Oh hey Camp NaNoWriMo is probably still kicking me in the butt while you’re reading this, even though it was last month. But at least I’m writing! And my friend running the sporking of Tiger’s Curse finished it. So go check it out here!

[Also I’m realizing that maybe I should have sporked the last chapter and this one together.]

So when we last saw Atticus and his vampire lawyer/friend Leif, they were being surrounded by cops after having killed the Fir Bolgs sent to attack him. Oberon is still invisible, in case you still care. The cops were pointing guns at them and had demanded that they freeze and put their hands in the air.

What does Atticus think of this tense situation?

How can one freeze and put their hands above their head at the same time? Do they teach cops to shout contradictory instructions at suspects at the academy for some sinister purpose? If I obeyed one cop, did the other cop get to shoot me for resisting arrest?

Ah yes, that’s how he deals with it—by not really caring that there are men pointing guns at him and snarking like a douchebag.

I get it, really—he’s fought monsters all his life, he’s an immortal Druid, so why should he care much about some cops? At the same time though, we can’t take this seriously if the main character does. So when a problem arises and Atticus doesn’t seem to care, we don’t either.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” Leif said smoothly. Neither of us raised our hands. “I am an attorney for Mr. O’Sullivan here.” All the cops looked at him standing there serenely in his suit and got real quiet.

See, this is played as “Ha! We got them there!” Like Leif being a lawyer is this trump card to stop the stupid cops from getting in Atticus’s way. And it sort of is, but it’s also really sketch? His neighbor calls the cops to report a disturbance, and when the police arrive there’s already a lawyer on site? You know what kind of guy stereotypically keeps his lawyer around all the time? Hint: it starts with ‘c’ and ends with ‘-rime lord.’ Atticus acknowledges that they probably think he’s guilty, but like with everything else, he doesn’t care.

I know that there’s a lot to talk about, especially these days in the US, when it comes to the police and how they act and how they use or abuse power. Let’s not delve into that here. But here’s the point: if the police tell you to do something, what you don’t do is act like a cocky twit and expect everything to be fine.

Leif says there’s no sword, and no disturbance, so they can all go home. One of the cops (who is named Benton) asks why Atticus has a lawyer there if nothing’s going on, and Leif insists that he’s Atticus friend as well as lawyer.

I am here because Mr. O’Sullivan is not only my client, he is my friend. We were simply standing here, enjoying the autumn evening and discussing baseball, when you drove up and pointed your weapons at us.

Yeah, ‘cause that doesn’t sound the least bit suspicious, does it?

At Benton’s request, they show their hands to display that they aren’t holding weapons or swords, so the cops put away their weapons. They obviously want to start poking around to get to the bottom of things, but Leif stops them, pointing out that they don’t have probable cause. Benton counters with the fact that they showed up because of a 911 call, which is probable cause.

“A crank call that clearly has no basis in fact.

Okay we all know Leif’s lying, duh. But really? The 911 call claiming that there was a sword fight going on outside in the neighbor’s yard was a crank call? That’s not really how crank calls tend to go, y’know. Especially not by an elderly man like Atticus’s neighbor, Mr. Semerdjian, who would know that it’s illegal and he could get in trouble for it? I know he’s got to cover his butt somehow, but Leif’s cover story is really, really bad.

We really shouldn’t care about this whole business. Hero doesn’t want to get tied down with the police and all, so he and his lawyer come up with some BS explanation to move attention away from the supernatural shenanigans. The Flash did something similar in its fourth season, and while I don’t think it was done well, it mostly worked and I sympathized with the characters.

[points to the book] Not so here. Because while we know that this was a case of people attacking and Atticus defending himself, the fact is that both Atticus and Leif are murderers. Leif kills people all the time, sometimes because they happen to have hammers and it reminds him of Thor. Atticus doesn’t blink when the supernatural beings around him straight-up say that they’re going to kill someone, and he’s killed people for funzies in the past (read: killing warriors on his own side when he got Fragarach, working for the Golden Horde).

So instead of us reading a scene in which our sympathetic morally-gray hero is covering up the truth because he has to, it reads as a scene in which two immortal murderers avoid justice yet again.

