Tag Archives: Greek

Book Review: The Sea of Monsters: The Odyssey, Blurred Lines, and a Career

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Spoilers ahead.

Of all of the Percy Jackson books, of all of Rick Riordan’s books, book two of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Sea of Monsters, is probably my favorite. You’ve probably already realized from reading this blog that I am a bit of a nerd. I am particularly fond of Homer’s Odyssey, enough so to have a favorite translation (Robert Fitzgerald’s). All of the Percy Jackson books draw heavily from Greek mythology. The Sea of Monsters draws heavily from The Odyssey in particular, with Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Clarisse seeking out the island of Polyphemus by way of Circe’s island and Charybdis and Scylla, Percy being turned into a guinea pig and Annabeth tricking Polyphemus by calling herself “Nobody.” Reading The Sea of Monsters is a bit like reading a wonderfully rendered crossover fanfiction for me.

Told with all of the usual sass of Percy’s voice and all of the fast-paced action and situational humor of Riordan’s style, The Sea of Monsters is certainly a fun read—and a quick one.

The lines between monster and hero are blurred a little in this novel (though not as much as they will be in later books). Percy has a new friend and half-brother, Tyson, a young Cyclops abandoned to grow up on the streets of New York, but beloved by his father, Poseidon. Cyclopes are by definition monsters, but Tyson is gentle and acts heroically in defense of his friends. Polyphemus, also a Cyclops and Percy’s and Tyson’s half-brother, for all that he is one of the antagonists of this novel is not particularly violent or antagonistic. He uses what resources he can (the Golden Fleece) to keep his island healthy and to lure meals to himself, not outwardly violent or malicious acts. Now, that he happens to eat satyrs does not endear him to the reader, but nor does it make him inherently wicked. What Polyphemus seems most to desire companionship. Likewise, monsters have joined the ranks of Kronos’ and Luke’s growing army, but so have demigods. The black and white battle lines of heroes versus monsters are not in place for this novel.

This book improves too upon the style of Riordan’s first novel, The Lightning Thief. The first had a few moments of preaching that jarred the quick-paced action, as if Riordan could not believe he was getting this chance to talk to the masses and could not imagine being allowed to do so again—let alone… 17 times more (many of these bestsellers) with more books still scheduled for release. Perhaps when publishing The Sea of Monsters Riordan realized that he’d made himself a career and that he could take his time to more subtly deliver his messages.

This book is particularly interesting to read with the 20/20 hindsight of later books. Having read further in Percy Jackson’s timeline, I can appreciate the subtle foreshadowing, and I have new insight into Hylla and the loosing of Blackbeard and his crew on Circe’s island. Particularly the last two of The Heroes of Olympus series, The House of Hades and The Blood of Olympus, point out the consequences of careless actions made in Percy’s younger years, and where I might have thought nothing of the release of the pirates on the villainess’ home prior, now I know what terror it caused for more innocent victims on the island, and I have to take Percy’s heroics with the grain of salt that tainted my palate later.

All this only deepens my appreciation for the book however. Flawed heroes are better characters and character development is too often missed in stories.

*****

Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2: The Sea of Monsters. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion Books, or Disney.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: The House of Hades Asks Readers to Rethink

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This review contains MAJOR spoilers.

It was a long wait for The House of Hades, fourth in The Heroes of Olympus, the sequel series to Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.  The third book, The Mark of Athena, left our heroes literally plunging to a fate worse than death, and it didn’t seem likely that a rescue was possible without death or the sacrifice of someone to that worse than death fate.

Given all that, I was pleasantly surprised by the comparatively happy ending of The House of Hades.

Frank’s and Jason’s characters are greatly built up in this latest novel, as is Percy’s.  Riordan questions as he never has before the morality of the demigods’ way of life, killing to survive and drawing black-and-white battle lines, where all monsters are bad (Percy Jackson and the Olympians has previously questioned if all demigods are good).  Tartarus’ description never failed to be appropriately terrifying and disgusting.  Leo’s story is given a sharp plot twist, that I think has all of us cheering for him.

