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Author: Kevin Hearne
Publisher: Del Rey, 2016
Orbit, 2016
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles: Book 8
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Urban Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
Avg Member Rating:
(15 reads / 5 ratings)


Iron Druid Atticus O'Sullivan, hero of Kevin Hearne's epic New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series, has a point to make--and then drive into a vampire's heart.

When a Druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he's bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers--led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus--have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It's time to make a stand.

As always, Atticus wouldn't mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it's not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki's mark and elude his powers of divination--a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares.

As Atticus globetrots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won't come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend.


While the bathwater ran, I unwrapped one of those laughably small hotel soaps and then looked at the mud caked on Oberon's fur, especially his belly. It was a David and Goliath situation, but I had little choice except to proceed and hope the wee bar of soap would win.

"All right, buddy, here we go," I said, starting out by splashing him underneath and then pouring cups of water on his back. "No shaking yourself until we're through."

Hee hee! It tickles, Atticus! Hurry up and distract me.

"Okay, let's begin," I said.

* * *

To understand what happened to me, you have to know a little bit of Toronto history first.

I had come to Toronto in the fall of 1953 as a pre-med student. The world had learned a lot about surgery and patching up bodies after shooting the hell out of everything in two world wars and another war in Korea, and I thought I might be able to pick up something useful, so I enrolled in the University of Toronto under the name of Nigel Hargrave, with every intention of staying a few years as an earnest wannabe doctor. I wound up staying only a few months, and the reason for that is a spooky old building and a tragedy in the nineteenth century.

The University of Toronto was actually a collection of old colleges, many of which were religiously affiliated, and one such college--now the Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor Street--used to be a Baptist seminary long ago. It's a red stone Gothic marvel built in 1881, the kind of building where you're sure the architect was laughing maniacally to himself as he huffed a lungful of lead-based paint fumes. Pointy spires and sharply sloped roofs and large windows. Wood floors that echo and creak when you step on them. And attending the seminary in the late nineteenth century was a young man named Nigel, betrothed to Gwendolyn from Winnipeg, dark of hair and possessed of a jealous eye.

* * *

Oberon interrupted my narrative with a question. Hey, isn't there a monster named Jealousy, Atticus? You told me about it once, and I remember because it didn't treat meat well.

"Oh, yes, that was a Shakespeare thing, from Othello. Jealousy is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on."

Not a sensible monster then.


* * *

One summer day way back when--these were the days before automobiles, when people rode around in horse-drawn carriages or else they walked--Gwendolyn was crossing the hard-packed dirt of Bloor Street to pay a visit to her Nigel. She had baked a cake specially, and she had a red dress on with a thin matching shawl about her shoulders. Nigel had bought the dress for her, and she knew he was wearing a gray pinstriped suit she had bought him, and she probably thought privately that the two of them made a very smart couple with excellent taste. But because she was worried about dropping her cake, she didn't cross the street to the seminary college as quickly as perhaps she should have. And she wasn't paying attention to her surroundings. That's why she didn't even try to get out of the way of the horse and carriage that ran her down--she didn't see it.

Knocked over and trampled by a quarter-ton animal, then run over by the weighted carriage wheels, ribs broken and bleeding internally inside a restrictive corset, all poor Gwendolyn could think of was getting to see Nigel one more time. She first dragged herself and then got some help to make it to the flat stone steps of the seminary, where she died mere seconds before Nigel emerged to investigate the cries for help. Seeing his fiancée's pale dead face there and the callous driver of the carriage continuing down Bloor Street as if nothing had happened, he was filled with a rage unbecoming a minister. Everything he cared about had been ripped from him, and he wanted an eye for an eye. Or at least a chance to deliver a good punch to the jaw, or maybe three. So he rashly chased after the man who had run down his girl and eventually caught him. And then he got himself killed, for the driver of that carriage was armed with a revolver and ill-disposed to fisticuffs with a muttonchopped ginger man wearing a gray pinstripe and gold pocket watch.

Nigel's spirit quite sensibly moved on wherever it was he thought he should go, no doubt missing that he had just been given an object lesson on why it's better sometimes to turn the other cheek. Gwendolyn, however--she had unfinished business. The horribly mangled cake didn't matter except as a visible symbol of her undying love. She couldn't move on until she told Nigel she loved him and heard him say it in return, just one more time. So her spirit moved in to the seminary building, where she searched for him and haunted the building as the Lady in Red for decades afterward.

* * *

Oh, no, this is going to be bad for you, my hound said as I soaped him up.

"You think?"

Oh, yeah, you're doomed.

"Yes, I am."

