The Arms of Hercules is the third book in Fred Saberhagen’s Book of the Gods series, and it differs slightly from the previous two, in that it is more of a first person narrative. Much to the amusement of my editor and friends, I have had a little difficulty with this review. As I read the book, it seemed that the voice relating the tales of this incredibly strong son of Zeus was actually that of Kevin Sorbo. Okay, maybe I do watch too much television, or perhaps it is just that there was so much hype surrounding Hercules and Xena. Either way, this is the voice that told the tale.
Fred’s Hercules is very different from the character Kevin Sorbo portrayed. This Hercules is younger, and of a much more average build. He is nothing more than a teen when he is sent with his cousin to herd sheep and his adventures begin. Being the son of an almost completely omnipotent father and a human mother has got to play havoc with one’s body and mind, but Hercules seems to deal with it better than most human boys would. He is logical and tries to reason out his emotions where his lineage is concerned, and does quite well.
As is to be expected when there is any tale concerning the legendary Hercules, there are a number of monsters and giants, and other sundry opponents he must face. Killing is not something Hercules really enjoys, though, and he would also prefer to remain cloaked in anonymity while his cousin basks in the glory.
This is a subject that has been done to death. However, Fred manages to breathe just enough new life into it that I wasn’t bored. I knew what was to come to a certain extent, but there were a few changes of drastic import which added to the adventure. And of course the god faces, translucent half-masks that imbue the human avatar with that particular god’s attributes, are very prominent.
Hercules is mortal, and has no need of one of the god faces; however, there is now talk between Daedalus and Haphaestus of attempting to make one. During the course of this story Hercules is brought together with his father, Zeus, and the rest of the immortals as they battle for their very existence against an ancient foe. Not exactly the father-son time Hercules wanted, but he will still take what he can get.
I recommend reading this novel, as well as the previous two, The Face of Apollo and Ariadne’s Web. It is a delightful journey through classic literature made even more interesting by Fred’s prodigious imagination and writing skills.
Fred Saberhagen’s official website is here.