apparently spent the last thousand years hanging around with all of the biggest name celebrities in history. And as I said before, they’re people you would have heard of even if you knew nothing about history, and not anyone else that was famous or notable in the past that isn’t as well-known to the Average American Joe. Like with Irish myth, it feels like Hearne’s knowledge of history comes from browsing quick Google searches.

This book depicts how lazy writers represent immortal characters. There are plenty of interesting ways to do it, and Hearne picks none of them. Like in Dresden Files where the immortals have very easily adapted to modern day because while they don’t understand pop culture, human nature is still very much the same. Or in Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel where you have an immortal so old he’s going insane because the human brain isn’t designed to hold that much memory. Or Young Justice where Vandal Savage has developed a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality and is bent on taking over the world and turning humanity into the center of a galactic empire. Or like Connor McLeod from Highlander who doesn’t let himself get too attached to people because he knows he’ll outlive them all. Or like Vern in Highfire that’s suicidally depressed after witnessing the extinction of his kind and spends his days watching TV and drinking because of his survivor’s guilt.

[Side note: while it wasn’t really my thing, I noticed that Highfire by Eoin Colfer has a similar-ish premise to Hounded and yet it’s actually done well, with likable characters and a Plot that has (gasp) stakes!]

These are just some takes on immortals that writers have shown. Hearne goes with nothing. To put into perspective, Atticus is older than steam power, older than feudalism, older than Yoda, older than Christianity… and yet it’s almost entirely played as “Check it out, I’m immortal. Isn’t that cool?” There is one point where Atticus reflects on how almost everyone he knows dies, and how sometimes he feels sad, but considering that he’s the last Druid and this causes him apparently no grief whatsoever, this doesn’t feel genuine or in-character at all.

Might Makes Right

I think that the whole idea behind Atticus’s characterization is that, magically speaking, he’s a weaker character who gets by on his applying the power he does have in clever ways. A sort of trickster hero, who isn’t traditionally moral but you still root for, because he’s sympathetic and the underdog in the conflict, like Bartimaeus or some versions of John Constantine.

This doesn’t work because Atticus is far too powerful for the narrative’s good. He claims he’s not as powerful as the Irish gods, but he kills two of them in this book with little effort. Bres, because he sees through his glamour, knocks him down and lops of his head in a matter of seconds. Aenghus Og, who he admittedly has to get a power boost from the Morrigan to fight, but only because he’s drained a lot of his own power fighting mooks. Once they do duel, he’s quick to point out that Aenghus Og hasn’t learned any new fencing tricks in two thousand years, and he easily overwhelms him with superior skillz.

Atticus has healing, and strength, and the magic sword, and friends who happily give him what he wants. So it feels as if what the narrative is saying is that Atticus isn’t a good hero because he outwits his opponents (who are mostly dumber than he is to begin with), or because he’s unpredictable in how he fights against enemies; he’s of course none of those things. The narrative wants us to believe that Atticus is a good hero because he’s stronger than everyone else. It’d be more forgivable if Atticus had at least worked for his powers and such, but the magic sword just landed in front of him, and he picked it up because he was told to. He can defeat Radomila because Laksha does it for him. He gets through to the witches because the werewolves do all the work. He got over his fatigue to fight Aenghus Og because the Morrigan gives him her power.

He doesn’t figure anything out. The hero wins because he’s more powerful. Because Might Makes Right.

CONCLUSION

Boy is this a mess of a book. Yes, it’s a debut novel, but you would think that a high school English teacher would have an idea what makes a good protagonist, or a good antagonist, or a good plot. It’s not a garbage fire of a book, but it’s certainly not a good book. It’s got notable flaws all-around: it’s Plot that only bothers our protagonist when it’s convenient, its stupid characters who all exist to serve the protagonist, a sense of humor that’s grating, and a terrible villain. But I think if there’s one thing that really breaks the book and makes it beyond saving, it’s the protagonist, Atticus O’Sullivan.

I remember reading another book Hearne helped to write, and though it had a lot of the same problems, it was at least more bearable because it didn’t have Atticus in it. He is the main problem with Hounded. He’s what makes it terrible. His personality, his power, all the other characters bending to his will…. Atticus is a terribly-written character, and because the story is warped around him to suit his needs, it all falls apart.

