Hades carries the burden of his realm alone. The weight of it is a physical pain that he must suffer in isolation and, in doing so, he has withdrawn from the world around him. Hades exists, but does not live and has suffered so long, he does not know how to do anything else. And then a beautiful young man arrives, seeking shelter from family troubles. Hades can’t imagine how Seph, who is tied to the earth and derives joy from creating life, will ever be happy in a realm where only death seems to thrive. However, Seph defies expectation and blooms in the gloom and, in doing so, begins to bring Hades out of his shell. Seph’s mother is determined to bring her reluctant child back to her side, though, and she’s willing to punish the mortal world until Seph acquiesces.
By Pain of Death is a short story that packs a big punch. It’s a re-telling of the classic Greek myth that shows the struggle and reward of finding salvation in the darkest of places. I will say that it’s a decidedly gentler version of the Hades/Persephone mythos and tends to be somewhat light on plot.
In By Pain of Death, Hades suffers intense, physical pain as a result of his work with the dead. His pain is palpable and agonizing and the author does a great job demonstrating how much the pain weighs on him without actually breaking him. Seph is a balm and offers succor without stripping Hades of his self worth and autonomy. Despite the shortened nature of this story, Hades’ realm is given depth and reads as an intensely real place, a world unique to Hades and, in some ways, reflective of his suffering.
It’s safe to say that By Pain of Death follows the myth of Hades/Persephone in name only. Aside from using the deities’ names and some vague references to Demeter’s wrath, the plot goes its own way. And while enjoyable, I wouldn’t say there’s much of an actual story here. Most of the focus is on Hades and his pain and, while that is well done, it does tend to overshadow everything else. That isn’t to say the exploration of Hades’ suffering isn’t needed, far from it. Rather, I wish the rest of the plot had been elevated so the story had better balance and a more clear purpose. Given all that was done within the confines of a few short pages, I felt the plot could have been sharpened more.
By Pain of Death is beautifully written and renders its characters with grace. The subject of chronic pain is explored with understanding and sympathy, without becoming a work of melodrama. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a plot beyond this and despite using a myth as an outline, it isn’t really incorporated to good use. I still think this short story would appeal to most and what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in quality.