For the fourth book of the Olympians series from :01 Books, George O’Connor cheats. He admits in the author’s note that Hades “is not an Olympian.” By definition, the Olympians were the gods seated on thrones of Olympus, while Hades himself resides in the Underworld, which even comes to share his name. The book does feature a true Olympian, Hades’ sister Demeter, but O’Connor suggests “Hades: Lord of the Dead” is more exciting than a book entitled “Demeter: Goddess of the Harvest.”
The book opens with a description of the ancient Greek understanding of the afterlife. Hermes in one of his forms transports the dead spirit to the River Styx, the gateway into the Underworld. There, many spirits wait for Charon, the ferryman. If a spirit does not carry a coin (placed in the mouth of the departed during burial rites), they have to wait one hundred years. The other side of the Styx is further packed with the spirits, including Medusa (referencing Athena) and Heracles’s mortal half (from Hera). These spirits stand for eternity, waiting for the end of time.
The story opens with the gods above in a time when they walked among the mortals. Demeter is among the most popular of the gods, generously giving agriculture to the humans after Gaia, the earth, was so damaged by the war with the Titans that it must be cultivated to produce. Demeter is protective of humans’ welfare, but far more protective of her daughter, Kore, to the point Kore resents her. After a fight, Demeter angrily leaves Kore picking flowers with her friends. Storm clouds gather, and Kore disappears.
The remainder of the book shows the burgeoning relationship between Kore (who takes on the name Perserphone) and her new husband, Hades. While Hades clearly began the relationship in the wrong by kidnapping, he proves to be loving and even romantic beyond his morose shell. Meanwhile, Demeter sinks into depression after searching the whole earth for her lost Kore, creating winter. Hades is eventually found out, but the myth takes a new perspective from O’Connor. Persephone actually loves the majestic, if gloomy, Underworld as Hades’s wife, but also loves her mother, so she divides the year between the two realms, bringing rebirth every spring.
The book concludes with a new vision of the afterlife that ties in the rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries, named for the field where Kore was taken. Reincarnation is incorporated, giving mortals more than one chance to reach the paradise of the Elysian Fields. Of course, there is always the issue of being condemned to Tartaros for acts reprehensible to the gods, such as Tantalos, who murdered and cooked his own son and is now forever cursed stand in water yet never quench his thirst.
Hades is an excellent story with a strong setting. It gives an educational look at Greek mythology pertaining to the afterlife as well as showing what can be shown of one of the most mysterious of the gods, intertwining his most famous story with Demeter. O’Connor’s characters are fresh and rich, interacting in a new look at an age-old plot that links back to the other books flawlessly.
Five out of Five Stars