Autumn: the season of endings. And beginnings.
Especially for one young apprentice.
At the annual Festival of the Hunt, thirteen-year-old apprentice goblin hunter Finn MacCullen and his master, Gideon Lir, join other Tuatha De Danaan to honor their people’s heritage. But Finn soon realizes that there are some who denounce his right to attend due to his half-human bloodline.
As he struggles to keep his place by his master’s side, he finds himself embroiled in a decades-old grudge between Gideon and another Knight, bewildered (and beguiled) by a female apprentice with a temper as explosive as his own, and battling a pack of goblins determined to wipe out the entire camp in a surprise attack.
It’s going to take some fancy knife work, the help of a female Knight with a lethal bow, and one old pick up truck to defeat the goblins and prove to his people that Finn’s blood runs true-blue Tuatha De Danaan.
As I sit down to write this review the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. To clarify, that adage comes to mind in a very, very good way.
Before I dove into The Hound at the Gate I re-read my review of Gideon’s Spear, book two in The Adventures of Finn MacCullen series. (click here to read my review) At the end of that read I was all kinds of frustrated by my own inability to see where the series is going and where and how all the characters are going to come into play. This was an unusual spot for me where Darby Karchut’s writing is concerned since I have always seen her books as so easily readable and quite satisfying. Needless to say, I was a bit wary of diving into The Hound at the Gate. I am happy to report, The Hound at the Gate left me in no such state and I find that this read is very much a back to basics sort of read with an intense focus on just a few characters who are involved in a very focused plot. That is, a Darby Karchut read!! As I said in the beginning, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Finn MacCullen’s life is as it has been with Gideon Lir. Finn trains, hunts the bog-born, does his chores, does his homework, works on his cheekiness and, worries constantly about being the legendary weapon known as Gideon’s Spear. But on to more important matters. For the first time ever, Finn is attending the Festival of the Hunt, a time when the Knights, their families and, apprentices gather in a sort of family reunion and participate in hunts and games. The Festival is meant to be a time of comradery, friendship and, sport but as Finn quickly learns, it is also a time for old rivalries and grudges to be reawakened and new rivalries and alliances to be forged. On the bright side, Finn gets to share a tent with his best friend and fellow apprentice, Lochlan 🙂
From the moment Finn and Gideon arrive at the Festival things are wonky. As the master and apprentice present themselves to the high council, Finn is reminded of his halfer status and just how much some among the Tuatha despise him and his status. Though they aren’t allowed to wander far, Finn and Lochlan are allowed to roam around the camp and it doesn’t take long for the two to find trouble in the form of Finn’s cousin, Ennis. Though Ennis is related to Finn he cares nothing for him and is quick to point out how useless and unwanted the halfer is. Not surprisingly, much of Ennis’s attitude comes from his master, Jack Tully, a man who has a long-time hatred of Gideon. From the moment the Festival begins, Finn and Gideon are fighting for and defending one another from the hatred and bigotry fostered by a few heartless individuals. Though these numerous events are certainly unfortunate, they give the reader a very real insight into some of the attitudes among the Tuatha, the true nature (both good and bad!) of several characters and, the extent to which Finn and Gideon are willing to go to protect the other.
As if the anger and bigotry weren’t enough, the beasties are aware of the annual gathering and have organized large numbers to attack the gathering in the hope of overwhelming the Knights through surprise and sheer numbers. The plan damn near works and over the course of several very fast chapters, we see the Tuatha (or most of them at any rate) rise up to defeat their enemy and protect their own. Desperate times call for desperate measures and while Gideon had hoped to keep Finn’s status as the Spear a secret, it becomes necessary to out the boy in order to protect the group at large. As you might expect, the outing of Finn has consequences and when everything shakes out in the end, Finn and Gideon are left with the most unlikely of allies and the most daunting of tasks.
The Bottom Line: The Hound at the Gate is the type of read I have come to expect from Darby Karchut. In case you aren’t sure, it’s also the kind of read I love. Hound focuses its attention on a core group of characters and a highly specific plot line that is carried through from start to finish. The Festival of the Hunt provides the perfect setting from some very intense and very interesting character studies. It has been clear in the last two books that Gideon and Finn are fond of one another but Hound really drives the point home and reveals the depth of affection the two have for one another. This loving relationship is balanced by the extreme hatred and bigotry of Ennis MacCullen, Jack Tully and, Martin O’Neill. These three are truly evil and though I can’t say I care for any of them, I do very much like the balance they provide. To be sure, Karchut introduces a few new characters in this read but their role is very clear and well defined. Their presence isn’t at all confusing and is, in fact an indication of further plot development as the series continues.
The action in this read is just perfect and though there are extended scenes of fighting and hunting, those scenes are quickly paced, totally appropriate and, filled with more than just bloodshed. It is during these scenes that Karchut takes the opportunity to kill off at least one character and forge new alliances between some of the characters. No spoilers here, you’re gonna have to figure this out for yourself! Finally, in the closing moments of the read, Karchut takes the opportunity to bring back Iona and what happens with her will leave you somewhat stunned and angry that it isn’t 2016 yet. Yes, I am already lusting after a book that won’t be out for another full year. Damn you, Darby K., damn you, I say!!!