A few weeks ago, I reviewed the first novel in Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I liked that book, The Lightning Thief, and was looking forward to moving on with the series. I didn’t expect to get into two, and three, and even the fourth volume so quickly and so completely. I haven’t gone through books in a series this fast since I first discovered Harry Potter, and back then there were only three books in that series available. Percy has claimed my devotion totally.
In book two, The Sea of Monsters, almost a year has passed since Percy’s first adventure, and it’s time to return to Camp Half-Blood, training ground for the contemporary sons and daughters of the Greek gods. Percy’s days at school aren’t uneventful, though — on his last day a monster attacks him and a new friend, and only a speedy intervention gets him back to Camp Half-Blood.
In the relative safety of the Camp, Percy finds his best friend Grover is missing, lost in the Sea of Monsters on a journey to seek the long-lost god of the wild, Pan. A quest to journey to the Sea of Monsters is announced, but this time it isn’t Percy who is chosen to play the hero.
This book builds nicely on the first, adding several new layers and characters to Rick Riordan‘s world. The idea that the ancient places of power — Olympus, the Sea of Monsters, the gates of Hades and so forth — move along with the center of power in Western Civilization is a really clever one, and an interesting way to use Percy’s journey to explore much of America.
The book does follow the formula of first novel, and the subsequent ones: an early encounter sends Percy to camp, danger is aroused, and Percy and his friends wind up on a quest. The larger arc is progressed slightly here — Percy’s foe Luke is gaining a lot of ground in his attempt to resurrect the Titan Lord Kronos. What’s interesting here is how certain rivalries play out. A character’s parentage doesn’t automatically label them on one side or another. Riordan‘s characterizations of several of the gods makes for an entertaining read too. This was an exciting, worthy sequel to the first book.
In book three, The Titan’s Curse, Percy falls in with the Hunters of Artemis — a group of girls who have sworn off male companionship and pledged their lives to serving the goddess, in exchange for eternal youth. Artemis has been kidnapped, and the leader of the Hunters must assemble a team for a quest to save her. Not only is Percy stunned not to be chosen, but he’s even more horrified to learn that his friend Annabeth, also missing, has been considering joining the hunt — a choice that would cause her to leave him forever.
This is probably the most emotional of the books thus far. The story arc of Bianca and Nico — two siblings introduced here — is a pretty deep one, and even though their secrets aren’t too difficult to suss out, the way they behave is pretty compelling, and pretty realistic. The stuff with Percy and Annabeth is great too. The attraction between them is pretty clear, but Annabeth’s loyalty to Luke seems to be a permanent wedge between them. That in and of itself is yet another mystery — what could Luke have done to inspire such devotion, even after he’s turned traitor?
The climactic battle is really heart-rending, and the confrontation with the eponymous Titan doesn’t at all go how one would have expected. The new characters in this volume work well to progress the story and raise new questions. I was pretty glad I bought books three and four at the same time, because I finished this one on the drive home from Florida last weekend. That made it easy, just seconds after I finished reading it, to grab the fourth book in the series.
In The Battle of the Labyrinth, Camp Half-Blood learns that Luke is attempting to get an ancient artifact that will help them find their way through the Labyrinth. The enormous maze of legend has grown over the years, and now acts as a mystical underground beneath the entire United States. It’s a deadly, dangerous place, but if anyone could navigate it safely, it would be a quick route from any one place to another — and allow the full invasion of Camp Half-Blood. Grover, meanwhile, is being given one final chance to seek out the lost Pan, and his quest will intersect with Percy’s own.
More questions, more new characters abound in this book. Perhaps more interestingly, Riordan packs this book with even more heroes, monsters, and incidents from Greek myth than any of the previous volumes. Someone versed in Greek mythology will have a lot of fun reading these books, trying to figure out which card the writer will play next and how, ultimately, it will all fit together. As this is the penultimate book in the series, it ends with events at a fever-pitch. Things are very bad, getting worse. Percy is growing desperate. But on the last page, Riordan gives us a glimmer of hope.
It’s hard to explain just why I love these books so much. The story is formulaic, and Percy himself falls squarely into the “chosen one” cliche. But sometimes, the execution of a story can be so good that you forget about the cliches and the tropes and just enjoy it for what it is. I think that’s the case here. Riordan tells his story masterfully, with characters and events that grabbed me right away and made me want to read more. I haven’t even got the last book, The Last Olympian, but the next time I’m anywhere near a bookstore, it’ll be mine. And you can probably expect a review within the next week.
If you’re suffering from Harry Potter withdrawal, forget Twilight. This series has high adventure, real magic, rich characters, and a love story that doesn’t feel cliched and tacked-on. Check out Percy.