There are stories that, even if you hate the main protagonist, you can still enjoy by latching on to a secondary character, or getting invested in the setting or the plot. This isn’t one of those stories because Hounded is all about catering to the protagonist. It’s about letting him do what he wants without consequences, beating his stupid enemies, having more power than everyone else, having sex with hawt goddesses, allies who will happily kowtow to your every whim, and having all the right people love you. And when I put it that way, it sounds like a horrendous wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Which, given how the story reads, is a difficult hypothesis to refute.

And that’s a wrap!

I’m going to take a small break from sporking, I think. I have a couple of ideas for other articles (including one on Star Wars), but it’ll be a while before I spork again, I think. The next book I’ll spork will probably be the sequel to this mess, Hexed, though there’s another book that’s also crossed my mind to spork. But it’s been years since I read that one, and I’m hesitant to pick it up again.

Anyhow, whatever we’re doing, I’ll see you next time.

[salutes and then downs a shot of apple juice]

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Comment

  1. The Smith of Lie on 25 February 2020, 04:42 said:

    The Hounded sporking is FINISHED!!

    Let the Hexed sporking begin!

    [Kazoo music stops]

    Admittedly, it’s not garbage fire, and I’ve read worse…

    This is what we, in the industry, call damning with a faint praise.

    And I’d argue that the certain amount of basic competency in the writing makes it, in a certain way, worse than stuff like Angelopolis. Because Hounded does not even have excuse of being batshit insane. By all metrics it should have been a functional, if mediocre, book. The fact that it fails to live up to that lofty goal is sadder than for books that didn’t have a chance to begin with.

    The characters in Hounded are terrible, but they’re still more memorable than the ones in Angelopolis.

    Angelopolis might have been a nuclear grade dumpster inferno, but one thing it is not is forgettable. I mean you are hung up on how one of villain eats penises. And how can one forget the known traitor being given charge of super secret prison for angels? The bumbling of Paris Cell director who just dropped his post at a drop of hat? The nephilim wonder twins?

    Sure I don’t remember any of their names, but 1) I only read spork and not the book and 2) I tend to forget the names of even the characters I liked after a while, it is inevitable given the amount of various fiction I consume.

    He can’t beat the entire coven of witches on his own? No worries, his werewolf friends will help without being asked,

    Not only that! They will gladly and without question give up their lives in a Zhukov’s School of defusing mine field! Because non of the geniuses even considered trying to disarm the traps before throwing werewolves at them!

    You know who does the stuff like that? Villains. That’s who. In an obligatory Dresden Files reference there was a similar plot beat in Dead Beat. An evil necromancer threw zombies at main character’s wards because he had more minions than wards had fuel. But he was Evil, not the heroic protagonist!

    For starters, Atticus is dumb as a box of rocks.

    Another objection. Depending on a kind of rock and method of processing some rocks can hold incredibly sharp (if brittle) edge. I submit a motion to change it to “is as dumb as box of rubber hammers”.

    And when asked about whether or not he has Aenghus’s sword, he thinks he’s clever by replying “It’s not his,” and acts like this was a clever thing despite it telling Malina exactly what she wanted to know—that he has it.

    And the worst part? If he actually thinks that Aenghus has no claim to the sword and it was never his, then he could just say “Nope, never had his sword.” And even a truth trance would not see that as a lie!

    But the novel tries to convince us that Atticus is actually a clever individual. He’s constantly patting himself over the back at how he’s outsmarting his opponents, even when he’s giving them exactly what they want.

    I think we have established at some point that in the world of brainless cardboard cut-outs, the man with a single brain cell is a king. And this is the case with Atticus, he can only ever come off as clever by interacting with utter morons.

    We’re supposed to care about him, by virtue of him being a dog I think

    Except he has nothing on a well written dogs. Like Mouse (so I am re-reading Dresden Files due to coming release of Peace Talks and they are fresh on my mind. So sue me.). Mouse has no dialogue (except for that one time when he has under special circumstances) but just through description of his behaviours Butcher manages to give him personality and show that he is much smarter than ordinary dog.

    Never mind that he won’t shut up about poodles.

    Now that I think about it. Aren’t Irish Wolf-hounds quite a bit bigger than your average poodle? Would the harem even work for Oberon, given the size-difference?

