Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt by George O’Connor and published by First Second Books is the ninth addition to the bold Olympians series telling the tales of the Greek pantheon. It has been a long journey since the overthrow of the Titans portrayed in Zeus, and now the stories are well into those of the next generation of gods. Following the previous book about her twin brother Apollo, Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt, begins with an echo of the description of their birth. Whereas Apollo’s delivery on the flooded island of Delos required nine days of labor, Artemis was born in an instant and, still an infant, helped her mother as midwife.
Like Poseidon, Artemis is a mysterious deity, filled with compassion, service, and bounty at one moment and then outright overkill the next. O’Connor writes that his favorite thing is “the little gap in kid Artemis’s teeth,” as Artemis springs into the lap of Zeus, her father and king of the gods. She eagerly requests golden tools for the hunt, handmaidens and a hunting party full of dogs, and to never marry or have to have children. Artemis is perpetual energy and athletic youth, choosing to never be slowed down by motherhood or romantic entanglements.
Yet there are plenty of would-be suitors to Artemis, including Otus, one of the sons of Poseidon, who, along with his brother, Ephialtes, attempt to storm Olympus each year to overthrow Zeus. Their story had been hinted at before, and now readers see the full details of the trouble as Gaia has blessed the two upstarts to become stronger each year and never to be slain, except by each other. O’Conner is clever in his dialogue, showing Hephaestus’s engineering, Athena’s logic, and Artemis’s speediness into action as the Olympians discuss how to deal with the problem. Perhaps the best lines of the series so far come as Zeus looks to Poseidon to suggest, “You should really stop having kids,” to which Poseidon gives a sideways glance and says, “Look who’s talking.”
Otus is not the only suitor dealt with by Artemis. A good portion of the book follows Orion, the famed hunter from the constellation. Miraculously born from a sacrificed bear by “mictrurated” blessings from Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes, Orion travels the world hunting creatures from the rhinoceros to the manticore with such skill that he is invited to join Artemis’s entourage. Kinship blossoms, but Orion wants more.
Artemis tries to explain herself, recalling the story of a mortal huntress, Atalanta, whose desire to remain single was respected by Meleager as a comrade in their hunt for the giant Calydonian boar. Orion retorts that even Atalanta was wed after losing a footrace, being tricked by golden apples from Aphrodite. Artemis is disgusted in Orion’s approval of trickery, and so Orion sets out on a quest of vengeance to hunt every animal in the world to extinction and thus eliminate Artemis’s domain.
The tale is a tragic one: a friendship demolished due to a lack of respect of the goddess’s wishes. Orion’s overstep is nothing compared to the infamous Actaeon, perhaps literature’s first peeping tom, who met with a violent end for sneaking up on Artemis’s bath. As O’Connor skillfully shows, Artemis is a tough goddess in every sense of the word.