[The major spoilers begin here.]  The big story around The House of Hades is likely to be Nico’s revealed sexual orientation.  Riordan has said that Nico’s non-heterosexual orientation arose organically, that the character told him rather than Riordan telling Nico—and that’s as it should be; I’m pleased to hear it.  Though I recognize that Rowling revealed Dumbledore’s sexual orientation because she was prompted by a fan’s question and because to do so showed her support for LGBT community and because it did not effect her plot, doing so did not effect the plot or explain any actions that otherwise seemed out-of-character (I would have believed—and do believe—that Dumbledore’s instinct would not have been to kill Grindelwald, even if he and Grindelwald had never loved one another, and I did not question why it took so long for Dumbledore to confront Grindelwald because it didn’t effect the present plotline).  Revealing Nico’s sexual preference within the contexts of the plot, I am more open to hearing about it.  It reveals more about Nico’s prickly hesitation to try to belong or to become close to anyone.

But Riordan did not continue (or has not yet continued) along the plot trail as far as I wanted him to do (for the sake of good storytelling not because it is pleasant).

I have a greater understanding of the term “head canon” than I perhaps ever had before.  Nico’s distrust because of his sexual orientation and his fear that he will be rejected for it ought to be worse for him than for any other character who could reveal himself to be of a LGBT orientation because he is a child of World War II Europe.  Had it been any other character with the exception of Hazel, they would have been children of the 1990s.  Growing up and coming to realize that they were attracted to the same gendered characters, they might have feared bullying and social isolation, but in the 1930s and 1940s, had Nico not been whisked away to America and to the Lotus Hotel, he would have had to fear being dragged from his house and thrust into a crowded railcar.  He’d have had to fear forced labor, unethical scientific experimentation, gas chambers….  And this is why Nico’s painful confession, dragged out of him against his will through taunting, necessity, magic, and a beating, hurt me so much.

In my head canon, Hades, being a god, knew and took Nico away from Europe and away from his half-brother, Adolf Hitler, because he couldn’t bear to have one son kill another and wanted to protect Nico—because Hades really has seemed to be a surprisingly compassionate and present parent.

Many people have also been lauding the burgeoning of new powers in Hazel and Piper, both sorcerous.  While interested in the power to bend the Mist, I actually felt that very little was done with their characters this book.  I think partially because Piper’s and Hazel’s new powers are of a similar vein, I had a difficult time keeping the two of them distinct from one another.  Also, sorcery has often been viewed negatively in Greek mythology and within Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus, and while I don’t think it is Riordan’s intention to any way create negative associations for Piper or Hazel, I worry that I could academically argue that he has done so by making them both sorceresses in the vein of Circe, Medea, Pasiphaë (all villains in both Riordan’s series and most of mythological stories), and even Hecate, a minor goddess who had previously sided with the Titans.

I’m also very interested in the revelation that Greek and Roman may not be determined by birth, that a side can be chosen.  I think that that will have a major effect on the whole of the plot—and probably Jason ought to have revealed what he has learned about the definition of Greek and Roman to Reyna before they parted ways again so that she could reveal it to the Greeks and Romans in America—though I totally understand why he did not.  How does one casually tell a friend that one has decided to disown one’s race to identify with another race with which one’s birth race is currently at war?  Will deciding to identify as a child of Greece rather Rome affect Jason’s powers or personality?  I think not.

Peppered with the usual Riordan humor and plenty of “Perceabeth” moments, this was a well-paced novel, still not as breakneck as The Percy Jackson series, but more quickly paced than The Mark of Athena.

****1/4

Riordan, Rick.  The Heroes of Olympus, Book Four: The House of Hades.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Hyperion Books, Disney Book Group, or Rick Riordan.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Demigod Files Restores My Love of Riordan

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For whatever reason, maybe even just because it has been so long since I’ve partaken of a book by Rick Riordan, whom I have called both my current favorite author and the next J. K. Rowling, I enjoyed The Demigod Files far more than I did the similar, later The Demigod Diaries, by which I felt sadly let down if not betrayed.  The Demigod Files’ stories happen between books four and five of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, a climactic time for the series.  Percy Jackson was my introduction to Rick Riordan, and it has always been my favorite of his three series.  Perhaps that’s another reason why I should prefer The Demigod Files to the Demigod Diaries, which corresponds to the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus.

