Book Review: Scourged by Kevin Hearne
By Jacob P. Torres
Find my review of Scourged by Kevin Hearne. Fair warning there are some spoilers, I’ve done my best to flag them and give you warning if you want to skip them, but they are there so if you want to avoid them entirely, you should maybe skip this review. Though it’s been a few weeks since this book’s release, what have you been doing that you’re just getting to this now?
Cover Description: “Kevin Hearne creates the ultimate Atticus O’Sullivan adventure in the grand finale of the New York Times bestselling Iron Druid Chronicles: an epic battle royale against the Norse gods of Asgard.
Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.
Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought.
Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry.
And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.”
What is the book about?
This is the final novel in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series that follows the adventures of a 2000-year-old Irish druid Atticus O’Sullivan and his companions Granuaile MacTiernan and Owen Kennedy. Previous novels have resolved most of the outstanding plot threads before the trio, and now they have to deal with something they’ve been headed towards since the third book, the Norse Ragnarok.
At the beginning of this book the assembled characters are acting on a message from the Morrigan, the Irish Goddess of Death and Chooser of the Slain, she’s let our main characters know that the Norse Ragnarok will be upon them in days. Atticus heads off to deal with the direct, Norse threats of Jormungandr the world serpent, Loki, and Hela. Granuiale heads to China where she meets up with Sun Wukong as they combat threats from Chinese myths and legends. Owen travels the world putting out other, smaller fires. Atticus’ and Granuiale’s parts are the most plot driven. Owen’s are almost like a peppering of short fictions spread throughout the book. Hijinks and much violences ensue as our heroes try to stave off the apocalypse.
This series, which I’ve adored for its humor, its cast of myths and legends, and its love of pop culture, books, and classic stories is 10 books long. 9 if you don’t count the short stories book (though you should). All published since 2011, so in seven years. Which is bananas (Seriously, god damn, man. Respect). The series also includes like three to five novellas (depending on how you count) and some in-world short fiction that’s not a part of the short stories book, which really just feels like Hearne was showing off.
As I cover this book, I think it’s only correct to also talk about the series as a whole, so forgive me for the longer than normal review. Throughout the review I’ll do my best to separate the things I liked and disliked about this particular entry into the series and the series as a whole. In some cases, the strengths and weaknesses of this novel are shared by the series at large, and I’ll try to note that as well.
What Did I Like About the Book?
This is an exceptional urban fantasy series for many reasons. Every book is full of with and humor. Hearne writes about myths and legends and religion with an not often seen level of love and respect. Often, we will see Urban Fantasists incorporate elements of myths and legends but they rarely hold true to the original source material and are often only facsimiles of characters that people had or have faith in. Hearne’s books have been unique to how faithful his characters are, but also with how much respect he handles them all. Whether it’s Jesus, or the Buddha, or a Hindu god, or an Irish one, he handles them all solemnly and with respect, even as he has them involved in his character’s fantasy adventures.
Hearne also illustrates a love of animals and the earth itself in his books that is not often seen. One of the main characters of the series is an Irish Wolfhound named Oberon, and the main characters are all druids. Not violent wizards or warriors, but healers and protectors of the Earth, they cannot even use most of their powers in a violent manner. It’s a little like watching a World War II movie about a field medic who never picks up a gun. I have to say that it’s this love and respect of literature, the humor, and the exuded kindness and respect that keeps me coming back to these books, less the main character Atticus who I cannot stand like 30-40% of the time.
Granuaile’s chapters cover a host of Chinese myths and legends and religious figures and were some of the most entertaining in the story. And it’s a shame that we got to these guys so late, because they’re great. I certainly didn’t expect Hearne to have time in his books to introduce a new pantheon of characters, but I’m glad he did.
