Friday, October 19, 2012

Review of the Week: Two Raven and One Crow by Kevin Hearne

Life's been pretty hectic lately, and my reading time has been greatly diminished for the last few weeks. So while I am still working on some longer works, like Kameron Hurley's God's War and Tomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky, I read a few novellas to give me something to review. I'll start with the best of the lot, Kevin Hearne's Two Ravens and One Crow.

Hearne's novella bridges the gap between Tricked and Trapped, the fourth and fifth novels in his Iron Druid Chronicles. Fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy in this novella, as Hearne wisely plays to the strengths of the series with plenty of over the top action, interesting takes on mythology, and plenty of side splitting humor.

What really makes Two Ravens and One Crow stand out is that it never feels like a throw away story. It ties directly to the plot of the series as a whole, and actually addresses the characters in meaningful ways in the process. More importantly, it's just plain fun.

Atticus O'Sullivan has a penchant for making powerful enemies. His successful assault on Asgard left a string of dead gods, including Thor, in its wake. Understandably, Odin is pissed off. Atticus has been on the run ever since, trying to complete his apprentice, Granuaile's training while keeping as far away from vengeful Norse deities. But Atticus can never avoid trouble for long, so when the Morrigan appears to sweep him away for a meeting with Odin, he has no choice but to accompany the Chooser of the Slain. The alliance that follows is unexpected and action packed and sets the stakes high for the impending Ragnarok.

As always, Hearne;s characterizations and sense of humor are the highlights of the story. While most of the story centers around Atticus and his dealings with the Morrigan and the antagonistic Norse gods, we see just enough of Granuaile and Oberon to make sure that the funny is brought in classic Iron Druid style. Hearne also addresses the stresses between Atticus and Granuaile and those readers eager for a romance between the two, will not want to miss this installment.

The Morrigan, gets the most face time of the supporting cast and Hearne takes the opportunity to delve into the Chooser of the Slain more deeply than he ever has in the past. If anything, he manages to make her far more human than she's been depicted thus far, often with surprisingly humorous results. But make no mistake, this is merely a aspect of the character that exists beneath her usual cruelly cunning exterior. I found this aspect of the story to be the most compelling, as it added a level of sympathy to an otherwise unrelateable character. I'm looking forward to seeing where Hearne takes this new development.

In addition, readers are also treated to some history. As a 200 year old druid, Atticus' back story is extensive, and Hearne has layered bits of that tale into the previous volumes in the series, reflecting on events that are relevant to the present day plotlines. Two Ravens and One Crow is no exception to the pattern, giving us a glimpse into Atticus' earliest days, an area that has remained largely a mystery up until now. We learn more about the origins of Atticus' unnaturally long life span in a flashback sequence that is as entertaining as it is informative.

Which brings us to the main thrust of the novella, the repercussions of Atticus' assault on Asgard in Hammered. While Atticus has certainly taken drastic measures to avoid the wrath of the slain thunder god's family, he has not really been forced to deal with the aftermath of his actions. In many ways Tricked, which directly follows those events, skirts the issue of the Norse pantheon's vendetta almost entirely, but Two Ravens and One Crow goes the other route confronting them directly. And while, it seems to be resolved in a fairly simple manner with the Norse accepting Atticus as an ally, there is no mistaking the animosity of Odin and the other Aesir. I have no doubt, that things will get far messier in the recently released Trapped as  our hero is forced to make good on the alliance made in these pages.

Kevin Hearne has crafted a fine example of how a novella can have a lasting impact on a series, rather than serving as a mere way to wring a few more sales out of a popular setting and its characters. Far from a throw away piece, Two Ravens and One Crow is an essential part to both the story and mythos of Atticus O'Sullivan. Fans of The Iron Druid Chronicles should consider this novella a must read.

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