Like The Demigod Diaries, The Demigod Files consists of three short stories by Rick Riordan alongside interviews with several key characters and a few easy puzzles.  Also included are illustrations of some of the characters and a useful chart of the Greek gods, their domains, their sacred animals, and symbols.

All three of these short stories, unlike those of The Demigod Diaries, are written from the point-of-view of Percy Jackson, who perhaps at least partially because of his familiarity and Riordan’s ease in his voice, is one of my favorite of the many voices that I have seen Riordan capture.

In these stories Riordan expands several key side characters, especially Silena Beauregard.  By the end of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the beginning The Heroes of Olympus, Silena is regarded in a better light by campers at Camp Half-Blood than I have ever regarded her, and the campers regard for her has always thrown me.  She almost needs the bolstering from “Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon.”  I will be interested to reread either The Last Olympian or The Lost Hero to see if I can be more sympathetic towards her now that I have a better grasp of her character.

The others with whom Percy interacts in these tales—Clarisse La Rue, Charles Beckendorf, Nico di Angelo, and Thalia Grace—I feel are fairly well understood through the Percy Jackson series alone.  I did not need to learn more about them in these short stories, as I needed to learn more about Silena, but I was glad to spend time with them and to share in their adventures.

Riordan is a master of adventure stories.  In all of these, the demigods face monsters, deadlines, and impossible odds (the usual trials of a Riordan book).  Riordan also tempers all of the dread with his usual humor, a somewhat dry humor, I suppose, that relies a lot on a tone and sarcasm that does not match the situation.  These stories are scattered with such lines as “A girl starts trying to kill you, you know she’s into you” (35), “One dragon can ruin your whole day” (33), and “It’s great when you’re a celebrity to squids” (22).  Out of context none of those have made me laugh, but when paired with the imminent danger in which the demigod finds himself, these nuggets of humor are so unexpected that they do wonders to lighten the tone without killing it.  That balance of humor and peril takes talent.

*****

Riordan, Rick.  Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Demigod Files.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2009.

This review is not endorsed by Hyperion Books, Disney Book Group, or Rick Riordan.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Percy Jackson, Christianity, and Neo-Paganism

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A surprisingly few articles have been published on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  No articles that I found have delved into any Christian interpretation of the books—and unsurprisingly.  Riordan’s approach to theology is very hands-off.  Percy Jackson’s culture is more easily relatable to that of the Ancient Greeks than any modern-day religious culture.

But the mingling of gods and God is one that I struggle with myself whenever I’ve spent too long in a Riordan book and find myself seated in a pew on Sunday, and I am surprised that Percy has not raised more radical Christian eyebrows, walking in the footsteps of Harry Potter as I would argue it does—though to be fair, I don’t think Percy is anywhere near Harry’s heels in the popularity race (Harry must be using a racing broom…).

Rereading the first book of the series, The Lightning Thief, recently, one line assuaged my fears (at least temporarily) and ought to help ease others’ as well.

“ ‘Wait,’ I told Chiron.  ‘You’re telling me there’s such a thing as God.’

“ ‘Well, now,’ Chiron said, ‘God—capital G, God.  That’s a different matter altogether.  We shan’t deal with the metaphysical’ ”  (67).

Case closed by the wise centaur.  This book does not deal with the question of capital G, God’s existence; its concept is simply that the Greek gods continue to exist so long as Western Civilization does.

The only other very brief mention of Christianity in The Lightning Thief is when Percy, Grover, and Annabeth notice a corrupt televangelist being frisked by security ghouls before being led off to “eternal torment” (292).

“ ‘But if he’s a preacher,’ I said, ‘and he believes in a different hell….’

