Hermes by George O’Connor

HERMESHermes (2018) is the tenth book in George O’Connor’s stellar illustrated Greek gods series, and really, at this point there’s little to say that every household, especially but not exclusively, those with children, should have these books on the shelf and just automatically add them as O’Connor comes up with them. They’re just that good.

This one opens with a former slave and his dog traveling the countryside until they stop at a cottage where a many-eyed figure is the watchman over a very fine cow tethered outside. In exchange for some food and wine, the traveler offers to tell the watchman some stories, all of which, as one might imagine from the title, deal with Hermes. Logically enough, they begin with his birth and then his first act as an infant—stealing Apollo’s cattle. Apollo tries to convince the other Olympians that this newborn is a menace, but little Hermes charms even Hera (“I should be angry” she thinks, but finds it impossible) and so he’s granted his place on Mt. Olympus. Various other Hermes-centered tales follow, as well as a run-down of all the things he is “god of,” such as thieves, athletics, guard dogs, and many more. As is typical of the series, O’Connor broadens the focus beyond the titular god, and so we get an adventure or two from Pan (Hermes’ son), a decent-sized interlude of the battle against Typhon (Hermes comes in mostly just at the end), and a host of references to other myths, such as the story of Io, dog-headed men, and more. The stories are concise and quick-paced, and the tone, perhaps more than in the others thanks to the nature of Hermes, is more sardonic/modern pop-like than a few of the others. I admit now and then the language pulled me a little out, but that’s a minor complaint.

After the narrative, we get the usual backmatter of the series: a glossary, a quick-notes page on a few individuals from the narrative, a bibliography/for further reading section, a few discussion questions, and the always-fascinating author notes, which serve to personalize the voice behind the stories and to offer up some interesting details, such as how several of the illustrations are based off of famous statues of Hermes. As for the illustration, it’s highly adaptable to the context of the story, employing light and pastel to mirror/create one kind of mood and handily switching to darker, more jagged images for scenes such as the battle with Typhon. There’s never any confusion in terms of what is being depicted and space is effectively employed to enhance action. Hermes is just one more excellent entry in a top-notch series and one I can’t recommend enough for homes and libraries (any school librarian who doesn’t have these on the shelves should be charged with negligence).

Publication date: January 30, 2018. The New York Times bestselling series continues as author/artist George O’Connor focuses on Hermes, the trickster god in Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster.