What a strange interlude. Unlike his earlier novella, Grimoire of the Lamb, Hearne’s second novella, Two Ravens and One Crow, is less an adventure story and more of an interlude between books that fills in some interesting backstory along with a side dish of excitement.
It begins with Atticus wishing he could train his druid apprentice, Granuaile, with “a five-minute karate-movie montage rather than the necessary twelve years.” “Shaping her mind for Druidry was rough and monotonous for both of us.” And also tinged with sexual tension…
Atticus O’Sullivan looks twenty-one years old, but he is the centuries old druid Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin. Normally he’s lying low in the desert clime of Tempe, Arizona, but he and Granuaile have decamped to a remote location, courtesy of the trickster god Coyote, for his apprentice’s training.
Said exercises are interrupted by the Morrigan’s arrival. The Celtic goddess of fate, death, and war appears as the titular crow, asking Atticus to attend to some important business. Atticus transforms into an owl to follow Morrigan’s crow on a sojourn expected to last two weeks.
They pass through Tír na nÓg and journey to a fen in Ireland and a hidden barrow where the Morrigan dwells. There she questions Atticus about his love life and his relationship to his apprentice. Is Atticus interested in Granuaile? He claims: “She is my apprentice but isn’t mine in any other sense. I am a tad envious of her partners, perhaps, but nothing more.”
At this point, some two dozen pages in, it’s really not clear where the story is headed or what the central plot is. The Morrigan is cagey in revealing too much to Atticus. It suits her character but may frustrate the reader as well.
She is, however, insistent that Atticus needs to repair the damage to the tattoo on the back of his hand which helps him heal himself. This recalls an incident from the previous book’s events. And after a sexual romp, Morrigan helps Atticus fix his tattoo with a thorn from a live plant guided by a mental link to the earth mother goddess Gaia.
Finally, after a surprising conversational bonding moment, Morrigan announces, “We are going to Norway.”
Atticus is hoping they aren’t going to meet any Norse gods because he sort of killed Thor, the Norns, and a few others. Unfortunately for him, it is “a formal summit of deities.” He and the Morrigan will be dining with Frigg and Odin in Oslo.
Frigg is cordial but as cold as any ice queen. Odin, when he arrives, is aptly summed up by Atticus’ remark: “The beard of Odin told you that he wasn’t a hippie or a barbarian or a fantasy author but a god who could bring order to chaos.”
Atticus’ answer to “how it could be possible for all the world’s gods to be walking around without anybody noticing” is brilliant.
Odin insists Atticus must pay a price for his past actions, but first he wants to know “how did [Atticus] manage to live long enough to vex [him].” This leads into an interesting, fable-like diversion. Atticus’s “once upon a time” begins “in the days when the Tuatha Dé Danann were puissant in Ireland…”
After we learn the secret of Atticus’ youthful appearance and the tea brew he uses to achieve it, a détente is reached between Odin, Frigg and Atticus. Things would seem to be going well until “several things happened in quick succession.” It would appear a berserker, an Einherjar, has tried to assassinate Atticus, but on whose orders?
The action that follows is riveting change of pace from the story’s quieter beginning. The matter is resolved by the novella’s end and Atticus returns to his apprentice’s side, but there are hints that these events may impact future story.
While not as evenly paced as Grimoire of the Lamb, Two Ravens and One Crow explores some interesting backstory, illuminating Atticus’ origins further, and sets up intrigue for the books to follow. It also falls into the significant time gap that elapses between books four and five, giving a glimpse into what the characters were up to during that timeframe.
This novella is set six years after the events of book four, Tricked (published in April 2012), and prior to book five, Trapped (published in November 2012). Ultimately, it’s an entertaining read but best read in series order. As a whole, Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles should appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series.