“Grover shrugged.  ‘Who says he’s seeing this place the way we see it?’ ” (293)

Project MUSE boasts an article that mentions Percy among a discussion of neo-pagan books for teens (lamenting that one researcher disregarded Classically based neo-paganism in his study).  Among the Percy books, however, there is no emphasis on the necessity of balance and no plea of oneness, ideas basic to most forms of religious neo-paganism as I understand it.  Percy’s is a culture that disintegrates or cuts apart its enemies and would prefer that no monster or Titan walked Earth freely.  There is no talk of the need for monsters to balance heroes that I can remember, though there easily could be; a hero can’t become a hero without a monster to fight.

I will not call the Percy Jackson books Christian; they are not.  But there are some ideas in the series that mimic Christian beliefs.

The Percy Jackson books certainly preach forgiveness; second chances; the possibility of redemption, even to the point of throwing me off balance once; and the power of love.  Certainly too the call to honor thy mother and father is there.

But these are books where gods are not all-powerful, in keeping with Greek mythology.  The gods are more often saved by mortal heroes than the heroes saved by the gods.  That is a concept completely foreign to Christianity.  Christ might use Christians to spread his Word on Earth, but it is ultimately by God’s will and grace that a Christian’s work will take root in a person’s heart or effect change.

*****

Riordan, Rick.  Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion, or Disney.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: Demigods in the Garden: The Game and The Titan’s Curse

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Spoilers abound for The Game and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  I will not mark them; they are too many.

I bought The Game, a novella by Diana Wynne Jones, after hearing a paper (mentioned here) on the book as a character-based “prophecy arc” at the 2011 Children’s Literature Association Conference.  The premise of the book as presented sounded right up my alley, and, what’s more, I had already read all and enjoyed most of Jones’ The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, though I feel that the most recent installments of that particular series fall more flat than did earlier stories.

The Game lost a battle with Rick Riordan’s third book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians quintet, The Titan’s Curse.  My sister left Percy’s book lying in the open, and I stopped reading The Game mid-chase to finish The Titan’s Curse for who knows what time through.  But I think that reading these books simultaneously actually enhanced The Game rather than hurting it.

Published the same year, ironically, the books bare remarkable similarities.  They each feature a demigod who must journey to and enter the Garden of the Hesperides on a quest, then face the wrath of Zeus (or Jupiter in The Game), who unjustly hates the hero, thinking that he or she should never have been born and worrying that he or she might dethrone him because of a prophecy.  Both books prominently feature the tensions between demigod and god and Titan.  Both prominently feature the Hesperides.  Both low fantasies suggest that mythological figures are alive still and that they can be found in our own world, and both suggest too that the figures of the constellations existed.

As such, I had all of the parallel mythology of Percy Jackson tumbling through my mind as I finished The Game and the true lives of the mythological figures with whom she interacts are revealed to Haley, heroine of The Game.

The two stories differ in their quest, their villains, and the heroes, though, however similar the elements of the stories.

The two mythologies take a very different view of the gods and the Titans, the Titans being the primary threat in Percy Jackson and the gods the primary threat in The Game.

Unlike Percy, Haley’s quest is not for the benefit of civilization, order, or love, but a very personal quest for freedom, family, friendship, and fun.  Though the prophecy in which she features similarly threatens the gods and though her actions actually shake Olympus more so than Percy’s ultimately do, Haley is never weighted by her choices; in fact, it could be argued that her only choice is whom to trust rather than what to do (she defeats her enemy by doing as her friends tell her to), probably because Haley isn’t really given time to ponder the prophecy, nor, I would argue, does she ever accept it in the same way that Percy does.  Her fight seems less epic for that and because we have mostly others’ opinions to bolster our dislike of Jupiter in The Game, while five books build up our dislike of the Titans in Percy Jackson.  I wish I could claim outright that the differences in their battles have nothing to do with the gender of hero and heroine, but particularly Haley’s quest seems to me to take a very stereotypically gendered view of what is important and how to act.

***                         *****

Jones, Diana Wynne.  The Game.  New York: Firebird-Penguin, 2007.

Riordan, Rick.  Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Three: The Titan’s Curse.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2007.

These reviews are not endorsed by Diana Wynne Jones, Rick Riordan, Firebird, Hyperion, Penguin Group, or Disney.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.