After taking a gander at other reviews, I realize I may have wandered into the wrong part of the playground. I hereby promise to use no hearts or exclamation points when reviewing this book.
Super-quick synopsis: amnesiac demigod Percy is fleeing the Gorgons from Bargain-Mart when he discovers a camp for Roman demigods. He is adopted by misfits Hazel, daughter of Pluto, and Frank, of the unknown father, into their Legion cohort. Camp politics occur, a quest is given, and the three set-off to the “land beyond the gods,” Alaska (and don’t you just wonder what Riordan was insinuating there??). Along the way they encounter antagonistic wild grain (as opposed to ), R.O.F.L. (“Rainbow Organic Foods and Lifestyles“), Phineas and the harpies, the Amazons who run Amazon (and how Riordan slipped that one past Legal, I’ll never know), and a horse with a penchant for swearing (“‘Dude,’ Percy told the horse, ‘I’ve gotten suspended for saying less than that'”). Character growth ensues.
Overall, a fun and quick read that improves significantly once the heroes leave on their quest. I give Riordan credit for integrating so much information about Roman culture in a mostly natural way, through the device of Percy experiencing the camp for the first time. A number of flashbacks for both Hazel, the female lead, and Frank, the other male lead, don’t encourage forward plot motion. Although I can’t say I like it, Riordan doesn’t pull punches on selfish behavior, and I admire the way the teens in the book can be as self-interested, manipulative and as driven as adults.
The main reasons I continue to read this series is its focus on mythology and the swiftly moving plot. I found myths to be integrated well, in an entirely different way from the first book. I appreciate having my memory jogged about Roman mythology, and it was interesting when Jason has a bit of a meltdown realizing that the benevolence of certain beings like fauns, centaurs and cyclops is different depending on your mythological background. Luckily, Isis has some green tea to fix him right up.
One criticism is that I was a little annoyed that the female lead is being set up with a shameful secret again–can we forget the duplicitous female as a character option? I guess because we are talking Greek and Roman here, maybe not, as their favorite goddesses seemed to be the virginal ones like Athena and Artemis. I suppose the male, Frank, has a shameful secret, but his shame has more to do with self-esteem than with morality. Still, it leads me to wonder if shame/embarrassment is used overmuch as a characterization tool. Only our lead ‘heroes’ in his books, Jason and Percy, are without shameful pasts (that they know).
Character award goes to Ella, book-loving but vocabulary-challenged, in the best harpy appearance ever. She should get together with the wyvern from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: “Now she was resting comfortably in the stern, nibbling bits of jerky and reciting random lines from Charles Dickens and 50 Tricks to Teach Your Dog.”
Lots of humorous lines, only occasionally at the possible expense of story, “‘You seem to be clean,’ Terminus decided. ‘Do you have anything to declare?’ ‘Yes,’ Percy said. ‘I declare this is stupid.'”
The scene meeting Isis, the rainbow goddess, was priceless, and done well enough to avoid being a farce. She touched on all those things young conforming teens hate most–glueten-free foods, tea, non-aggression, and man-satchels. But she was allowed a very nice speech about self-definition:
“I’ve been reading about Buddhism. And Taoism. I haven’t decided between them.”
“But…” Hazel looked mystified. “Aren’t you a ?”
Iris crossed her arms. “Don’t try to put me in a box, demigod. I’m not defined by my past.”
Overall, enjoyable. Like classic Muppets, Riordan integrates enough references to keep adults entertained. Nice balance of humor and seriousness, examining issues of identity and belonging. Three and a half stars.