I love The Iron Druid series – see my reviews of Hounded, Hammered, Shattered, Staked and Scourged. Atticus is a fabulous hero with his adorable dogs and the steady humour they provide prevent the series from getting too dark as his enemies get angrier and more powerful. So I was delighted when Ink & Sigil, the first book in a spin-off series, appeared. Would I enjoy Paper & Blood as much?
BLURB: There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.
But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.
The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.
REVIEW: I really have rather fallen in love with Al. It’s such a refreshing change to find a sympathetic, enjoyable protagonist who also happens not to be in the full flush of youth – and yes… I’m aware that Atticus is two thousand years old. But he looks like a twenty-something, whereas Al doesn’t. The extra weight of years and wry wisdom has completely won me over. It doesn’t hurt that I also enjoy the company he keeps, especially his foul-mouthed hobgoblin companion, Buck Foi and Nadia. And yes… there is a lot of swearing in this book, so if you find that offensive, then this won’t be for you. It was the one thing that, at times, slightly niggled as I wished that Al had reported that Buck Foi cursed, rather than giving me the benefit of all the sweariness. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, because I enjoyed the characters and the action.
And the great big bonus for me is that Atticus and his dogs also heavily feature in this adventure. I’ve really missed tucking into yet another amusing story featuring Atticus since the Iron Druid series finished, so I was delighted that he has such a big role in this book. And it is also fascinating to see him filtered through Al’s viewpoint. As ever, Hearne tells a cracking tale, full of action and suspense. As the mystery of the missing sigil agents deepens, Hearne’s warm-hearted, larger-than-life characters are genuinely concerned. When we meet the horrible monsters intent to tearing apart everyone they meet, I did wonder if we’d ever see them again. Because for all his folksy fun, Hearne isn’t afraid to kill off a likeable, affectionate character if it fits the plot.
A large part of the story is set in the Australian outback, which is effectively evoked and certainly adds to the vividness and tension, while Al and his gang attempt their desperate rescue. As ever with Hearne, I didn’t see the denouement coming – but that didn’t stop it being entirely satisfying. While there is lots of action and humour, I also appreciated the discussions and stories between the characters and the philosophical deliberations. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and is highly recommended for urban fantasy fans with a liking for their fantasy with a strong Celtic twist and lots of quirky humour. While I obtained an arc of Paper & Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.