Oh my Zeus! Is that a Greek god in that book?!
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
But hey, I loved the books! (Also, I’d rather review The Son of Neptune than clean my room.)
On the off chance that nobody here has read (or heard of) the Percy Jackson series, here’s a brief overview: ancient Greek gods and goddesses are real, and they never disappeared–they’ve followed the rise of Western culture and currently reside on Mt. Olympus over the Empire State Building. Percy Jackson–main character, obviously–discovers he’s a “hero” or Greek “demigod”, a half-mortal, and his father is Poseidon, which turns out to be problematic. After a brief time at Camp Half Blood, he and his new friends are off on a quest full of mythical beasts, minor deities, and worldwide catastrophe. It’s rollicking good fun, incredibly smart, and impressively accurate on the ancient history/mythology level. Alas, after five books, the series was done.
But wait! There’s more!
Enter Jason, Piper, and Leo in Riordan’s newest series called Heroes of Olympus, book one. Assume that it’s just as impressive and entertaining as the Percy Jackson series (of the same world and many overlap characters), and then skip ahead to book two, The Son of Neptune. What do you get? More awesome.
Percy, it turns out, has lost his memory. Somehow he’s ended up on the run from the Gorgon sisters–who are very insistent that he try today’s free food sample from aisle 6–when he stumbles on a goddess and a camp full of, you guessed it, half bloods. Camp Jupiter is the home of Roman demigods, and though suspicious of this outsider with brutish, Greek-like customs, they let him in. Though Percy doesn’t remember Camp Half Blood, let alone his own friends or family, he can’t help but feel that he’s from someplace very similar… yet different. (Short interruption: here Riordan does a great job of both including and distinctly specifying both Greek and Roman culture. Try doing that with a blackboard, let alone in an adventure novel!) Eventually, as it happens with demigods, he and a small crew are assigned a quest to save Thanatos, the personification of death, who is held captive somewhere in Alaska. (Because he’s missing, nobody and no monsters are staying dead the way they ought to–balance is out of wack, ancient giants are amassing armies, important quest, yada yada.) I won’t ruin the adventures for you, though to be honest, even if I did you’d still want to read them. They’re that fun.
Rick Riordan has done for ancient mythologies what Anne Rinaldi did for American history, Lewis Carrol did for linguistic creativity, and J. K. Rowling did for fake Latin. (Just kidding, J.K. I love me some Harry Potter!) The point is, he brought those mythologies into everyday life, beyond school curriculum and heavy textbooks. Kids are devouring the stuff; we even had middle-schoolers asking for Edith Hamilton’s Mythologies in our store, normally considered a college-level course book. And not only has he brought Greek and Roman history into today’s pop-culture-obsessed frenzy, but he’s done the same with Egyptian mythology and history in another fantasy adventure series called The Kane Chronicles. All of his books deal with not only with history and action but also with poverty and economic diversity, loss, love, “good and evil”, education, race, and even learning disabilities (all heroes have ADHD and dyslexia as they’re hard-wired to read Latin and fight battles). Riordan somehow does it all without beating kids over the head with lessons, and my best guess is he’s successful because he writes life into his stories, not morals. Readers I talk to enjoy those parts almost as much as the epic battles and hilarious misunderstandings.
One of the things I greatly respect about Riordan is his treatment of death. Mortality is a substantial thread throughout Riordan’s books, imbedded as they are in the gods and goddesses of empires past. Yes, these are adventure books with battles, weapons, and serious carnage. But the ones who die are, for the most part, mythical monsters who always regroup, soul-less beings (entertainingly personified) that cannot suffer a final fate. Whenever a human dies–which is a rare occurrence, despite the characters’ willingness to spring into battle clutching only an enchilada or whatever else is at hand (resourcefulness!)–the death is treated with great care and seriousness, and it is emotional for both the characters in the book and the readers. Often, it’s true, heroes fear their own death, focusing on it in a realistic (not macabre) way because of the constant dangers they face. When it comes to actual death, though, the count is fairly low, and each remaining person feels the weight of each loss, whether the character was loved, hated, or just a normal, mixed up kid like most of us in the real world. In addition, every death echoes in future stories, felt by characters and fans alike as they remind themselves of the importance and danger of every magical encounter and every dangerous mission or quest. It is felt keenly, both in the moment and in future moments, and is not easily forgotten or taken for granted. Riordan handles death honestly , prodding gently but openly at the hurt so his readers, through is characters, can learn about and come to terms with loss. That quality in writing can be a hard thing to find, let alone in a series that goes on to inspire a Box Office Hollywood film (Percy Jackson).
In conclusion, read Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and The Kane Chronicles. Heck, read anything if you enjoy it, but I recommend those, and yes, I have read them all. They’re worth your time and are a riot of an adventure, each and every one. If you or your kids enjoyed Harry Potter, this is a great choice–that fantasy adventure combo with the punch-in-the-gut humor that makes childrens’ literature so darn fun.
Book three in the Heroes of Olympus series, The Mark of Athena, is due in Fall 2012, and book three in the Kane Chronicles, The Serpents Shadow, is set to be published May, 1, 2012 (with a survival guide out in March).
Published October 2011
Available as an eBook
Images from www.rickriordan.com
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