    Hal Hauk

    Well there’s also this bit of head canon where he didn’t tell Atticus what Granny is just to be a dick about it.

    I know it is weak, but with Hounded one has to take whatever entertainment out of it one can find.

    She’s not a character, she’s a cardboard cutout.

    Like pretty much everyone else.

    Hearne acts like she’s a character, this witch that betrayed Atticus and is plotting with Aenghus Og. But Atticus keeps telling the reader that witches can’t be trusted, so this is the opposite of a shock.

    I would argue that she didn’t betray Atticus at all. She had no personal loyalty to him nor any kind of alliance that you’d mention. They had done business at one time and as far as I can tell she kept her part of a bargain and cast the spell to hide Sword. And despite later working with Aenghus we have been given no indication that she messed up with the camouflage spell she had cast.

    It’s like having a hacker who wrote defensive program for main character and afterward went to work for bad guys and never used any kind of backdoor to subvert it. I’d call it a sign of integrity.

    It surprises Atticus because he automatically distrusts women witches.

    Except for all times that he doesn’t…

    And she kills people that insult her. Not that Atticus cares.

    The sad part is, that this is the only Morrigan-like thing she does in the book. I don’t hold it against her in the slightest. The problem, as you mention, is that allegedly heroic character give no fucks about it.

    This is part of why this book doesn’t work. The main character doesn’t care! And so why should we care?

    This, so much this. Again calling upon Dresden – in the books by the end of 2nd or 3rd chapter we are introduced to the mystery that sets the events in motion (typically a murder or an attack by some supernatural force), by 4th Harry is actively looking for clues and by 6th he had at least one scrape with the antagonistic forces. And the events keep pace, stuff happens, characters gather information a piece together the plot.

    Hounded could be condensed to last 5 or 6 chapters, because they are the only one where characters take action (and they have to be literally triced into it!)

    “Bring it, muthafuckas.”

    You did it on purpose, didn’t you? You know how much this phrase infuriates me and you knew that I’d be reading this so you chose it on purpose to rile me.

    Any other explanation would mean that I am not the centre of the universe, so I refuse to accept such possibility.

    That line is meant to be representative of how a modern person speaks, by the way.


    This is how well it works.

    his goes back to the ‘Atticus thinks he’s clever’ thing. Actually, this goes to the idea that Hearne thinks Atticus is clever. He and others keep making “witty” quips that are more groan-worthy than amusing

    I think this is result of someone failing to see difference between “witty” and “smug”. Just like that same someone failed to see difference between “paranoid” and “criminally complacent”.

    WORLDBUILDING

    My take on it is that it is lazy. Pretty much every detail of it is a genre cliche and things are the way they are not because there are in-universe reasons for them, but because “this is how urban fantasy is”. The most blatant examlpe is Masquerade. No explanation for secrecy, no excuse about weirdness censor, no handwave about how supernatural stays out of sight to better pray on the unaware. Masquerade is just assumed as much as gravity is and that’ that.

    And then demons from Hell are thrown in to make things more dramatic, I guess.

    Except all the dramatic tension got immediately destroyed by Atticus mentioning that they “stank like ass.” A true modern poet that man.

    The Acknowledgments section has the claim that he had someone talk a lot to him “on the subject of witches” but I suspect that maybe this person was the Witchfinder General considering how they’re depicted here.

    And now that you said I can’t stop thinking about the number of nipples on them. It is miracle that Hearne didn’t mention the topic.

    I don’t think that he’s meant to come across as racist, sexist trash, but with him constantly saying he hates witches I don’t know what else to get from this whole… whatever.

    And the whole classist thing about Druids being better looks stupid due to the fact that Atticus is the last druid while the Witches seem to prosper. I am not an evolutionary biologist but if one species is pretty much extinct and the other isn’t I think that it is obvious which one has adapted better to the environment and its changes.

    It’s like a hereditary millionaire giving you condescending advice on how to get a job.

    Now I imagine Atticus as Paul Ryan of supernatural. Just stop being mortal.

    He’s completely and totally evil, but sure, keeps judging others and declaring how practical he is when everything he does is for his own enjoyment.