And also harass a senior citizen. See, Leif goes on to say that Mr. Semerdjian, the “elderly Lebanese gentleman across the street…has a long history of harassing my client over imagined trespasses.”

Benton doesn’t buy this, but he’s kind of stumped because there’s not really much he can do. It leads to this because good character writing isn’t something this book does well:

“Haven’t you got anything to say, mister?” he sneered at me. “Why did we get called out here?”

“Well,” I said, “I cannot say for certain, of course, but it might be because Mr. Semerdjian across the street there really doesn’t like me. You see, about three years ago my dog escaped and pooped on his lawn. I apologized and cleaned it up, but he’s never forgiven me.”

Yes, really. Atticus’s explanation for the reason Mr. Semerdjian supposedly called 911 to report that his neighbor was having a deadly sword fight in his yard was because he’s mad that Oberon pooped in his yard.

And! As Oberon points out in a telepathic conversation with Atticus right after this, Atticus actually ordered Oberon to do it! Meaning that if this really was the beginning of the feud with his neighbor, Atticus is the one who started it.

Hang on; if he’s lived here at least three years, then that means Atticus has been a man that has looked to be twenty-one years old for those three years. He’s claimed it too; when the old lady is told about his “feud” with Bres, she’s confused because she thinks he’s twenty-one. I know I’ve mentioned that we don’t know how long he’s been pretending to be twenty-one, but here we get confirmation. And obviously, that don’t add up.

The other option is that Atticus said he was he was eighteen when he moved in. Which is also really unlikely. How many eighteen-year-olds own nice houses in suburbs by themselves, while also owning a New Age shop?

Mr. Semerdjian has plenty of reasons to be suspicious of Atticus, but it’s all played as ‘Well he’s just a fuddie-duddie who hates everything fun.’

So Officer Benton grudgingly packs up and leaves, going across the street to Mr. Semerdjian to get a statement from him. Atticus asks Leif if there’s going to be a problem, but Leif assures the Druid that the neighbor’s still being mind-controlled, so it’s all good! The vampire asks how he’s planning on disposing of the bodies, and Atticus admits he doesn’t know yet. Leif offers to have it taken care of after they drag the bodies to Mitchell Park for another glass of blood.

“How would you take care of it?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I know some ghouls. I make a couple of calls, the guys come over for dinner, problem solved.

“They can put away nine whole giants? There’s that many ghouls in town?”

“Probably not,” Leif admitted. “But whatever they do no eat tonight, they’ll take the rest to go.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “You mean like a doggie bag?”

The vampire nodded with a thin trace of a smile. “They have a refrigerated truck, Atticus. These are practical guys. I employ them often, and so does Magnusson on occasion. It is a satisfactory arrangement for everyone.”

HO-LY POPE he’s got guys to dispose bodies on speed dial. We understand that, right? That Leif has killed a lot of people, and these ghouls just clean up the bodies after he drains them of blood? And that there have apparently been occasions where he’s killed enough people that the ghouls have had to take some to go? And we’ve been given no indication that he’s one of those friendly Dexter kinds of serial killers that targets vicious criminals, or one of those suave, cool assassins that populate thrillers. All we’ve been told is that Leif hates Thor so much he sometimes kills carpenters because they also use hammers and remind him of the Norse god of thunder. So Leif is a serial killer.

One of our main character’s best friends, and his lawyer, is a serial killer. And that’s just fine, apparently.

It is difficult to make a serial killer into a sympathetic character. Some writers have difficulty with that. One of the many issues I had with season one of American Gods was that we’re presented with Bilquis, a goddess of love who eats people while having sex with them. Well there’s more to it than that but we’re going to leave it there. In the book, she has a grand total of two scenes, and the man we see her do this to is a rich jerk who hired her as a prostitute. In the show, Bilquis has an entire subplot dedicated to her, and the first victim we see on screen is a lonely middle-aged man whose kids just convinced him to start dating again. And we see that she’s been using Tinder to get victims, and that she’s happy to seduce whoever happens to be sitting next to her on public transportation to get what she wants. Essentially, she’s a serial killer.

