I recently had the pleasure of reading the final three volumes of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of young adult fantasy novels, specifically The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian. I enjoyed them, and would recommend them for any young reader over the age of ten. I suspect that they may appeal to the boys more than the girls, but there are plenty of good things there for all.
The first two books of the series, The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters set up the scope of the series. Percy Jackson is introduced as a troubled twelve-year-old boy, beset by literal monsters, who discovers that he is a ‘half blood’ or a demigod, not unlike Hercules. His father is the sea god Poseidon, which puts him at odds with both Zeus and Hades as the three gods took an oath following the Second World War to forswear relations with mortals. Percy explores America and the Bermuda Triangle with his satyr friend Grover and demigod-daughter-of-Athena Annabeth Chase, battling the monsters of Greek mythology and slowly uncovering a plot by the titan Kronos to exact revenge on the Gods of Olympus.
The Titan’s Curse introduces us to Thalia, a demigod daughter of Zeus, who was born in the late 1980s and helped Luke and Annabeth flee from monsters to Camp Half Blood. As she was about to sacrifice herself to save her friends, Zeus took pity on her and transformed her into a pine tree to forever protect the borders of Camp Half Blood. The events of The Sea of Monsters turn out to be a ruse from the titan Kronos. By placing the Golden Fleece on its branches to cure the ailing tree, the magic worked too well, and Thalia was restored as a human, joining Percy as a second demigod child of the “big three” who, by prophecy, might on her sixteenth birthday make a choice that will save the Gods, or destroy them forever.
Thalia is a fascinating character, but her relationship with Percy is one of the weaker points of The Titan’s Curse. Rick Riordan sets the book a few months after the end of The Sea of Monsters, after a somewhat uneasy peace settles between the two, but a lingering tension exists between them, being children of two powerful but somewhat quarrelsome gods. Thalia also assumes an unofficial leadership position within camp and, by and large, Percy lets her take it. I had trouble believing that. I would like to have seen more of Percy and Thalia’s first days together, as they work out this sudden change. Perhaps Annabeth was the bridge between them, but I felt left out, not having seen their characters develop into their present d√©tente.
But Riordan knows how to keep the narrative moving, and The Titan’s Curse has plenty of action and mystery to keep readers guessing. A new titan appears to have risen to threaten Olympus and Camp Half Blood and there is a threat to Annabeth in this story that really pulls at Percy and the reader. We are introduced to the Hunters of Artemis in this tale, and the tension between them and the Campers is fun to watch. Also, the quest the campers embark on feels fresh, even if it does retread some of the ground followed in The Lightning Thief.
The Battle of the Labyrinth is even more fun — possibly the best book of the series — adding a new twist to the old legends of Daedalus, King Minos and the Minotaur, and setting up the coming war between the Olympian Gods and resurgent Titans. It’s also in this story that Percy’s love life becomes a lot more complicated, as Percy is called to rely upon a mortal girl, Rachel Elizabeth Dare, who can see through the celestial mist that hides the mythological monsters from the general public, and whose very presence seems to drive poor Annabeth up the wall for reasons Percy can barely begin to comprehend. The level of snark between Annabeth and Rachel really makes me wish they had more scenes together.
Percy turns fifteen in The Battle of the Labyrinth, so it is appropriate that author Rick Riordan crafts a story that’s a bit more mature than the one seen in The Lightning Thief. In this respect, he follows in J.K. Rowling’s footsteps by taking the characters into deeper and darker territories as they age from children to young adults. This feature is still a rarity among young adult authors, however, and can frustrate the marketing departments at many a publisher or bookseller, even if it makes for a satisfying read, so I congratulate Mr. Riordan for his bravery and his adeptness at pulling this off.
This maturity continues into The Last Olympian, which gets quite grim as the war between the Gods and the Titans comes to a head in New York City. In my opinion, this book suffered occasionally from “climax syndrome”. After trying to top himself, with each book ending in a bigger and bigger battle, Riordan packs the battles into The Last Olympian, with several chapters are set aside for various skirmishes. This is only to be expected given that this is a war, but things still became repetitive after a while. Riordan also struggles to wrap up every loose end, including a few passages where he appears to be answering reader e-mail — such as, if the halfbloods are all the children of gods, aren’t they all basically cousins? Or, my personal favourite: how is it that Athena could have demigod children when she’s one of the maiden gods?
But for fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series — and if you have come through all four preceding books, you cannot help but be a fan — The Last Olympian fulfills all your expectations and gives you what you want. There’s action, romance, humour, a happy ending and, at the same time, the book series is deeper than many would give it credit for. Percy is thrown a curve ball, and the resolution isn’t exactly everything you expect.
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson sequence has built a sizable fan following, and the release of The Last Olympian echoed the hoopla surrounding J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter novel. I am officially jealous. But just as in the case with Ms. Rowling, Riordan is here because he writes well, and provides his readers with classic material that has been reworked in new and interesting ways. This is an excellent book series for all ages, looking for a good, light, fast-paced read that doesn’t insult one’s intelligence…
…Unless, of course, you actually read the Odyssey and the Illiad, at which point you can read on to mentally slap Percy and the others upside the head each time they fall into another of Homer’s traps. That’s fun in and of itself.