    And he isn’t even good practical villain. Compare him to John Marcone from (yet again) Dresden Files. Marcone couldn’t care less about good or evil, but he pretty much cares about strenghtening his power base. And to that end he often helps Dresden, sometimes not even demanding anything in return, because he knows that whatever evil Dresden takes down at any given time, will probably open new expansion opportunities for him.

    and a Plot that has (gasp) stakes!

    Ah, but we can’t have stakes cause that would trigger poor Leif.

    He doesn’t figure anything out. The hero wins because he’s more powerful. Because Might Makes Right.

    Because Makes it Easy!

    There are stories that, even if you hate the main protagonist, you can still enjoy by latching on to a secondary character, or getting invested in the setting or the plot.

    Second Apocalypse by R. Scott Bakker comes to mind. Or, for some, Flashman Papers (I personally found Flashman likeable enough, despite admitting that he is pretty much a villian; he is charming enough to pull it off).\

    Hounded is all about catering to the protagonist. It’s about letting him do what he wants without consequences, beating his stupid enemies, having more power than everyone else, having sex with hawt goddesses, allies who will happily kowtow to your every whim, and having all the right people love you. And when I put it that way, it sounds like a horrendous wish-fulfillment fantasy.

    Which makes it a study in what having a Sue protagonist does to your story and world.

  2. Juracan on 25 February 2020, 11:33 said:

    Let the Hexed sporking begin!

    [Kazoo music stops]

    Might take a while to get to that though, so…

    [kazoo music resumes]

    And I’d argue that the certain amount of basic competency in the writing makes it, in a certain way, worse than stuff like Angelopolis. Because Hounded does not even have excuse of being batshit insane. By all metrics it should have been a functional, if mediocre, book. The fact that it fails to live up to that lofty goal is sadder than for books that didn’t have a chance to begin with.

    Maybe. But it didn’t hurt me to read as much as Angelopolis even in the first read-through. I suppose not being insane gives it a higher standard to live up to, but I think without this metric I can’t help but admit that Hounded just isn’t as bad and didn’t make me as angry.

    [shrugs] Depends on your point of view I guess.

    Angelopolis might have been a nuclear grade dumpster inferno, but one thing it is not is forgettable. I mean you are hung up on how one of villain eats penises. And how can one forget the known traitor being given charge of super secret prison for angels? The bumbling of Paris Cell director who just dropped his post at a drop of hat? The nephilim wonder twins?

    The book is memorable, but for the most part the characters aren’t. Yeah, Eno eats penises, but as a character, what do you remember about her? Even then, most of the others don’t really stick out. They do weird and dumb stuff that’s memorable, but personality-wise? Not much. Bruno, the Paris Cell director you mentioned? I couldn’t tell you anything about his personality other than a couple of traits. And the Nephilim wonder twins don’t have any personality other than being evil. They’re literal clones of the previous book’s villain without anything added to it. Motives? Allegiances? None of these are solid; characters do stuff to affect the Plot.

    Sveti, Yana, Dmitri, Bruno, Azov: Angelopolis keeps dumping characters on you that don’t say or do anything other than move scenes forward. The narration tells us some stuff about them, but they don’t have any personality. On the other hand, Emilya, Malina, the Leprechaun, Fagles—they’re terribly written, but they actually have some semi-memorable character traits.

    Hounded has shallow characters that exist to help or hinder Atticus, but they actually have some personality. Angelopolis has characters who exist to move the Plot along. Mind you, that’s very little, and we’re back at ‘damned by faint praise’ but I still hold to this.

    You know who does the stuff like that? Villains. That’s who. In an obligatory Dresden Files reference there was a similar plot beat in Dead Beat. An evil necromancer threw zombies at main character’s wards because he had more minions than wards had fuel. But he was Evil, not the heroic protagonist!

    Yeah, except zombies aren’t intelligent, are they? So that situation is less villainous than Atticus. Which isn’t surprising, but just wanted to point that out.

    Another objection. Depending on a kind of rock and method of processing some rocks can hold incredibly sharp (if brittle) edge. I submit a motion to change it to “is as dumb as box of rubber hammers”.

    I considered inserting “But that’s an insult to rocks” in there, but I was cutting a lot of extra fat from the essay at the time so it didn’t make it in.

    And the worst part? If he actually thinks that Aenghus has no claim to the sword and it was never his, then he could just say “Nope, never had his sword.” And even a truth trance would not see that as a lie!

