Iron Druid Chronicles, book 2
Reviewed by Stephanie Gunn
Hexed is the second book in Kevin Hearne’s urban fantasy series The Iron Druid Chronicles, following on from Hounded.
This series follows two-thousand-year-old druid Atticus O’Sullivan, kept young by magic, as he moves through the modern world. As well as himself, the last of the druids, the world also contains other supernaturals: vampires and shapeshifters exist, and so do all of the gods and goddesses.
Atticus has been living quietly, and when the series begins is running a New Age bookstore, using his magic to tend the earth and to treat customers complaints with his special blends of herbal teas, curing anything from rheumatism to unwanted love. During the first book in the series, his attempt at a quiet life was shattered, and as the second book begins, he finds himself the target of many, including a group of witches intent on destroying him.
On the surface, this book is a light, humorous urban fantasy with lots of shoutouts for geek readers. Atticus is a mostly likeable character, and his perspective is easy to slip into, even if his voice does usually feel much too young for his supposed age most of the time. His dog, Oberon, whom Atticus converses with telepathically, is a particular source of amusement.
However, despite the light tone and humour, there are some massive gender issues in this book. For example, looking at the gods and goddesses as portrayed in human form, you will see this: the gods are all powerful, with that power usually tending towards the frightening. The goddesses seen in this book are also powerful, but there’s nothing frightening about them. Every goddess seen is described physically in detail (and yes, you can guess what these details focus on), every one of them seems to be very fond of dressing as skimpily as possible, and all they ever seem to want to do is sleep with Atticus.
In fact, the only female character in this book who isn’t treated as a sex object at one point or another is an elderly woman. Even his apprentice, who hasn’t yet been involved with Atticus, shows up randomly dressed as though she’s trying to seduce him. It makes Atticus himself feel like a cipher for wish fulfillment, and makes all of the female characters feel weak, even the goddesses.
Atticus himself is problematic, too. His voice feels out of sync with the powerful, ancient druid he’s supposed to be, making him feel at times like the college kid he often pretends to be. There is very little sense of who he is or what his history is – after two thousand years, he should be carrying some baggage, and there’s rarely any hint of that.
One more issue rises in the book when Atticus is the victim of what is essentially sexual assault by a goddess. It’s made fairly clear that it’s a non-consensual act on his part, but he just refers to it as violent sex and shrugs off his lacerations and bruises. If the gender roles had been reversed in this situation, a female character would very likely have reacted very differently. It feels like Hearne missed a chance to explore some gender issues, but instead took the route of “men always want sex, so it must be okay”, which makes the whole scene extremely problematic.
Some readers will likely be able to look past the gender issues and enjoy this as a light humorous read. Others won’t be able to unsee them. There is definitely some enjoyment here, with some serious humour, but it’s going to be up to individual readers if they can disengage their critical brain long enough to enjoy the book.