The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Curse of the Titan, The Battle of the Labyrinth, & The Last Olympian
By: Rick Riordan
Date Finished: 08.09.13
“You deal with mythological stuff for a few years, you learn that paradises are usually the places where you get killed.” (The Battle of the Labyrinth)
“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping along behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”
(The Last Olympian)
Percy Jackson isn’t a bad kid, but a combination of dyslexia, ADHD, and apparent bad luck has resulted in him getting kicked out of every school he’s attended. His main goal is to survive sixth grade without getting ejected, but after an attempt on his life by a teacher that no one seems to recognize, he becomes understandably distracted. The strangeness keeps increasing as Percy’s best friend manages to bring him to Camp Half-Blood, a summer training camp for demigods. Percy finds out the Greek gods still exist, having followed Western civilization to New York City, and still do what they’ve always done — have affairs with mortals and produce a bunch of half-god offspring they can barely keep track of. Not only did the gods survive, but the same monsters reappear to wreck new havoc. As the son of a god, Percy is pulled into this world of gods and monsters that is invisible to mortals. And it seems that trouble is stirring for Olympus with Percy, as usual, unintentionally in the middle of it.
This series is characterized by a beautiful sarcasm and self-awareness of the absurdity of the situations. Especially in the beginning, Percy (and his friends) tend to win battles by sheer dumb luck and tenacity. Their skills increase as the books progress and the challenges become more difficult, but Percy retains a endearing kind of cluelessness. The amazing thing about this series is that even though Percy is the main character/first person narrator, it’s not really The Percy Show. All the characters make unique contributions to the story and there are plenty of battles Percy would have lost without his friends. There are a number of climactic and decisive victories that belong to other characters, even ones who are generally painted in a bad light. It is refreshing to find a series that spreads the wealth so well.
Let’s talk about other things Rick Riordan does extremely right:
1) Each book features a different group of questers. While there is a distinct trio of heroes, they are often separated. Many times, there are rivalries among traveling companions, adding another layer of difficulty to the quest and increased curiosity in how things will develop. Each book therefore explores a distinctly different dynamic and prevents the series from becoming repetitive.
2) Modernization of the Greek myths. It’s possible to enjoy these books with only a minimal knowledge of the myths, although there is extra delight for those that recognize the stories. There were a number of characters/scenarios that I wasn’t familiar with, but my ignorance didn’t hinder my understanding of the books. And with the myths I knew well, it was thrilling to see how they were translated into the world we live in. Riordan did an excellent job explaining his allusions in a way that was easy to understand, but didn’t inhibit the plot.
3) Chapter titles and similarly wry humor. The first chapter of The Lightning Thief is called “In Which I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher.” And they only get better. Some of my favorites are “Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death,” “Everybody Hates Me but the Horse,” and “The Underworld Sends Me a Prank Call.” (Okay, really I could go on forever). Even in the midst of very real danger, Percy reacts with an undercutting humor that matches the brilliance of the chapter titles. Take for example the first line of The Last Olympian: “The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the roof of my car.” Lines like this are the rule, not the exception and keep the books from getting too heavy while the events become increasingly darker.
At the end of the day: Practically perfect in every way.
(In case anyone noticed, I only counted this as four books because I had previously read The Lightning Thief. Let it be known that there is logic in my miscalculation.)