* * *

No one had warned me about the Lady in Red before I entered that building in 1953. No reason why they would, really. She was a shy and retiring sort of spirit, looking for a ginger man named Nigel with muttonchops and wearing a gray suit. If you didn't meet the criteria or catch her feeling sorry for herself, you'd probably never see her. During that time the building was in a sort of limbo, used by the university as an administrative dump and also to proctor certain exams. The Royal Conservatory of Music didn't take over the building until the 1970s. I had to go there to take exams and on my first visit noticed that many of the rooms were unused and might make ideal rendezvous spots. Such spots were prized by college students because dorms were very closely monitored to prevent "lewd and immoral acts."

Well, opportunity eventually presented itself and I met a coed who had a strange thing not for muttonchops or gingers but for guys named Nigel. Being fit was just a bonus to her; somehow there was nothing so attractive to her as the name of Nigel Hargrave--she told me it sounded rich and aristocratic. Maybe that's what she was actually into--aristocracy, I mean, not my name; I never really figured her out. But I was lonely and not particularly principled, so I arranged a meeting at one of those rooms in the old building. The scheduled exams were listed on a bulletin board in the entrance hall, so we chose a room on the second floor, I picked the lock, and we entered to take consensual delight in each other on top of a desk.

And while we were in the middle of those delights, half dressed but fully enthusiastic, Gwendolyn, the Lady in Red, finally discovered a man who bore a striking resemblance to her fiancé, Nigel. That he was in sexual congress with another woman displeased her mightily, and she could not be mistaken--she knew it was her Nigel, because my partner kept shouting that name, and I had the ginger muttonchops and the same gray suit she'd expected him to be wearing that day she came to deliver the lovey-dovey cake. It was at that point that the shy, retiring ghost became a completely unhinged poltergeist. Desks began moving in the room, including the one we were on. Chairs left the floor--wildly inaccurate at first, like the Imperial stormtroopers in Cloud City, but growing closer as a cry of betrayal built and built and effectively killed the mood dead.

My partner stopped calling out my name and appropriately freaked out, dashing half-clothed from the room. I never saw her again.

"NNNNNigel! Hhhhhow could youuuuuu!" a breathy, ethereal voice raged at me.

"I, uh... think there's been a mistake. Who are you?"

A red apparition swirled into form, very proper and charming and allowing me to note details of the dress, which helped me place her origins later. The illusion of propriety broke down around the mouth: It gaped unnaturally wide as it shouted at me. "I'm your fiancée! Gwendolyn!"

"What? Hey, I'm not the guy you're looking for. My name's not really Nigel either."


The furniture got really aggressive at that point and clocked me pretty good, and there was very little I could do but run. There's nothing a Druid can do about a ghost, honestly. Nothing physical about them to bind or unbind, and my cold iron amulet is just a hunk of metal to them.

That does not mean, however, that ghosts are not subject to being bound--they are typically bound to a space near where they died, albeit by intangible spiritual tethers rather than anything tied to the earth. For me to escape her, all I had to do was escape the building. Or so I thought.

As I pelted through the hall and then down the grand staircase leading to the exit, all manner of papers and books and dust devils followed me along with her screams. I got a textbook to the temple at one point and fell down but scrambled back up again, staggering a bit. She chased me right out the door in a rather shockingly immodest display and then, much to my horror, kept going. Now that she'd found her Nigel, she had moored herself to me and unchained herself from the building. I had to skedaddle, which I think is the best possible word for getting the hell out when a poltergeist thinks you've jilted her. Where the university's law library is now, there used to be a giant old oak that I had tethered to Tír na nÓg, and I used that to shift away to safety and do some research on who or what she was.

Later on, I shifted back in and waited to be attacked, but Gwendolyn the poltergeist wasn't lurking by the oak. She had probably returned to the building she had haunted before, but there was no way I was returning to check. I picked up what few things I had at my lodgings and took off before she could locate me again, never to return to Toronto until today.

* * *

So that Gwendolyn Lady in Red could still be out there right now? Oberon said as I rinsed him off.


And she could still be very mad at Nigel?

"Yep. She appears to have quite the impressive memory for a ghost."

And you're going to dress up as Nigel Hargrave again on purpose?

"That's right. Except this time I will try to be her Nigel instead of the pre-med student she mistook for him. She's capable of talking--she has things she desperately wants to say to Nigel, you see--and I have something I need to say too."

You should sing her a love song. Music soothes the savage ghost.

"Uh, that's breast, Oberon, savage breast, not savage ghost. William Congreve wrote the original line, and he gets misquoted a lot."

Well, it's no wonder. I've never met a savage breast. Tasty ones, yeah, fried up and covered in gravy, but never savage.

"You've been a good hound in the bath. Let's get you dried off and feed you a sausage or two."

Copyright © 2016 by Kevin Hearne


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