Book Review – HOUNDED by Kevin Hearne

I haven’t read much Urban Fantasy, and as such, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. HOUNDED might have spoiled me, since it was absolutely hilarious. A fun, quick, incredibly engaging and entertaining read, I devoured it in about a day and a half. 

Atticus is old–21 centuries old, in fact. But he looks like a 21-year-old hipster playing at magic in his occult bookstore. Seriously, that might be the best, simplest premise I’ve ever heard. Add to it his Irish Wolfhound who is laugh-out-loud hilarious, a healthy dose of pop culture references, and some pissed off Celtic gods and you have a story that sucks you in and keeps you reading.

I liked everything about this book–the depth of the setting, the obvious research that Hearne put into it, the humor and juxtaposition between Old World and New-all of it. EXCEPT I didn’t love Hearne’s treatment of his female characters, and that kept me from giving HOUNDED five stars. I felt as though every woman (mortal or not) got the “super sexy movie star” treatment, and that Atticus had a hard time concentrating when they spoke because all he wanted to do was jump their bones. We’re talking about seriously powerful women, who can manipulate your perceptions of them. Why would they all choose sex as their manipulation of choice–Why not intimidation? Why not terror? Why not groveling respect? I’ve got no problem with a sexy female character, but I felt like it was a little one-noted.

I look forward to reading more of the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, as the story was clever and funny and greatly entertaining, and I hope that Mr. Hearne has found a way to flesh out his female characters in later volumes.

Next Up: THE MIRROR EMPIRE by Kameron Hurley. You know I’m excited about this one. 🙂

Stuff and Things (and Guardians of the Galaxy)

So, let’s get this out of the way, first thing. If you enjoy comic book films–Go see Guardians of the Galaxy. If you enjoy witty banter and raucous adventure–Go see GotG. If you are a fan of 1970’s easy listening–Go see GotG. If you enjoy fuzzy raccoons with a bad attitude–Go see GotG. If you like to laugh–Go see GotG. If you don’t enjoy laughter–Go see GotG (It will change your mind).

This movie, hands down, was the most fun I’ve had at the movie theater in years. Hilarious, action packed, sentimental but not sappy, engaging at every turn. It was a giant ice cream sundae, before dinner–and I don’t even feel guilty.

Chris Pratt does an excellent job of playing Peter Quill–a man/boy trying to find his way alone in the universe. His moral compass is a bit unfixed, his put-downs a staple of any twelve-year-old’s vocabulary, and his heart is covered up by bravado, but not absent. Bradley Cooper delivers laugh after laugh as Rocket–a genetically enhanced “raccoon” who is one part genius and one part Conan the Barbarian.  Dave Bautista is incredible as the well-spoken but brutal Drax the Destroyer, and Vin Diesel stole my heart as the short-on-words Groot.

But it was Zoe Saldana that, for me, made this film amazing. Saldana’s Gamora is a bad-ass–stronger, smarter, more agile, and more capable than anyone else in the room, and for the first time, I really felt like Marvel handed the reins to their female star and said, “Go ahead. Knock their socks off.” This is the heroine I wanted to see when Black Widow showed up–and we’ve seen glimpses, as Scarlett Johannson out-tricked the trickster and interrogated a mark, while tied up. In Gamora, I see a female comic character that isn’t sexualized, that isn’t marginalized, who truly contributes to the team and adds depth and heart to the group. (And–thank the Gods–we weren’t subjected to a Winter Soldier style scene shot from between the heroine’s legs, because–well, let’s hope that will be the end of that.)

Seriously. Go see it. You’ll be glad that you did.

In other must mentions, I’m going to link to a couple of very fine articles–

The first is a discussion of rape as it is portrayed in media, today, and especially in SFF. A very interesting look at the “realism” of sexual assault on women, and why don’t we see more rape of male characters in film and fiction. It’s worth a think, or two, and the numbers presented may surprise you.

The second is a couple of links to possible ways to get your hands on the Hugo Award-nominated essay “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley. Personally, I’d love to see this essay be required reading for the human race, but since that seems unlikely, I’ll just throw it out as a suggestion.

You can download Hurley’s essay collection here for free until 8/17, or you can listen to Hurley read the title essay on a podcast, here.  I highly recommend either–she’ll make you think about the way that you see the women characters in the stories that you love, and for me, she has really made me question the way that I write female characters, which I feel is contributing to a richer, deeper understanding of the characters I create, and the world in which they live.

Also, I would add that Kameron Hurley has a new novel, THE MIRROR EMPIRE, coming out on August 26th, which is getting stunningly good reviews.

Why Fantasy?

I’ve been thinking a lot, since last night, about why I love the books that I do, and more importantly, what has driven me to write the books that I am writing. As I wrote the post about Reading Month, and I was noting what my kids were reading, I started to think about the books that I read, as a kid.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves, these days, but as a kid, I didn’t read much fantasy, and I never read SciFi. I read a great deal of realistic fiction, quite a bit of magical realism, and a boatload of “teen” book (most by the time I was in third grade, or so). It’s a good thing that old school YA was a bit tamer than today’s YA. Sweet Valley High was a favorite, and that was gentler than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Then, I skipped right on to adult literature–I read my first Stephen King book in sixth grade, Robin Cook was a favorite in fifth. I was all over the place, and I LOVED to read, but I didn’t have a home genre.

One of my early favorites was The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and although it was a realistic fiction book, there was a bit of the fantastical in Mary’s home in India and again, at Craven Manor. Dickon, who could speak to the animals was, by far, my favorite character, and I loved the sense of fate that had sent Mary to the garden. Another all time favorite was The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Snyder. I barely remember this book, but I remember reading it multiple times, and finding a sense of comfort within its pages. Reading its Amazon description, I guess it makes sense. A girl finds a safe place to hide from her doubts, in a hidden, secret library. Right up my alley.

But it still begs the question–Why do I cling so much to Fantasy and SciFi, now?

The first answer to that question is pretty easy to answer. My dad–biologically, he was my stepdad, but he raised me–was a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. We watched a lot of re-showings of The Beastmaster and Conan. There wasn’t a lot that he and I could talk about and agree on, when I was a teenager, but we both admired the hell out of Jean Luc Picard and we both knew that Han shot, first. That was enough. My dad passed away, a few years ago, but every once in a while, when I write a really kick ass fight scene or create a character that I know he’d identify with, I know that he’d have enjoyed my stories. It is enough.

So, I grew up on a steady diet of words about people I didn’t really understand, and a T.V. diet of characters that made things happen. That was the crux of it, for me, I think. In so many books that I read as a kid, the events of the story weren’t shaped and molded by the character–they were formed AROUND the character. But a lot of those Fantasy and SciFi characters MADE things happen. They shaped their own destiny. They took charge.

I’m a sucker for a sword or a wizard, any day, but what I love most is the sense of fate that you get in genre fiction. Yes, bad stuff happens. But a great genre protagonist is going to wrap their arms around that bad stuff and choke the life out of it. They take their destiny by the horns.

About 15 years ago, I met a guy, and he suggested that I read The Mists of Avalon. It’s a big, slow book–and it rocked my world. Girls who took charge of their own destiny. Women who shaped the world. The female heros that were hidden behind King Arthur’s throne. That same man handed me The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and eventually a wedding ring (But that’s a whole different sort of tale) and in doing so, he nudged me toward my destiny.

There are countless stories, out there, and there are a million ways to tell them. But this is the one that I was born to tell.