Tricked by Kevin Hearne

Recommended for: UF fans, Dresden fans, people who don’t sweat the small stuff
Read on November 12, 2012, read count: twice
★   ★   ★   1/2

Tricked. Well, I wasn’t really. Atticus was, though, by friends, foes and everyone in between. I was Entertained, but while it was certainly an improvement on its predecessor, Hammered, character underpinnings and over-referential, jokey dialogue continue to limit greatness.

I’ve come to realize my most significant problem with the ‘Iron Druid’ series is Atticus’ overwhelmingly young behavior and voice, firmly rooted in current American culture. By ‘firmly,’ I mean that he makes references to microwaving Peeps, TARDIS, Elmo and the Sturgis biker rally, the Pacific Coast Highway and Lou Ferrigno. Atticus couldn’t get any more current than if he was a forty-some-year-old white American male who grew up geek. The incongruity inhibits my enjoyment of the series, especially when Hearne keeps drawing my attention to it–interactions with Oberon and his own internal dialogue make it unavoidable.

Throughout the book, there is ever-ending repartee between Oberon and Atticus. It is humorous, but it is overplayed and doesn’t quite fit. The joking also overly roots the story in modern culture–for instance, Atticus explains the Schwartzenegger Pun Reduction Treaty rule to Oberon.

Add the modern underpinnings to a relatively infirm sense of responsibility for an earth-connected druid and it equals a severe cognitive dissonance headache. If I completely ignore the fact that Atticus is supposed to be a 2000 year old druid responsible for the health of the earth, we get along fine. Unfortunately, the first offending sentences show up on page 3, so it’s not like I had a choice of forgetting it: “the world desperately needs more Druids. So my choices were to stay on earth and die or leave earth and let the world slowly die of neglect–which wouldn’t truly help, since all planes connected to earth would die at the same time.Riiight. So he’s essential to the earth’s health, which is why he’s only recently taken an apprentice, why we’ve only seen him working to rebuild a forest once and why he spends all his time helping ‘friends’ and not the earth.

Once I took some Advil for the dissonance-headache, I found it to be a relatively enjoyable book. It was a ‘hero’s task’ story, with the task chosen by Coyote in return for helping fake Atticus’ death. To no one’s surprise when dealing with a Trickster, completion did require a number of side journeys and unexpected obstacles. Several conflict points from previous storylines were also continued, interrupting the task, including the Morrigan, various Norse gods, and Leif the vampire.

Positive notes include the background on the Dine culture to be well-researched and respectful, a pleasure when there is often cultural misappropriation of Native culture, ignorantly applied. Each section of story was well written, inciting my interest, even if I didn’t understand the logic (spoilers follow) of why Atticus never told Granuaile to talk to elementals in another language before now? Why did Granuaile need to die at this point in time? It seemed abruptly introduced and handled, and did little for the main plot . The opposition was formidable, and Hearne cleverly hamstring’s Atticus’ power in a number of ways including opposition by a different spiritual background, constraining his earth magic.

At the end of the day, I’d rate Tricked above the average April Fool’s Day joke, and somewhat below Houdini. I enjoyed it, as long as I turned off the character-logic section of my brain. So, three and a half stars, rounding up for being respectful to Dine culture and for enticing a re-read despite not believing the central character.

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13 Responses to Tricked by Kevin Hearne

  1. neotiamat says:

    I usually like Urban Fantasy in the Butcher/Benedict Jacka/Kevin Hearne vein, and this series was recommended to me by a friend. They’ve got good pacing and are more or less enjoyable to read (I think Tricked was my favorite), but after about book five I put them down and found that I didn’t like the series at all.

    Bit of an oddly delayed reaction, but I just found the characters less and less likable. Atticus seemed to have caused most of his own problems by killing people he shouldn’t have, and his apprentice has a raging hatred of her stepfather because… he’s a businessman. I get that they’re supposed to be antiheroes, but antiheroes are supposed to have at least some redeeming qualities.

    It’s odd. I’m not usually an introspective reader, but this series was one of the times that the underlying framework just turned me off.

    • thebookgator says:

      Interesting thought–I never would have pegged them in the anti-hero vein. I think their intentions are supposed to be in the “good” side of the spectrum, even if their actions are somewhat gray. Hmm. If they are antihero, Hearne lacks the finesse Abercrombie does, because I mostly just ended up with the impression Atticus was an ass.
      I ended up not continuing because the meta of the book never squared with me. I did check back in with one book after this and disliked it a lot, so I suspect I’m done.

      • neotiamat says:

        Well, I may be misusing the term. What I mean is that Atticus isn’t meant to be a shiny and noble hero, which is fair enough. But instead of coming off as morally conflicted, you’re right, he just seems like an unpleasant person. (I am of the view that having an unlikable main character is death for a book — you can have the protagonist be perfectly evil, but they need to be interestingly or charismatically evil in that case, someone who is fun to watch, not someone who’s obnoxious).

