We don’t do it all that often – we can’t afford it – but we pre-ordered this one as soon as we heard it was coming out. We are both solid fans of Kevin Hearne’s writing – see my review of Hounded – Book 1 of the Iron Druid series, which I read all the way through and have been quietly mourning its loss since it ended. Life has just been a tad emptier since Atticus and his hound Oberon stopped their adventures. Though I also thoroughly enjoyed the clever and ambitious Seven Kennings series – see my review of A Plague of Giants. So would I also enjoy this spinoff from the Iron Druid series?
BLURB: Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.
But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.
REVIEW: Let’s get one issue out the way – you don’t have to know anything at all about the Iron Druid series, or have first read the books to enjoy this one. It’s an essentially a standalone, with a specific scene added for those of us pining for Atticus and Oberon. So don’t let that consideration get in the way of you acquiring this one.
It’s a packet of fun. I loved the fact that Al is in his mid-sixties and a widower. I am aware that the average hero and heroine are fit young things, full of vim and vigour – but I hadn’t realised just how much that affected their worldview, until I plunged into this adventure alongside dear old Al. He is thoroughly likeable protagonist with plenty of quirks and eccentricities, but the amount of fun between him and a certain naughty hobgoblin is great and helps to leaven the rather sombre subject of kidnapping and trafficking. Humour is always a hit and miss affair, and mostly I chuckled my way through this book – though for some reason, I got a bit fed up with Al’s hacker friend insisting on being called Saxon Codpiece…
Overall, I really enjoyed the story which was well paced, full of action and yet not too full-on to skimp on effectively establishing the main characters – a balance that is harder to achieve than Hearne makes it look. I also loved the magic system, where human Al is given leave to help the Fae by use of magical sigils that are achieved by the spells being sealed through specific inks. It worked well – and this being Hearne, there was also some humour to be had with some of those inks, too. Overall, this was a solid delight and I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al and his adventures – particularly that curse he’s afflicted with… Highly recommended for fans of quirky urban fantasy adventures featuring eccentric characters.