Spoilers in this paragraph as I cover something I can’t really discuss without spoilers. If you want to avoid them skip to the next section. One of the things that made this novel exceptional wasn’t just the resolution of the series, but the novel way in which it happened. The previous 9 books were a lot of Atticus making terrible life choices and ultimately getting drug into an escalating level of conflict with the various supernatural and super powerful beings in the world. This novel becomes both a deconstruction of this character in specific and the whole concept of the urban fantasy hero saving the day. Throughout the novel, Atticus solves some of the various problems of the Ragnarok, not by addressing them directly, but by enlisting someone else to handle the problem. The Indian witch that had possessed Granuaile comes back to handle the World Serpent. Coyote does a favor for Atticus and takes care of Hela, Loki’s daughter. He enlists a pantheon of Olympians, Norse, and Irish gods to fight Loki’s forces. And in the end of the conflict it’s Granuaile, not Atticus that plays the key role in defeating Loki. Just when you think that all the conflict is over, surprise, the Norse Pantheon still has an axe to grind for his role in killing Thor a few books ago. And while Atticus struck a bargain with Odin, he ignored Thor’s mom Frigga and had horrifically promised Freya to the frost giants for their help in Ragnarok. At the end, Frigga takes Atticus’ runic-tatooed, arm, literally, severing his connection to the druidic magics that has sustained him. Granuaile dumps his ass, and he’s left alone and friendless in Tasmania. Just him and his dogs (so not entirely friendless, but still). As I was reading this, I couldn’t believe that Hearne had taken this approach, even as I was loving it. While Atticus played a significant role in the book, it was a more secondary role. He paid for the bad choices he made, and they were bad choices that he admitted to even as he did them. The series ends optimistically for Atticus, and for really all of the characters, but for Atticus this whole 10 book series really just nails the point home that his hubris and his choosing more violent solutions to his problems started this whole mess and that what he should’ve been doing was taking care of the Earth, like a druid should. And the series basically ends some time later with Atticus and the Morrigan agreeing to try for a “proper courting” (which should’ve been the god damn romance from the beginning Hearne!) through some kind of afterlife to life Kylo-Rey Force Skyping. WHICH GOD DAMMIT HOW IS THIS A TROPE ALREADY?
Who was my Favorite Character?
I’m tempted to just say Slowmo the sloth for this book, but really it was Granuaile. Granuaile has grown series long, she starts the series as a bartender. We find out she’s also possessed/shares her body with an Indian witch. She gets that sorted then becomes Atticus’ student then love interest. She starts the series with I’m not going to say a lack of agency, but definitely swept up in the events that surround her. By the end of the series she’s an assured, confident, and deadly talented young woman with her own millennia of not dying because Druid magic ahead of her. Her character development is a bit of a slow burn at times, but we really do get the sense that she’s a mirror of Atticus with flaws of her own, but more fleshed out and relatable than a 2000-year-old druid. In this book she spends time in China hanging out with one of China’s and literature’s most recognizable and beloved characters, Sun Wukong the Monkey King. A quick note here that Hearne’s characterization of Sun Wukong is excellent, he recognizes what a lot of retellings of this story or references to the character fail to remember and that’s that at the end of the Journey to the West, Sun Wukong has reached enlightenment and become a Buddha in his own right as a result of the long and extremely epic journey he’d completed.
A spoiler for this book follows, so if you want to skip this jump to the next paragraph. Towards the end of the novel Granuaile realizes that she’s been sent to China not because the pantheon of heroes there actually needs her help but because she was sent there to be protected. It’s a tired trope and Granuaile was having as many “fuck nopes” as I was and she leaves to find the main fight, ending up being the pivotal component to stopping Ragnarok, not Atticus. And then she drops his ass like the bullshitty, super-patriarchy jackass he was being and I damn near did a dance of cheerful gloating.
Series wide my favorite characters are the supporting cast rather than Atticus, Granuaile, or Owen. But among the supporting cast I had a few favorites. Oberon the Irish Wolfhound is perhaps my most favorite dog ever, given a voice through druid magic, Oberon is a delightful and heartfelt distraction. Whether it’s Oberon’s quest to write the book of five meats, his love of stories and historic figures, or his clear desire to be a part of the adventure, Oberon was a treat anytime he popped up. A next favorite was Hearne’s representation of the Morrigan, the Irish chooser of the slain. As the Irish god of death, Morrigan might’ve had more character development than any of the main characters save Granuaile. Her development was an interesting slant to see taken for a goddess of death, but one that seemed natural for her after she decided to not, you know, kill our protagonist for 2000 years. Morrigan finally getting to learn to love living made her sacrifice a few novels ago poignant and meaningful. Also, picturing the Chooser of the Slain at a baseball game enjoying the sorrow of the loosers really made me laugh. Notably, just about anytime a deity from any pantheon shows up, they’re incredibly well done and respectful of the source religion/legends. But they introduce fun elements, the deities really live in the world. Odin is obsessed with Girl Scout cookies, a version of Coyote that always has a kind word and some sausages for the Oberon, Jesus would rather sit down and have a beer with you, Sun Wukong runs a bubble tea shop, Fand of the Tuatha De Danann once ran a pub, and Perun the Slavic thunder god is annoyed at how famous Thor has become.
