Having already read the first two books in this enjoyable series, Hounded and Hexed, I settled down for more of the same kind of mischief from Atticus O’Sullivan, who is the last of the old Druids – twenty one centuries old – living in Tempe, Arizona. But I was in for a surprise. Hearne has suddenly taken a left turn in this third book and instead of more high jinks in and around Tempe, where ancient gods collide with modern America, Atticus has undertaken to confront one of the most powerful and famous old gods on his home turf. So… does the series – whose initial success rests heavily on the drama and humour around that collision of cultures – still seem as fresh and original once Atticus and his team invade Asgard for a bloody showdown?
Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully – he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare. One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plane of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.
This new shift in surroundings also meant that a raft of established characters I’d grown to like were relegated to bit parts and we were introduced to some new protagonists. It took me a couple of chapters before I fully relaxed into the new scenario – but once I did, it was a complete blast. Hearne certainly knows how and when to blend humour into action scenes and I also get the strong impression that he knows about sword fighting, rather than having just Googled it…
Hearne also mixes up genre conventions – urban fantasy is generally fast-paced and snappy with a linear narrative. In this book, however, there is a long section where each of the team who are set to invade Asgard embark on a slice of their life story to explain to the others their personal grudge against Thor. It’s a neat device to bond us with the characters and also give us a greater emotional investment in wanting to see Thor’s death, given that in both Hounded and Hexed, the Norse god has been regularly mentioned as a total jerk, but only in terms of telling rather than showing us. So when the big climax comes, we are now fully involved in the plot and eager to see the end of such a callous, unpleasant character.
Hearne takes some big risks in this third instalment and they all pay off – including the deaths of some major characters. Hammered is arguably the best book in the series so far – the stakes keep getting higher and Atticus manages to keep ahead. Just. Meanwhile, Hearne steps away from the backdrop that established this series as One To Watch and turns it into something else completely, while adding yet another twist to this original take on urban fantasy.
Any quibbles? Well, I’ll confess to finding the drinking session with Jesus uncomfortable. Yep. I know – I’ve happily seen all sorts of other gods wheeled out for my entertainment. But, this is my pantheon and I discovered I didn’t much enjoy seeing it messed around with – despite the fact that Hearne has depicted Him in a very positive light…
Hammered has taken a series that could have cruised along with more of the same for at least another book – and shaken it up into something else, making Tricked, the next book in the series, a must-have addition to my already insanely long reading list… I’d already marked Kevin Hearne has a significant addition to the cadre of authors who are establishing this period as a golden age for urban fantasy – Hammered absolutely confirms that he should be right up there with the likes of Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris.