Riordan, Rick: Percy Jackson & the Olympians series

Word of mouth is terrific, because I would never otherwise have picked up Rick Riordan’s series Percy Jackson & the Olympians. These are apparently middle-grade books, but are very readable by adults. [*] The premise is that the Greek gods are real, are still around, and have a bunch of kids by mortals, who tend to attract attention of monsters as they get older so are brought to Camp Half-Blood to learn survival skills. Plus the gods get along as well as they ever did, and (of course) there’s a prophecy.

[*] I gather that, marketing-wise, Harry Potter is also middle-grade, and in some ways it’s an inevitable comparison. Both series start fairly light and get quite dark by the end, and both have one-book-per-year structure. However, the Percy Jackson books focus on the summers, not the school years, which makes them a lot tighter; the third also departs from the pattern by taking place in December.

I was warned that the first book, The Lightning Thief, is somewhat weak, which it is, suffering from too-obvious threats and a bit of a tone mismatch, especially at the end. But I could see the seeds of what people recommended it for, the humor (the first chapter is titled “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher”) and the strong female characters and the start of a clear theme that, for lack of a better way to summarize it, I will call a deliberate rejection of the lone male action hero paradigm. And it was a very fast read and I’d gotten them all from the library, so I kept going.

Things get more complicated with the second, The Sea of Monsters, and the stakes rise with the third, The Titan’s Curse. By the fourth, The Battle of the Labryinth, I’d progressed to “wow, that was good!” in my sketchy notes to myself. I think that one may be my favorite, though the final book (The Last Olympian) is thoroughly satisfying on the whiz-bang and thematic levels.

The books do require a reader be able to roll with the idea that the Greek gods are key to Western civilization and that as a result, the destruction of Mount Olympus (now atop the Empire State Building) is a genuine threat to said civilization. I mean, yes, it does at least limit it to Western, but it’s the kind of thing best not examined too closely—if one can, and if one can’t, that’s perfectly understandable.

With that caveat, however, I had a ton of fun reading these, I suspect they may become comfort reading for me, and I look forward to SteelyKid and the Pip being old enough to read them (which will make three generations of our family to enjoy them; Chad & I gave the set to his dad this Christmas and he just finished the last, which is a near-record pace for him.) If this is the kind of thing that might appeal to you, don’t let the bookstore location or the apparently-dreadful movie adaptation of the first put you off.

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  1. If you like mysteries (for adults), I highly recommend his Tres Navarre series which starts with Big Red Tequila. It’s mainly set in San Antonio with later trips to Austin and the coast.

  2. I only read the first one of these, and found it enjoyable, but not compelling enough to go on…but if you say they get markedly more interesting, I might have to pick them back up.
    Also, too, my six-and-a-half year old daughter really likes these a lot…but, she loves, loves, loves Riordan’s new Kane Chronicles, which does Egyptian mythology rather than Greek mythology. The protagonists are a teenage brother-sister combo who are apparently descendants of some pharaoh way back when.
    The downside is that the protagonists are teenagers, with a full helping of teenage snark, which seriously influenced daughter’s speech patterns for awhile (and my wife has threatened to ban the third (and concluding) installment if she doesn’t stop talking “like a teenager”). It’s also led to fascination with ancient Egypt, and a memorable few comments along the lines of “you sounded just like Thoth when you said that.” To which the only possible response is “uhh. Okay, I guess?”
    But yeah, anyway, I think the kids will have fun with these in a few years…

  3. Melita, what virtues would you say the series share, so I know what to expect?
    Trent, the Kane Chronicles are some long-ass books, I am impressed with (though not surprised by!) your kid’s reading ability! They, & the next half-blood series, are on my list, but I’m taking my time to work up to them since I liked Percy’s voice so much.

  4. Hmmm, it’s been a while since I’ve read them–I keep meaning to re-read them again! Tres is a PhD in English and Tai Chi lover, but mixed in is some wild times as a young man.
    I’ve only read The Lightning Thief and have the first Kane Chronicles novel on the to-read shelves.
    I feel that Riordan conveys a good sense of place, but I may be biased since I went to university in San Antonio. Characters are smart and capable and there’s a lot of different types of characters, well-developed. One reviewer says that Tres is reminiscent of John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee (never read him). I’m leaning more towards a more light-hearted, or at least less gruesome, Joe Lansdale.

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