        I think Hearne really made a mistake in not sticking to his American Southwest setting. I thought he had a good thing going, with solid and interesting side-characters such as the witches or the crazy old Irish Lady. But then they all got killed off or shoved off-stage.

  2. Personally this was the book the broke the camel’s back for me. Atticus acts so much more like a twenty something douchebag with all the short-sightedness of a glaucoma victim than a 2000 year old druid. I found it harder and harder to root for him and co, especially when the series was so packed with nerd references that will date the series horribly in time.

    On top of that, I didn’t feel a connection to the plot. This series was so much more fantasy than urban that I had little reason to care about what was happening.
    Maybe its just me, but it seems like a lot of the American UF characters oftentimes have a more comic book feel to them. British UF characters like Alex Verus seem to be a little more grounded and maybe that’s why I like them better.

    • thebookgator says:

      Steven, so glad I’m not the only one that feels like the characterization is that of a young person. Good point about the references dating it–when I read my review now, even the Lou Ferrigno reference seems dated. It’s like the echo of nostalgia. You may be right about the ‘comic book feel.’ I wonder if we could extrapolate and say that Americans are wishing for easy, straightforward heroes?

      • I’m inclined to think that. But I’m also inclined to extrapolate further on that. I’ll admit I’m a big fan of more gritty grounded stories so my tastes extend more to British media. Comic writers like Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and John Wagner are more in my wheelhouse. But there are some American writers who also grab my attention. Craig Schaeffer’s Daniel Faust series for example. Jeffrey Thomas also has my attention although he writes more New Weird than UF.

        I think its more a case of looking who their influences are. If they say Harry Dresden then its a good chance they’re following in those footsteps. Butcher, Hearne, James A Tuck from the looks of it. I also think that if there is the case to make about Americans wanting easy straightforward heroes, the question becomes why? I’m Australian so it’s all foreign to me (badum tish ;P) but I would postulate that it might have something to do with American Culture. As to what…..I have theories, but nothing solid.

      • thebookgator says:

        Postulate away! I personally would suggest that the comic books feel in popular media (Marvel franchise) offers a more clear cut hero in ambiguous times. Perhaps also that redemption is possible.
        Love the Daniel Faust series and am surprised it hasn’t taken off.

  3. Well as far as theories go….

    Look at the greater outlying ideal of American Culture: The American Dream. The idea that even the smallest person can rise to the top, become the best, the brightest, the richest, the strongest, the purest, the best. And then look at who America’s heroes are; people who reflect those ideals.
    Celebrities, the Religious, Politicians, Business-types. The Upper Class.
    So a lot of comic book/Fantasy literature types reflect that: Superman is a clear-cut example. A farm boy turned a Paragon of Goodness, strength, intelligence and the American Way. There’s a reason why he’s called the American Boy Scout. Same with Captain America. Atticus seems to follow that mold pretty well; he’s 2000 years old, he’s a master swordsman and alchemist, he has a Girl-Friday and a faithful Superdog. His enemies are either petty, thuggish, stupid or a mixture of both. On that note, if you’re looking for other thoughts I have with the Iron Druid series, I’m on Goodreads too. SHAMELESS PLUG ;P

    Then look at British History compared to American History. Britain has been around for yonks. It’s been the conqueror, the conquered, the hero, the villain, the mediator and the provocateur. It’s ruling body has been comprised of despots, benevolent types, idiots and drunks. Britain has had its name and reputation risen up and dragged through the mud. It has experienced the true gamut of the moral spectrum. All those comic writers I mentioned? All British. Alan Moore made Watchmen, Garth Ennis made Preacher, Warren Ellis made Transmetropolitan, John Wagner made Judge Dredd. All their stories deconstruct a lot of what Americans value: the Superhero as an icon, the notion of a good and just God, the infallible political machine and the Police as a source of justice.
    Now look at American History. In many of the major events throughout their history, it’s been America that has been the hero, or at least sees itself that way. The Civil War had “True Americans” vs the traitors. World War 1 & 2 was America the hero vs. Germany the Villains. The Cold War was American vs the Dirty Communists. So that ideal of what a hero is persists.

    Finally I think its this. Britain is an old country. America is a young country. Britain is like the grumpy old grandpa you see every weekend. He’s seen it all, done it all, accepts that the past is the past and we can only learn from it. America is the young adult, fresh out of high school and into University, who still thinks the sun shines out of their backside. They have ideas and opinions (ALA American Exceptionalism) and they have to share those ideas with the world, whether they are wanted or not.

    At least that’s all off the top of my head. I grew up with 9/11 and the second Iraq War, so I’ve been seeing this stuff for quite a while.

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