Except the show doesn’t play it like that. Despite having plenty of morally ambiguous or outright immoral characters, Bilquis is quite explicitly painted as being a victim herself. Not being as widely worshipped as she once was is because she’s a Strong Powerful Woman, and The Man can’t stand that! It has nothing to do with her eating people, no sir-ee! The Man was just JEALOUS!

Apparently no one in the development of this show stopped and thought that maybe a character who keeps eating innocent people might not be the best way to discuss institutional sexism?

Except Hounded doesn’t even make that much effort! Leif regularly kills people, and we’re not even given some stupid moral about why it’s okay! And now he’s got a bunch of corpse-eaters on speed dial.

There is a context in which you could make a sympathetic character who has the phone number of a body cleanup crew. John Wick comes to mind again. But this isn’t it. Because again, we haven’t been given sympathetic circumstances as to why Leif knows these guys. We’ve been given unsympathetic circumstances.

Oh and Mitchell Park, where they’re handing off the bodies?

It’s, uh, not exactly in the middle of nowhere. Sure, maybe the bodies are cloaked with magic, but they’re still loading heavy objects into a big truck. That’s going to raise some eyebrows. I know, this is fantasy and all, but when the earlier bits of the chapter are all about lecturing us about how “real” sword fights are done, then having this little inconsistency with the real world feels pretty blatant.

Leif says if he takes that deal he’ll take those three glasses of blood now because Atticus is marked for death. Which is fair, or at least as fair as a dishonorable, murderous, blood-sucking leach like Leif can be. Atticus doesn’t like the idea, and tries to wriggle out of it: one glass tonight, the other two tomorrow night? Leif points out that he has a healing factor so it shouldn’t be a problem, but Atticus says because he’s wounded right now he can’t quite do as much as he usually would. But if he’s so wounded, why isn’t he screaming in pain?

Because he’s blocked out his pain receptors, that’s why.

That’s… not a good thing, guys.

There’s this whole thing in Dresden Files (DANG IT I brought it up again) with the Winter Knight, the human warrior who serves the will of the queens of the Winter Court of Fae and there’s a lot going on with that in the books, but the main point I’m getting at is that they’re really strong and don’t really feel a lot of pain. And it’s hypothesized that they’re not actually supernaturally strong or resistant, they’ve just got their natural strength inhibitors and pain receptors turned off. Which sounds good for an expendable berserker warrior (which the Winter Knight is kind of meant to be), but in the long term it’s pretty terrible. Pain is good! Well, not good, but it’s an indicator that you’ve been hurt and that something’s going wrong with your body.

I get that Atticus did it as a temporary thing while he’s healing, but he’s two thousand years old, and he can’t deal with the pain while his arm is healing? Really? If I was on the hit list of a god, I’d want to keep all of my senses on as much as I could.

Leif is still skeptical about his chances, but Atticus reassures him, being all like, “Nah man, it’s good. I got warning about the Fir Bolgs and Bres, and I killed those guys, so I’m a BOSS at surviving.” And Leif’s all like, “Waitaminute whattaya mean Bres is dead? Bres, the former king of the Tuatha De Danann, Bres?”

Atticus feels stupid for having said that, but he admits that yes, he did it, and so now Leif insists on the three glasses of blood up front, because Brighid is going to smite him. And they act, for once, like this is a big deal! Unlike before, where the Morrigan and Atticus agree that if they just explain that Bres was stupid and terribly dressed, then Brighid won’t mind. No, Leif is sure that Atticus is dead meat, so he asks for the blood as soon as the cops clear out.

There’s a bit of a disconnect though? Like Leif acts like it’s a big deal, but no one else does? The guy who isn’t even Irish is the one who thinks this means bad things.

Here’s the last line of the chapter:

Whoa. He had ghouls on speed dial. My lawyer kicks so much ass.