What Did I Not Like?
There is a lot of action in this book. The pacing and tempo match Hearne’s other novels. And while that normally leans into a strength in his storytelling, in this novel it felt like too much. The characters bounced from crisis to crisis so quickly that many of them felt like they didn’t get the attention they deserved. I don’t know that with the plot structured and outlined as it was for this book if he’d have had enough to do another book, but 50 more pages definitely.
But a lot of that rushed feeling could’ve been avoided if for the other minor complaint I had with this book. The three protagonists didn’t spend enough time together in the same setting and the same crisis. Atticus and Granuaile both dealt with the central conflict of ragnarok more directly. Meanwhile Owen dealt with more minor aspects or side-crises as a result of ragnarok going on. Like I mentioned under the things I liked, it was a novel approach to handling a series finale, and one that isn’t normally focused on. But it felt just marginally overplayed, Granuaile spent the most time in the same setting and I enjoyed her part considerably more. Atticus bounced around a lot but he was basically on task the whole book. Owen was putting out fires, but ones not directly to the overarching theme and he never really did get attached to the central plot. He was necessary for some, but not a lot, of character development. It left his parts detracting from the resolution of the entire series and contributed to the series plot points feeling more rushed than they should’ve.
One thing I disliked in this series, and it showed up in this book too, is the “Extremely Old Character (but usually a man) hooks up with the Comparatively MUCH younger character (but usually a woman),” trope. I’ve always hated this trope. Usually we see it through the eyes of the younger party, like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But unlike in other instances of this trope, this whole series is mostly narrated from the perspective of Atticus. Atticus who is 2000 years old. His love interest in this series, Granuaile has the benefit of being at least in her 20s, as in she’s not a high school student in how we’ve seen this trope before. But she starts the series possessed or at least cohabitating her body with a witch and then spends a decade in book being Atticus’ student and all of it felt a little predatory and exploitative. To be clear, this trope can, very rarely, be done in ways that don’t make me want to strangle writers. My problem isn’t with the idea of an immortal (or basically) character finding love, but when it’s done in a way that feels predatory more than romantic. And in a setting with a host of other extremely long-lived characters, to romance the character that you’re 100 times older than feels squicky. This relationship was addressed in the book and in a way that I was completely satisfied with. How the relationship was addressed is a big part of why Granuaile is my favorite character from this book, if not from the whole series.
4.5 out of 5 cups of tea. Endings to series are tricky things, this one takes an unusual treatment of the main protagonist but in a way that makes the series feel like a triumph. If you’ve not been following along with this series since it started you should go start with book one and then keep reading until you get here. Hearne clearly loves both classical literature and myths and legends and that love shines through like a beacon in the dark. His books, and this one is no exception, are full of humor and kindness and a love for life that’s infused throughout every scene and chapter. This series did not end in a way I expected, but that’s okay! That’s great even. A few days after finishing it, I’m still very satisfied with how it ended. I’m sad to see this world go, but it’s also nice to have a conclusion to the series. Hearne made characters that I’ve truly come to love, and that I’ll miss getting to see them go on adventures, but this was a great end.
|Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 cups of tea. Endings to series are tricky things, this one takes an unusual treatment of the main protagonist but in a way that makes the series feel like a triumph.|
|+ Series wide, Hearne has a magical way of taking very realistic versions of myths and legends and weaving them into the narrative.||– I’ve never liked the relationship between Atticus and Granuaile, it’s always felt off and marginally exploitative.|
|+ A novel deconstruction of what we expect the end of a series to be. Which added to the series overall.||– Owen’s chapters felt extremely disconnected from the story at times shockingly so.|
|+ The series ended it as it started as a fantastic blast, I’ll miss this setting but I’m left hopeful for the characters and I don’t feel like I need to come back to this world.||– Pacing was dialed up to 11, that played well in the plot elements but got a little exhausting.|