AVAILABLE IN HARDBACK // REVIEW BY PHOEBE BUSH
Herc is the latest in our current spike of Greek mythology retellings, but instead of avenging mythological misogyny or justifying ancient war crimes, this story takes on a whole different tone and angle – plus a whole new Hercules.
This, like some other mythological retellings, is the chronological tale of a character from birth to death. The big difference begins with tone, for though we start with Hercules’ birth and the characters surrounding it, the reader will instantly realise that these insightful snippets are written in an almost interview-like style. This creates a rich tapestry of voices and characters, all whilst running the risk of sounding too colloquial – e.g. how can I take a mythological character seriously, when they keep saying ‘holy cow’? The second tonal quirk is the humour and wit. Parts of this book, for all intents and portents, could be read as comedy – a fact that I did not accept until I finally turned the last page.
Yet, for all of my uncertainty, it made the reading experience feel original and current, something that it continued via the scrutiny of so-called ‘heroic feats’ and the madness of Hercules, alongside its impact on countless innocent young men, women, and children. This is further enriched by fragments: letters, documents, announcements, which almost make it feel like a court case: was Hercules just damned by the Gods or was he to blame for his own fate?
It is ultimately the reader who decides.
There is also a clever blending of mythological stories and characters, including Apollo, Theseus, and Jason. However, I did feel like the author was trying to catch a galaxy in a jar and fling in extra myth knowledge, for the sake of it.
It is this, amidst its other strengths, that caused this book to have a few Herculean letdowns. Due to cramming so many mythological references and plotlines into one place, the book had an episodic and over-written feel. Within these episodes, serious topics would also jostle for place and often be undermined by humorous quips – especially the ‘Fifty’ chapter – because a combination of the blasé interview-style and modern language made it seem like this book was incapable of being serious, even when it needed to be.
Overall, despite being let down by tools meant to elevate it, Herc is a book that shall appease both lovers of Hercules and haters of Hercules, all whilst painting a picture of a man inflated by greatness and usurped by his own wrongs.
3.5 / 5
Herc / By Phoenicia Rogerson / 416 pp. / HQ / £14.99 Hardback