No, he’s a serial killer. That’s not cool, man. Your lawyer is a serial killer with the means to cover up his murders; that’s disturbing! I get that in a story about a charming anti-hero this might be a fun addition, but Atticus isn’t a charming anti-hero. He’s a villain. No really, let’s systematically go through this:

-He stands by to let humans get killed by gods.
-He will happily kill people on his own side of a battle if it gets him what he wants (like a magic sword).
-Said magic sword that he knew was being used as an unstoppable weapon that caused chaos in Ireland, and he took it for himself.
-He associates with at least one serial killer.
-Are we counting the Morrigan? If not, it’s still incredibly sketch that he’s BFFs with the Irish god of violent death and warfare that goes and kills people for insulting her.
-His worries about killing are centered around being caught rather than actually doing something immoral or hurting people.
-He fought and killed with the Golden Horde for no discernible reason.
-He can kill faeries by touching them using a type of magic that distorts the very nature of magic itself.
-Frames his neighbor for harassing the police.
-Manipulates another neighbor into helping him cover up a death.

None of those are things a good guy does! And all together, they spell a pretty grim picture of Atticus. Which narratively wouldn’t be that bad—villain protagonists are a thing! And they’re certainly allowed! But this story isn’t being told as if Atticus is a villain protagonist—it’s acting as if he’s a pragmatic, charming and rough-around-the-edges anti-hero. Which he’s not. He’s just an evil bastard.

Join us next time, as Atticus and Oberon talk about Genghis Khan some more and lie to the police again.

[sigh]

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Comment

  1. The Smith of Lie on 6 May 2019, 12:27 said:

    I might do my usual quote mining coupled with attempts at witty quips later, but I just want to say this was painful. I can’t imagine how you manage to get through the whole chapters while I sit here and squirm at just a quick recount of the events.

    You know what I hate in stories? Well I hate protagonists who have no drive, goals or motivations. But I also hate it when the universe seems to bend over backwards just to accomodate the protagonist.

    It was already bad when the old Irish lady just made an about turn because “fuck the British” and switched from scared bystander into full-blown accompliece. But Police just showing up to get easily bamboozled and to buy every idiotic thing Leif and Atticus sell is seriously infuriating. Why even bother with having them if it ends up having no bearing on anything? Just the bits quoted show it’s not like there is even a risk of police doing anything to Atticus, the whole scene is just going through the motions while the reality bends to suit Atticus.

    If I ever picked up Iron Druid Chronicles, and I was close to doing so in the past, and managed to keep reading up till this chapter I am quite certain this is the part where I either give up or continue to “hate read” just to spite myself…

    I must also admit that for all we have learned about Atticus previously I am impressed by Hearne’s ability to make him more and more of a villain.

  2. Juracan on 7 May 2019, 19:55 said:

    I can’t imagine how you manage to get through the whole chapters while I sit here and squirm at just a quick recount of the events.

    It’s not too much fun, but it’s not that terrible. Like yeah, it’s a bad book, but while it’s cringe-worthy a lot of the time, it’s not anywhere near as bad as something like Angelopolis. This is more of the author writing a Mary Sue and not caring about consequences; at least it’s mostly consistent. The main character’s practically a supervillain, but at least he’s not a Nazi like the angelololologists are.

    I realize this falls under ‘Damning with Faint Praise’ but my point is this: I’ve seen worse. It’s not so bad.

    You know what I hate in stories? Well I hate protagonists who have no drive, goals or motivations.

    You would think it wouldn’t be that difficult to give Atticus an actual character arc! But that’s a bit much for this book apparently. With a few tweaks it could have been fixed, but for no reason that’s what we’re stuck with. And I think that’s one of the worst problems with this book. That being said…

    But I also hate it when the universe seems to bend over backwards just to accomodate the protagonist.

    This is what made the book really stick out to me as not good. Because Atticus is always in control. He’s never in any danger of harm or legal trouble—nothing ever goes wrong for him. And that makes a really boring story.

    I must also admit that for all we have learned about Atticus previously I am impressed by Hearne’s ability to make him more and more of a villain.

    I’m trying to think, but I think most of the villainy is done? At least for this book. We’ll get more as the series goes on, if I get to sporking those.

  3. Marvelous Essay on 15 May 2019, 07:20 said:

    Wow! This episode sounds very cool. I like the way you write and presenting your ideas and views. Every time after reading I have a good mood. Thanks! I will be waiting for the new episode with a passion.