With Atticus one of the only characters, it gives a chance for the readers to have a little more insight into his personality. If possible, he felt even younger in this story; somewhat overconfident, a poor planner, a liar and a thief. He’s also fairly self-justifying when it comes to a story of druidic origins and mission. While I respect the attempt to round out his character, I was left with a feeling that Atticus was a bit of a jerk, and maybe I wouldn’t mind if he gets his ass kicked once or twice. Conveniently, he does, and I appreciate that Hearne was willing to let his lead be fallible, although I take issue with the mechanism.
I feel like Hearne is working to develop his writing, shining in those moments where he is able to rise above simple plot narration with such bon mots as Atticus’ thoughts on collecting items in a get-rich-slow scheme: “The slow part was living until pop culture aged long enough to take on the luster of dignity and the physical product deteriorated to the point where it could whisper of a halcyon epoch before the buyer’s time.” Cumbersome, certainly, but I appreciate the sentiment and perspective. Hearne’s description can also be very evocative, such as when he describes a room: “his presence was smeared over the chamber like a greasy film.” I also appreciated the aside on art criticism: “his art consisted of some unispired splatter paintings–the efforts of a person who looked at Jackson Pollock‘s work and said to himself, ‘I could do that.'”
However, Atticus’ witticisms inappropriately contrast pivotal dramatic moments. I find this to be one of the most irksome aspects of the UF focus on the clever quip; emotionally incongruent, it ruins any pretense of truly ominous atmosphere. As an example: “The beast’s teeth were mismatched ebony punji sticks, showcases of rot and an example to all who refuse to floss.”
I did have a few problems with character reasoning/plotting, which seems to be a point I come to again and again in Hearne’s writing. In the very beginning, Atticus takes a phone call from a mysterious foreign collector, invites him to his shop and then “happily lost myself in the daily needs of the shop and thought nothing more of the Egyptian, until he walked in a week later.” It’s a strange moment, because it doesn’t speak to his ability to plan for confrontation (Hearne had already alluded to being on the run from various gods). Even stranger, Atticus didn’t plan to “shut down Egyptian magic systems” allowing the next event to occur. An inconsistent deus ex machina that allows the plot to take the next direction, it seemed unnecessary, especially given later explanations about the types of magic. Furthermore, Atticus finds himself giving Hal the lawyer a call to ask for a rush investigation into the client. It further emphasized his bad planning/Hearne’s lazy plotting. I suppose it was because Atticus was going to need to have incomplete information on the visitor–but he could have planned and still had that result. Its one of those things that just pokes at me when I read, much like a little stone in my shoe when I’m walking the dogs. Is this guy a 2000 year old druid who has the responsibility for protecting earth magic, or is he a twenty-year-old kid still working out his defensive logic? Make me believe this character.
Speaking of character, the one appearance of a female (a sexed-up cat goddess who wants her property back) is irritating as usual. I find it hard to complain about the sexism mainly because Atticus is also a bit of an ass, but still. Female roles have unfortunate consistency across Hearne’s works.
Overall, my usual mixed reaction to Hearne’s storytelling: interesting plot arc (except for the inconsistencies), improving writing (with hiccups), interesting world-building, and ambivalence on the characterization.
Ps. The one word I had to look up (on the computer, because the Kindle refused) was slang for ‘penis.’ Not impressed, Hearne. One of us needs to improve our vocabulary.
Ps.Ps. Bravo, Amazon with the One-Click button. Guaranteed to have me buying these little in-between novellas. Curses.