The third installment in this ongoing series about the fabled Olympians, Hera is probably the best yet. And that’s saying something: the others are Good.
When Zeus takes on Hera as his first (and only) wife, he gets a whole lot more than he bargained for. Unlike his previous queens (none of which he ever married), Hera refuses to tolerate his straying ways and exacts justice on Zeus and his mistresses in creative ways. She is particularly annoyed at one of Zeus’ most famous children: Heracles (or Hercules, as many of us know him). It is the relationship between these two characters that is the driving force behind the plot of this book.
In return for nursing him as a baby and saving his life, Hera requires that, as an adult, Heracles must suffer twelve labors in order to take his place on Olympus with the rest of the gods. And so the story of these labors unfolds and we, as readers, are brought along on one of the most exciting adventure stories ever known. Through it all, we are given a look into what drives both Heracles and Hera and we come to know and like them because of it. Hera is clearly not deserving of the bad rap she has received over the years; many people know her as the annoying shrew of a wife that always ruins Zeus’ fun and goes around torturing mortal women who look at her husband the wrong way. In this book we see her as a woman who stands up to the boneheaded men in her life and lets them know how she truly feels; a model for strong women if I’ve ever seen one. Heracles too, is portrayed as more than the brainless muscle man that much of history has come to see him as. Here, we see a tormented soul who struggles to do the best with the cards he’s been dealt. We understand his heroic nature all the better and cheer for him when he gets rewarded.
One of the most subtle aspects to this book is O’Connor’s art. While not outwardly striking in terms of detail or finesse- it has a certain unfinished quality to it- it is brilliant in how it portrays characters. I particularly like that O’Connor chose not to draw Heracles as a shining “Golden Boy,” like Brad Pitt in Troy. No, this hero’s face slowly becomes more and more worn as he suffers along his arduous path, and we feel his pain through watching him. Similarly, we see Hera’s character subtly displayed through simple changes, most notably her hair. When it’s up she looks very much like the stern, cold figure she wants everyone to see her as; when she lets it down, we see her as the symbol for femininity that she is and understand her as a woman with many layers.
The Olympians series by George O’Connor on the whole is an excellent introduction to Greek Mythology. In addition to the main stories, the author stuffs his books with fact sheets about the characters, recommended further readings, and all sorts of notes and other odds and ends that make the books a well-rounded experience. Readers can rifle through them for hours and not get bored.
To dive in yourself, come check out Hera or one of the other three titles available and get ready for an adventure story that you won’t easily forget.