Fantasy Adventure

Percy Jackson and the Olympians    by Rick Riordan

Disney-Hyperion Books  ....   reviewed by David P. Stern

#1 "The Lightning Thief"
#2 "The Sea of Monsters"
#3 "The Titan's Curse"
#4 The Battle of the Labyrinth
#5 The Last Olympian

    After members of your family of all ages have enjoyed the "Harry Potter " series in print and on screen, what comes next? Perhaps Rick Riordan's series "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," five books a bit over 300 pages each. They are not about sports, silly! Rather, they present a fantasy tale of the immortal gods of ancient Greece, all of whom are apparently alive and well in our own time. Olympus, home of the gods, is now hovering unseen above the Empire State Building in Manhattan, after moving throughout history from one center of world power to the next. It can be reached by pressing a special elevator button for floor 600. The entry to Hades is in Los Angeles and the Labyrinth, hugely grown, stretches beneath the surface of the USA, though Riordan also suggests its demise.

    In many ways, "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" remind one of the Harry Potter books. Percy is a New York kid and a half-blood, offspring of an Olympian god and a human mother (a remarkable lady hiding in the guise of an ordinary New Yorker). While Potter's story has seven segments, each corresponding to a year at the wizard academy "Hogwarts", Percy's covers five seasons (age 12 to 16) at "Camp Half-Blood," established to educate and protect the numerous offspring of unions between gods and mortals. For the rest of the year these youngsters are relatively safe at distant boarding schools, but in the summers (and one winter too), monsters of Greek mythology emerge to kill or eat them, forcing a retreat to the camp on the northern shore of Long Island, protected and ruled by alcoholic Dionysius. Our befogged minds might not see those monsters, but to Percy and his peers they are a constant menace.

    Before picking up this book be well-advised to have at least some familiarity with ancient Greek mythology (a good sourcebook is "Mythology" by Edith Hamilton). Indeed, one wonders if the author had started with an enormous to-do list of mythical Greek gods, heroes and stories, crossing them off as they appeared! You will meet here Centaurs, Cyclops, Pegasus (and plural pegasi), Prometheus, Kronos, the Minotaur (and his dad, evil King Minos), Circe, Satyrs, Titans, the Oracle and of course, all those gods. As if the list were not ample enough, the author adds Luke the ambitious camp counselor, Tyson the young and childish Cylops, Annabeth the daughter of Pallas Athena and a California professor, Zoe Nightshade the huntress of Artemis, Bianca and Nico di Angelo children of Hades, Mrs. O'Leary the friendly hellhound, and so forth. Anachronisms abound - the land of the Lotus eaters is now a hotel in Las Vegas, a rowdy club of Centaurs exists in Miami, the traps of the Odyssey are transplanted to the Bermuda Triangle, inventive Daedalus uses laptop computers, and more.

    The Olympians are truly immortal. They may be hacked to pieces, or else their bodies turn to dust after a fatal blow from a weapon of celestial bronze, but they never die. Gradually their particles reassemble, even if it takes a long time. By the way, celestial bronze can't harm humans, no more than iron can harm ghostly figures of myth.

    These books are meant for young readers, but grown-ups will also love them. Where Harry Potter's world is quintessentially British and (somewhat) orderly, like popular classical music, Percy Jackson's adventures are more like Heavy Metal rock, born in the USA (where the action takes place) with madcap action, violence and preposterous miracles. That may appeal more to boys, also to tomboys, a fair number of which carry a significant part of the plot, especially Annabeth. If Percy is a look-alike of Harry Potter, Annabeth, whose dad studies military history and flies a Sopwith Camel, is a match for Hermione Granger.

    The first book, "The Lightning Thief," introduces Percy and some other major figures of the story, though like the Potter series, each book here brings new faces. Read it first, it sets the scene. Percy is sent to Camp Half-Blood and begins a summer of non-stop adventure, evading both monsters and unreliable friends while straining to recover the fearful lightning bolt of Zeus, before the world suffers divine destruction. Not an easy task, especially for Percy who finds himself unjustly branded as the prime suspect. The next three volumes make some sense even if read out of order, e.g. when one finds some out on loan at the local library (still, they are best read in order), and the last describes the climactic adventure, with everything at stake.

    An adult reader will find here an easy read and fast paced fantasy, a mad rush through a magic world. Percy Jackson may be just right for someone marking time on a long flight, in a hospital bed, on the beach or during a long lazy weekend. Be warned that the magic here may be addictive--once you start reading, it is hard to stop!

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol) .

Last updated 29 March 2011