    Precisely! But not only does he tell her what she wants to know, he pats himself on the back for it.

    Except he has nothing on a well written dogs. Like Mouse (so I am re-reading Dresden Files due to coming release of Peace Talks and they are fresh on my mind. So sue me.). Mouse has no dialogue (except for that one time when he has under special circumstances) but just through description of his behaviours Butcher manages to give him personality and show that he is much smarter than ordinary dog.

    HYPE FOR PEACE TALKS

    [ahem]

    Yeah, but Butcher is a good writer. I mean, Mouse doesn’t have dialogue and he’s a much more lovable character. I think that’s the main issue, actually—Hearne was so concerned with giving Oberon “witty” and “funny” dialogue that he stopped caring about whether or not he was likable.

    Now that I think about it. Aren’t Irish Wolf-hounds quite a bit bigger than your average poodle? Would the harem even work for Oberon, given the size-difference?

    …oh fudge, you’re right. I didn’t even think about this.

    This is what happens when the sporker isn’t a dog person.

    Well there’s also this bit of head canon where he didn’t tell Atticus what Granny is just to be a dick about it.

    I’ll accept it.

    I would argue that she didn’t betray Atticus at all. She had no personal loyalty to him nor any kind of alliance that you’d mention. They had done business at one time and as far as I can tell she kept her part of a bargain and cast the spell to hide Sword. And despite later working with Aenghus we have been given no indication that she messed up with the camouflage spell she had cast.

    It’s like having a hacker who wrote defensive program for main character and afterward went to work for bad guys and never used any kind of backdoor to subvert it. I’d call it a sign of integrity.

    I mean… there is the whole thing about them trading blood, and she does try to have Atticus’s blood sample stolen back. But when she doesn’t have it she still goes forward with her plan anyway, which is really stupid because he has an instant kill button on her…

    We do also get some indication that she was planning on doing something with the camouflage spell, but Atticus had it removed before she could do anything. I think I left that out because it didn’t really affect the sporking much. Still, he clearly hates her to begin with, so it’s not exactly like they’re friends anyway. Not much of a betrayal.

    The sad part is, that this is the only Morrigan-like thing she does in the book.

    Man, you’re right! How sad is that?

    You did it on purpose, didn’t you? You know how much this phrase infuriates me and you knew that I’d be reading this so you chose it on purpose to rile me.

    Any other explanation would mean that I am not the centre of the universe, so I refuse to accept such possibility.

    It was the first line that came to mind when talking about the terrible dialogue.

    Or maybe I wanted someone else to hate this book as much as I did, and so I put it here to rile you up. Take your pick.

    My take on it is that it is lazy. Pretty much every detail of it is a genre cliche and things are the way they are not because there are in-universe reasons for them, but because “this is how urban fantasy is”. The most blatant examlpe is Masquerade. No explanation for secrecy, no excuse about weirdness censor, no handwave about how supernatural stays out of sight to better pray on the unaware. Masquerade is just assumed as much as gravity is and that’ that.

    We could make a list of urban fantasy cliches here. The Masquerade? Check. Gods rely on belief? Check. Vampires and werewolves are natural enemies? Check. Blatant attempts at fanservice? Check.

    Except all the dramatic tension got immediately destroyed by Atticus mentioning that they “stank like ass.” A true modern poet that man.

    I don’t know what to think of that line. Is it supposed to be funny? Is that how Hearne thinks someone would talk in that situation? [shrugs] I dunno.

    And now that you said I can’t stop thinking about the number of nipples on them. It is miracle that Hearne didn’t mention the topic.

    Don’t count your blessings just yet. It might come up in another book.

    And the whole classist thing about Druids being better looks stupid due to the fact that Atticus is the last druid while the Witches seem to prosper. I am not an evolutionary biologist but if one species is pretty much extinct and the other isn’t I think that it is obvious which one has adapted better to the environment and its changes.

    That’s… a really good point. Especially considering that we never get a reason as to why the Druids went extinct. And Atticus has, until Grannie, given up entirely on the idea of training any apprentices.

    And he isn’t even good practical villain.

    Not at all! He’s really bad at… well, everything, but it doesn’t matter because wish fulfillment fantasy!

    Which makes it a study in what having a Sue protagonist does to your story and world.

    Basically. Does that mean this should be required reading for writing classes?

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