Medusa, hydras, cyclops, Hercules, winged shoes, magical trickery–what’s not to love about Greek myths? Being a mythology geek, I was naturally drawn to the ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians‘ series that focused on the modern demi-god children of the Olympian gods. While interesting conceptually and done well, it wasn’t particularly remarkable storytelling. Riordan‘s new series, however, looks to surpass the old, seizing the golden apple. It’s classic coming-of-age disguised as adventure novel, this time reaching out to include the Roman pantheon as well.
Briefest of summaries: Three teens are at a Wilderness Camp for miscreant youth when they are attacked by wind spirits. Their abrasive coach is carried away, and they make a near escape on a chariot pulled by Pegasii (plural for Pegasus?). Leo, a fiery Latino; Piper, a beautiful charmer of Native American and Hollywood heritage; and Jason, a guy with a magical sword and virtually no conscious memory of his life before that fatal day at camp; are taken to Camp Half-Blood, into a series of self-discoveries and a quest.
Spoilery part (how else do you expect me to remember these kind of details?):
[ They ride a mechanical dragon to the North wind (in Quebec, of course), end up sidetracked at Monocole Motors in Detroit, quickly head to the Windy City and go bargain basement hunting at Medea‘s, make a quick golden deal with Midas, confront Lycaon and his wolves, and visit a tv weather station in Colorado. ]
I enjoyed Riordan’s triumvirate narrative (I know, anyone who reads my reviews regularly is shocked to hear it) that gives back-story, character growth and plot development in large enough chunks to stay coherent. Narrative seamlessly flows from one teen to the next, even during action sequences. Integrated nicely are sparkling little flashes of humor, even as the teens land in challenging situations. Make no mistake, these are not wise-cracking detectives always ready with a quip; they are scared and desperate and grappling with serious issues of identity and family. Rather the humor comes from pop culture references (Coach’s megaphone alternates between Darth Vader and “the duck says ‘quack‘”), laughable imagery (the statue of Hippie Zeus, hallucinating dragon drivers), or the old standby, goat-humor (“Waitress! Six double espressos, and whatever these guys want. Put it on the girl’s tab.“). The satyr, a master of trash-talk, provides needed relief as tension is built toward the end of the story.
Two small complaints: one, while there is some sophistication of issues the teens are grappling with, I prefer my prose a little more purplish, capable of grappling with larger ideas and scenery. Word choice doesn’t feel entirely up to the challenge. Second, there’s the whiff of the stereotypical surrounding our heroes. Must the leader of Aphrodite’s cabin be a Mean Girl? There’s more along the Aphrodite line, mostly centering on looks and beauty, an emphasis on clothes and the ability to manipulate using charm. Likewise, Leo is given more of a ghetto-speak attitude that feels forced within the story, but he shines most when Riordan drops the pretense and he’s allowed to act without the dialogue.
Still, those are small points, and Riordan does well compensating, fleshing out the characters beyond the limited boundaries. Though characters tend towards stereotypical, they are given enough nuance to be palatable. If the female lead isn’t the physical hero in this book, the women characters can certainly said to be strong, particularly Leo’s mom. Villains are male and female alike. A note on character creation: by nature of one parent being a god, there are absent mothers and fathers everywhere in this book, and blame and angst is shared out equally, with both parents and gods representing the full range of humanity. No one is infallible, not even gods, and almost everyone is redeemable (except perhaps northern cyclopes), an appreciably humanistic theme in the modern YA book.
Overall, enjoyable characters, nice integration of Greek and Roman myths and fast-paced action. While I thought the original Jason more than a bit of an ass (the original Greek one), Riordan did a nice job re-inventing. I bought a copy for my reading-resistant nephew, and will be checking out the next book for myself.