George O’Connor explores the deeper side of the god of war in Ares from First Second Books. Through his Olympians series, O’Connor has taken the major gods from Greek mythology and explored them in depth, weaving together popular tales with fragments of stories long lost. Ares is the seventh book, having passed the midpoint and into the new generation of gods descended from Zeus and his brethren, themselves having come to power in a war against the Titans.
Ares focuses on the most famous of all ancient conflicts: the Trojan War. In the opening description of the book, something of a poetic preface, Ares charges through a battle slaughtering men as easily as a reaper harvests a field. The description is to the point of terrifying, “To climb atop a pile of your enemies, to hold out your arms soaked in gore—and laugh. And Rejoice. And want more. That… is Ares.” Around the god of war, his ghostly sons Deimos and Phobos encourage fear and panic, while Eris, goddess of discord, rides at his side.
The Trojan War began thanks to Eris’s sowing of chaotic seeds in Aphrodite, saying her golden apple was a gift for the most beautiful goddess. Aphrodite wins the prize by bribing Paris the judge with the love of Helen, even if she is already married to Menelaos, king of Sparta. Ten years later, thousands of Greeks and Trojans lay dead while the Greeks shiver on the shore besieging Troy and the Trojans struggle behind their walls. Ares’s own son Askalaphos is there, although Ares does not seem to care for him or anything but the bloodshed.
There have been any number of versions of the Trojan War, and all of them treat the gods a little differently. The film Troy cut them out completely, Shanower’s Age of Bronze gives only hints of the supernatural, and Homer’s Iliad shows how they work behind the scenes. In Ares, O’Connor presents the reader with a Trojan War completely from the perspective of the gods, where humans are something like playthings, often obnoxious. While the other gods bicker and in-fighting tosses aside Zeus’s order not to interfere, Ares thrills in the violence only to be humiliated by Athena’s guile.
Beyond the mortals, this war divides the gods themselves into combat. Ares and Athena rematch, but perhaps the most jaw-dropping is Hephaistos’s rescue of Achilles from the river-god Scamander. As a living element of fire, the Olympian god marches unstoppable against the torrent as Scamander begs for peace. Yet there is no peace while the gods still tinker, but the act of Achilles defiling Hektor’s body is enough to disgust the gods and end their interest. In a montage-summary of the fall of Troy, the gods wander away one after the next, leaving Ares and his father, Zeus. We are left with a fascinating comparison of the insatiable hunger of war beside the insatiable lust for power.
Ares is another great addition to O’Connor’s Olympians series. Readers who are familiar with the story of the Trojan War will find a new perspective, while those who are just getting into Greek myth will enjoy the epic tale. O’Connor’s “Greek Notes” at the end give panel-by-panel bonus information that fills in gaps for those who may not know the trick of the Trojan horse and shows the expansiveness of the war, including Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, and the death of King Priam by the hand of Neoptolemnos, son of Achilles. They are just images in the corners of pages, just skimmed as they are simple mortals before the gods.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1626720134]