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Mythadapted: Quicksilver by Stephanie Spinner

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(My name isn’t really Aliza – I just bought this book used off Amazon. If you’re out there, Aliza, thanks for your contribution to my love of all things messenger god!)

Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is not a book about the character which seems to have amassed such a loyal fanbase, even with various incarnations, in the MCU.

But, to give you a brand new bubble, this is a book about Hermes! The best Greek god ever, except maybe Dionysus!

“You have a real talent for mischief,” he told me as I stood before him in my swaddling clothes. “I can use someone like you.”
So he made me his messenger.

I suppose I should stick to mostly newer books, just to stay relevant – Quicksilver was published in 2005 – but, at least for this opening experience, I wanted to review an old favorite of mine. I’ll find something more current for Wednesday after next.

It’s hard to find some fictional love for Hermes. He was written to beautiful effect by Kendare Blake in her Antigoddess series. He had a few brief appearances in Percy Jackson, and I know – from IMDb, not from personal experience – that he was played by Nathan Fillion in the second PJ movie. There was that unflattering cameo in the Disney Hercules movie.

But, like I said, this book is about Hermes. It’s about Hermes during a few classic myths, about Hermes during the Trojan War, about Hermes in the wake of the war. It’s an attempt to give Hermes a fully rounded personality, even some character growth. And I think, by large, it succeeds.

It’s a quick book to read – 216 very small pages – but the flitting, glancing style suits both the character, the subject matter, and the adaption material. After all, myths are brief, and Hermes, as he often reminds us, is very fast. The combination of styles is intriguing and keeps the pages turning; it’s like a character study in mythological form. It teases us with deeper, more thorough understanding of Hermes and the gods and mortals around him, but the action moves so quickly that the tease is, usually, all we get. This might not be everyone’s ideal, but there are worse ways to write a myth, and Spinner’s simple but often lyrical prose helps the story spiral on.

“Well, then, hurry home! But first give me my sandals.” He removed them quickly. “And the head,” I added, for he still held it. Eyes downcast, he coaxed the snakes off his wrists and worked the head into the leather pouch. When it was covered safely, he raised it to his heart, as a priest does with sacred libations. 

The book is separated into several parts, most dealing with one or two myths in which Hermes was involved. Since Hermes didn’t have much to do with many popular myths beside his own birth, Hermes is often relegated to an invisible observer, through his Cap of Invisibility. Instead of involving him directly in, say, the Judgment of Paris, Spinner just reports the event through Hermes’s eyes. She makes the stories interesting, of course – the Judgment of Paris was probably my favorite, due to rigid Athena trying to seduce Paris while Aphrodite dances naked in the background – but it does reduce the whole Hermes Appeal, since he’s often not even mentioned.

But the portions of story devoted solely to Hermes’s personal journey make up for the diversions. Spinner keeps several character-arc threads in play, leading them out with a skilled, even hand: Hermes’s discomfort with killing, his failed attempts at romance, his relationship with Zeus, his sometime job as Psychopomp. The real fun and emotion of the story is during these Hermes Only bits, hearing his reactions to the rest of the gods and to the heroes he meets. His distaste for war and violence was especially well done, and I have to commend Spinner for making me buy, even for a second, that a Greek god was capable of a distaste for violence. She brings in a bit of mythological backstory to explain Hermes’s current character arc, making his character growth sympathetic in all the best ways.

“I know you want to keep your distance from the war, and I respect that. But won’t you help just this once?” His knowing blue eyes held mine. “It’s gotten really ugly.”
I see the dead every day, I thought.

Quicksilver isn’t a perfect book. There are some slip-ups, a few brief discomforts in the romance category, and a spot or two where I really wish there could have been more, just to smooth some transitions or attitudes. But it’s one of my favorite mythological adaptations, with the bones and strength of the original material as well as a heart for something fresh, new, and free – an ideal combination.

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