The Timmie's on York Street sported a garish green-and-yellow-striped awning, a fire hydrant out front in case of donut grease fire, and a convenient signpost pointing the way to public parking. "What kind of ungodly breakfast meat do you want from here?" I asked Oberon as I tied him up to the sign.
<The religion of the meat doesn't affect its taste,> my hound replied, a pedantic note creeping into his voice.
<Godly bacon and ungodly bacon taste the same, Atticus.>
"Bacon it is. Now be nice to people who look scared of you while I'm in side. Do not pee on the hydrant, and no barking."
<Awww. I like to watch them jump. Sometimes they make squeaky noises.>
Of course I approach the penultimate novel in one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series with mixed emotions -- on the one hand, I'm excited to join Atticus, Oberon, et al. for the first time since June, 2014; on the other hand, penultimate is too close to the end for my taste -- I'm going to miss exchanges like the quotation I opened up with if nothing else. Still, it's Hearne, so it was bound to be a good time, my messed-up feelings notwithstanding.
Once again -- the inclusion of a "The Story so Far" introduction -- a multiple page summary of the series (wittily recounted) to help readers get re-oriented is just golden and should be a requirement for any series over three books long. Seriously, make this happen publishers.
One thought I keep coming back to while thinking about this book (and the series, I guess, as we approach the end) is what the series would be without Oberon. His personality, his canine-ness, and his relationship with Atticus is what set this apart from everything else early on. Would the series have gone on as long as it has -- would Hounded have earned a sequel without him? I'm not so sure.
Anyway, that's a thought for another time, let's focus on Staked. There are so many plates spinning in this one that I'm going to spend a little more time than usual on plot. What Hearne said about the entry in Three Slices being vital? That wasn't hyperbole. I would've been so lost without it. Get it.
Atticus and Oberon are busy, busy bees. They tried to take care of Atticus' relationship with the Olympians, which mostly worked out. Atticus helped out a ghost. "Merely" helped prevent a genocide, which will have a big impact on the brewing conflict with Loki et al. Then there's the vampire situation -- things are getting worse in Theophilus' war against the Druids and Atticus decides it's time to end it all. Thanks to the intelligence he gained in Three Slices, he has a plan. Obviously, given the title of the book, this is his focus. We've seen Atticus in some pretty violent situations, but his face-offs with vampires and their helpers in this book might just take things to a different level. There's some diplomacy for Atticus on various fronts, too -- but mostly we get a lot of Atticus as Jack Reacher.
Then there's Granuaile and Orlaith. I don't have a lot to say about Orlaith -- she's amusing and I like her, but she's no Oberon. These chapters are the low-point of the book for me. Granuaile is off running some mini-quests, starting with things that are a result of her confrontation with Loki in Three Slices make sense, and even some of what she does as sort of a spin-off from that, I can understand (but honestly, she could delay them). But there's a couple of pet projects of hers that seem like things she could put off. It seems selfish and foolhardy of her not to be more involved with Atticus's problems (not that she's fully aware of the extent of them, but that's another issue). I'm not saying that the little missus needs to be at her man's beck-and-call or anything, but her activities are more long-range in focus, the vampire menace is immediate and large (as we get serious demonstrations of). Actually, a lot of what she does seems foolish and doesn't work out the way it ought. But I'll complain more about Oberon's Clever Girl in a bit.
Owen is starting to settle in to his new time, making plans and starting a life -- that's great, but probably something he should've back burnered for a month or two, because he's also got a pretty big problem in Tír na nÓg that he should be more focused on, there are going to be significant consequence to his half-hearted efforts in that regard. But hey, we got this little bit of wisdom from the Archdruid:
I know that when ye think o' love you're supposed to think o' kissy faces and scented soap and hummin' happy songs together, but there's another vital part to it that people rarely admit to themselves: We want somebody to rescue us from other people. From talking to them, I mean, or from the burden of giving a damn about what they say. We don't want to be polite and stifle our farts, now, do we? We want to let 'em rip and we want to be with someone who won't care if we do, who will love us regardless and fart right back besides.
It was great to see the Hammers of Zion again -- and in a different role, too. We see that the vampires have more tricks up their sleeves than anyone was expecting -- as befits a race that's survived as long as they have. The Sisters of the Three Auroras are back as well, and I'm not so sure it's wise to be as fully trusting of them as certain Druids seem to be.
I spent most of the book dissatisfied. I understand the need/desire for the three druids to be off on their own, pursuing their own destinies or quests or what have you. But it was just a bit too disparate for my taste. They're all adults, they're independent creatures -- but fer cryin' out loud, they should be interacting with each other more. Two of them are supposed to be in a relationship -- silence for as long should raise an eyebrow or something, right? Owen's still learning his way around, and it's irresponsible to just dump him on Greta. As big, as life-altering (if not life-ending), as important as what Atticus is involved in, he needs to call in backup. Sure he's been on his own for centuries, but he's not anymore. How many of the horrible consequences of his war on the vampires could've been avoided if he'd just brought in the team?
Whatever my problems, whatever complaints I had, the questions I had about where this book/series were going were wiped away in the climatic battle scenes. Sure, we had to ignore a whole lot of spinning plates that are starting to wobble to get to it, but -- Wow! That was just great. From the hirsute magic, the vampires cutting loose, the druids opening up cans of Whoop Ass, to the glamour keeping the muggles oblivious to the bloodbath around them -- and all points in between. Just wow. One day, that bit deserves a beat-by-beat breakdown.
Towards the end of the book, Atticus evaluates the state of his relationship with Granuaile, and reaches conclusions that I (and probably many readers) have as well. I'm not sure I'm as at peace with the direction it's headed in as he is, but it's probably for the best. Honestly, I'm not so sure I expect Atticus to make it out of Book Number 9, so my misgivings might be moot. Also, for the last couple of books, I've stopped enjoying reading Granuaile. While she was a bartender or an apprentice, she was a hoot. Now that she's moved up to being a full-fledged Druid, I dunno, all the joy's been sucked out of her character and her interactions with Atticus for me. I think her evolution, her growth, maturation (whatever you want to call it) has been organic and makes sense, I think Hearne's been honest with her as a character, but it wasn't necessary for it to go that way. Still, I trust Hearne's treatment of her, she's just something I put up with now, rather than enjoy.
So, now the wait begins for the final book -- and, I assume, Ragnarok. Because why wouldn't a series that started with conflict in the Tuatha Dé Danann end with the Norse apocalypse (with a side dish of Olympian revenge, maybe?)?