The first novel in Karen Myers’ The Hounds of Annwn series is TO CARRY THE HORN. It stars George Talbot Traherne, a whipper-in from modern-day Virginia, his Elven grandfather Gwyn ap Nudd, and a cast of thousands rotating around these two.
The story starts with George out riding one day with the Rowanton Hunt. However, he gets distracted by a huge white stag and ends up veering off course, ending up in the Fae Otherworld on the very day Gwyn’s own Master of the Hunt has been murdered. George quickly realizes he’s in a different place (though the land is much the same), but rather than becoming discommoded by this, he quickly immerses himself in working with Gwyn’s hounds. This quick immersion isn’t as jarring as it sounds, however, because George is obviously a man of action rather than one of introspection.
Anyway, Gwyn’s hounds are not your normal run of dogs by any means, as they’re actually the Hounds of Hell (most are half-demon, half-dog), which makes Gwyn far more than just any Fae overlord. And there’s only two weeks to go before the next edition of the Wild Hunt must take place; if it doesn’t come off, ancient God Cernunnos, who set Gwyn up as Lord of his own establishment long ago, can take the rulership away from Gwyn again.
Now, you might be wondering how a normal guy from Virginia, albeit a huntsman and whipper-in, can possibly control the Hounds of Hell. Well, in Ms. Myers’ conception, it comes down to two things: George genuinely has a gift when it comes to animals (most particularly dogs), and he also has an extra ability gifted to him from his non-human — and non-Fae — grandparent, who appears to be none other than Cernunnos himself. Because of these two rather exceptional grandparents, he can handle the Hounds of Hell. And because George is somewhat at loose ends in his life — thirtyish, athletic, smart enough to own his own computer company and pragmatic enough to make more than enough money to live on with it — he definitely is ready for a new adventure.
Once George takes charge of the pack of hounds, he quickly realizes that he’s going to need allies. The Elven teenager Rhian becomes George’s apprentice along with the lutin Isolda, while Rhian’s older brother Rhys continues on for a short time as the most experienced person left who’s used to dealing with the hounds. This is important, because George never led a hunt by himself before, much less with these particular hounds.
But George also needs allies in Gwyn’s court, which is why his nascent friendship with two Elves — Edern, a lord, and Angharad, an artist — is so important to the plot. These two help George get up to speed quickly with regards to the overall political situation with the Elves, much less the major scandals in Gwyn’s past that may or may not come back to haunt Gwyn in the near future, and often function as quasi-infodumps.
Then George realizes that the more time he spends with Angharad, the more he wants to be with her. Yet he still has a home and business in our Virginia, and he’s been told it won’t be that difficult to go home again. He doesn’t want to leave his grandparents behind (this grandmother is Gwyn’s daughter and George’s reason for close kinship to Gwyn in the first place), but he certainly doesn’t want to leave Angharad, the dogs, Rhian, Isolda, or any of the others in this strange new place he’s come to love.
So what’s to do? And will he ever figure out who, exactly, killed the former huntsman? Much less why? And is Gwyn’s rule really as endangered as all that? All of these questions will be answered, but most of the answers in turn raise more questions.
This is a good story that I found both engaging and absorbing, but it does have a few flaws. This is a first novel, and because of that, there are a number of minor issues that distracted just a touch and interfered with the reading trance. These small things mostly were in the way inner monologue was presented (most of the time, it’s easiest to show that with italics), or in a few areas where our hero, George, was led to the right answer rather than reasoning it out for himself.
Overall, TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid fantasy that is interesting, well-plotted, and held my attention through several re-reads. There are many nonhumans in this story (much less Cernunnos), and their motivations are sensible, logical, and well thought out. Ms. Myers’ knowledge of Welsh mythology, up to and including the Mabinogion (perhaps the first-known collection of Arthurian tales), served her well in the creation of this novel.
Bottom line: TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid introduction to the Hounds of Annwn series. I liked George quite a bit as a hero, can’t wait to see how his relationship with Angharad develops, and will be interested to follow his future adventures.
— reviewed by Barb
NOTE: Book two of The Hounds of Annwn, THE WAYS OF WINTER, will be reviewed here at Shiny Book Review in the next few weeks.