Rick Riordan has begun his fifth series, The Trials of Apollo, a sequel to The Heroes of Olympus which is itself a sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. For those keeping score at home, this makes The Hidden Oracle, first in this series, the eleventh story to follow in Percy Jackson’s story in an easy chronological fashion (several side stories exist including The Demigod Files, The Demigod Diaries, and Demigods and Magicians, which are harder to place). Percy is not our hero this time, but he and his friends from The Heroes of Olympus—particularly Nico di Angelo, are perhaps more heroic than the hero—the god Apollo, punished by his father Zeus for the third time by being made a mortal. This time though his mortal body is young and scrawny and saggy and pimply. He is, as Apollo puts it, average.
We’ve met Apollo in his godly state on numerous occasions throughout Percy’s story. Interestingly, Apollo first appears in The Titan’s Curse, which is the book that introduces us to Nico too. There he is confident and boastful and full of really awful haikus.
When we last spoke to Apollo in The Blood of Olympus he and his twin sister Artemis were trapped on the island of Delos because it was the one place where they remained unaffected by the paralyzing confusion of being torn between their Greek and Roman personalities—a confusion that incapacitated most of the Olympians.
Flung into the garbage when he falls from Olympus, Apollo is promptly accosted by two bullies and rescued by a young girl clad in bright, mismatched clothes and spectacles. Meg at Apollo’s behest takes him to Manhattan, where we first meet up again with Percy Jackson and we learn that there is a new Blofis on the way. Riordan takes time in this book to create a reunion between the Heroes of Olympus and the readers, to check in on everyone by word of mouth or in the flesh. In some ways the attention given to old friends detracts from the new story. That may be reader error, but I looked forward to seeing them almost more than I did learning about whatever new danger awaited Apollo and Meg. That being said, Riordan does a good job working the old characters into the new plot—for the most part. That Percy needed to return to defeat the Colossus seemed a bit… I don’t know, pander-y. We can’t have a new expert fighter rising from the ranks of campers? Leo and Calypso I was happy to see and because they came only at the very end—after the action—it seemed less obtrusive—that, and I won’t mind a little Team Leo time in the coming books. I was going to be seriously upset if Nico was not involved in this story with his boyfriend, Apollo’s son Will, but while I got a few cute lines of banter, I didn’t get a lot of growth from their relationship; it sort of seems like Riordan skips to the part where they are comfortable and perfectly at ease with one another and the other campers with them—even though the very idea of coming out to just one modern demigod and one god of Love who already knew was making Nico leak death shadow not but two books ago (less than two months ago?).
Another reason I may have looked forward to the reunions more than the driving plot was because both protagonists of this book—Apollo and Meg—are kind of obnoxious in their own way—Meg I think mostly because she was never developed in a way that I found particularly compelling and Apollo because he is self-centered and narcissistic (that was far less annoying when it was a few pages of dialogue with other more honorable characters and Apollo had the godhood to back it up). Apollo’s voice—the whole book is of course first person narration by Apollo—is short and clipped and riddled with references to pop culture that will be dated soon or are dated now. I won’t say that those pop culture references did not make me laugh because they did because they are relevant now but it speaks to Riordan’s either lack of interest in creating a book with staying power or disregard for creating such a book. This book will I think feel like a time capsule in maybe even 5 years.
The true worth of this book comes at the end as the plot itself is really taking off and the quest such as it is (having stumbled their way to Greece, the action actually all takes place within the parameters of Camp Half-Blood—a first for Riordan) is beginning. Really I only felt like the book came to fruition when the villain appeared in the flesh. That climax I loved. I look forward to reading the resolution in coming books. The climax connects this book to the others and gives extra weight to past books—which I wasn’t really sure was possible. For that I like it. I like adding a more human element to the villainy I’ve already lived through, because fighting a god, well that’s the stuff of legends, but fighting a megalomaniac with too much power—that’s the kind of fight to which I can relate. Getting to the climax, to the quest—getting Apollo to move away from whining to heroism—that… dragged more than I wanted it too. I can’t say it was slow, because the tone doesn’t allow it to be slow, but there was just not much happening.
Overall, this is not Riordan’s greatest work—not for me. I wanted to like Apollo’s voice; I was excited for Apollo’s voice. I was glad to see the haikus as chapter titles because that has been the most memorable thing about Apollo in previous works. But this was just… too much narcissism. And after the depth to which Riordan plunged with The Heroes of Olympus, this whole book, like Apollo’s worldview, seemed shallow. But I will stick with the series and see what happens.
Riordan, Rick. The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2016.
This review is not endorsed by Hyperion Books, Disney Book Group, or Rick Riordan. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.