Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.
Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.
Full Disclosure: I read this book back in 2011, when it was first released, for the first time and I loved it. Beginning to end I enjoyed every damn second. I even re-read it several times since. Goodreads tells me the most recent was back in 2014. Then I listened to the audio in 2015 and I don’t know if it was listening that brought about the change in my opinion, or if I was just less blind. I actually never even finished that listen because of the problematic elements that I couldn’t stop seeing and vowed to re-read the book (and probably series) again to try to do justice to what I was noticing and feeling.
It’s taken me a while, but here I am.
Like, I suspect, many people I’ve come to my awareness of patriarchy and the way women are treated slowly. It’s so pervasive in our society that it’s hard to call it out for what it is, because we just grow up with it. It’s normal. And it took some serious searching, listening, and paying attention for me to realize that – despite the fact it’s “normal,” it’s not right. Or okay. Or even the least bit acceptable. I’m working hard to ensure that my children question this every single day. That they recognize that the “normal” we’re still shown isn’t how it should be. Women are frequently relegated to sex-objects, plot devices, and never as good as the male protagonist.
And that’s where my problems with this book lie. And it’s not just this book. Re-reading Hounded has made me think a lot about characters and the stereotypes that are put on both men and women in my fiction. It’s problematic, to say the least.
Atticus is a 2,100 year old Druid. He’s the last of his kind, meant as a kind of go-between for the Tuatha Dé Danann. As such he has many interactions with the gods and goddesses of various mythologies, but most particularly the Celtic goddesses. So, let me give a run down of how these characters are treated.
Morrigan – Goddess of Death and War. Chooser of the Slain. Appears naked, several times. Always sexual undertones (or overtones) with Atticus.
Widow MacDonagh – Old woman (80s?). Human. Says things like “If I were fifty years younger, laddie, I’d jump yer wee bones and tell no one but the Lord, ye can be sure.”
Flidais – Goddess of the Hunt. Nearly immediately ends up in bed with Atticus.
Emily – Young woman. We read about her “tanned, silky legs” and her cotton shorts that “strained at the boundaries of modesty.”
Malina – Woman in 30s. Described normally. Not an emphasis on sex.
Brighid – Goddess of Poetry, Fire, and the Forge. Atticus’ first thought of her is “I don’t think there’s ever been a hotter widow in history.”
Granuaile – Bartender. First described as a “red-headed siren.” Her pouty lips, creamy skin, green eyes, and tight t-shirts are of paramount importance.
A large part of my problem with how women are treated in this book is that they’re simply shown to be less-than Atticus. Even the goddesses aren’t as smart, as up with the times, or as able to adapt. Often it feels like he’s talking condescendingly to a 3-year old. And they’re always sexualized.
Men are never described in the same way. Probably because Atticus isn’t attracted to men, so I get it a little. It’s just that, after 2,100 years I’d expect Atticus to have a little more control over his libido. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Also, men aren’t talked down to by Atticus. Even when they deserve to be. They are, to be fair, occasionally portrayed as not with the times, but that’s so Atticus can get the upper hand and defeat them in combat.
While all of this did bother me, I do applaud the fact that the women were ALWAYS in control of the sexuality of a situation. Atticus responded how he would, but the women (or goddesses) never let him simply have his way. They were the initiators. They were quick (and free) to slap him down when he wasn’t showing the proper amount of deference or attention. And Atticus did have a healthy fear of and respect for the goddesses that he didn’t have of the gods he dealt with. Points in its favor.
Beyond all of that is the meat of the story, world, and everything I enjoyed the first time I read Hounded. I enjoyed them all as much this time. The world is truly fascinating. I would love to see Atticus a little less able-to-handle-anything-without-breaking-a-sweat but I still thoroughly enjoy the mythologies that popped up, the way that magic is dealt with, and the whole wideness of the world. Nothing is beyond the bounds of being explored.
I’ll continue my re-read in book 2 hoping the problems I had in this book are lessened even further. Or maybe disappear completely? Because this is the kind of series that’s directly up my alley, and I want to love it.