Review by Aline Hunt: Percy Jackson and the Olympians (series) by Rick Riordan
“My mom had made me promise not to use deadly weapons in the house after I swung a javelin the wrong way and took out the china cabinet.”
Now who would use such a weird quote in their book? Apparently, Rick Riordan would. Riordan is the author of the best-selling series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. This sentence appears in the second of the five books (Sea of Monsters). Riordan has created an amazing world of modernized Greek myths. These stories follow Percy Jackson, an unusual dyslexic eleven-year-old with ADHD. Odd accidents have followed him everywhere, though he doesn’t know why. By the end of every school year he winds up expelled from school. During the course of the series we find out why. I found the series very enjoyable, and will give you a short review of the first four books below; run, do not walk, and get all five!
The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson series. This book, like its sequels, has puns strewn everywhere, and there are many simultaneous plots. I originally had to read it for school, but everyone in the class enjoyed it so much that we finished it before we were told to start. In this book, Percy is experiencing the last days of the school year at Yancey Academy, a boarding school. On the final field trip to an art museum, he is involved in a strange incident. An awful girl teases him, and she is doused by water from a fountain. His algebra teacher leads him into the museum to punish him; there she turns into a Fury – a nasty creature from Greek mythology. His favorite teacher tosses him a ballpoint pen, which when uncapped transforms into a bronze sword, and he kills the creature. Curiously, no one else notices anything. The book contains many mythological references.
Back at home, Percy and his mother go to the ocean, only to flee again from a Minotaur (hilariously wearing tighty-whities), accompanied by his friend Grover. His mother is taken by the Minotaur in a flash of golden light, but Percy kills it with its own horn – and Grover (now revealed as a Satyr) leads him to Camp Half-Blood, a place for demi-gods (children of unions between Olympian gods and mortals). One of my favorite passages is the description of one of Camp Half-Blood’s favorite activities, which can only be described as “Extreme Capture the Flag”.
Percy later learns that he is a son of the sea-God, Poseidon. Even later he learns that Poseidon and Zeus have argued, and Zeus’ master lightning-bolt is gone; Zeus believes that Poseidon did not steal it but may have had Percy do it for him. Percy and his friends – Grover and Annabeth, daughter of Athena – have only ten days to find the missing bolt. Since Poseidon and Athena are rivals, it makes Percy and Annabeth’s friendship an unusual one. They journey takes them across the country to Los Angeles, where they can enter the Underworld to confront Hades, whom they suspect of the deed, and to rescue his mother. Along the way they encounter monsters of all sorts, including Ares, god of War (who rides a Harley), who assures Percy that his mother is alive. Anyone familiar with Greek myths will laugh extra hard at this book, which is a non-stop adventure until the end.
The second book in the saga begins on the last day of school for Percy, now twelve; his mother even makes blue waffles to celebrate (blue is her favorite color.) But even though he’s sure nothing can go wrong, he is completely mistaken. During an innocent game of dodgeball at school, three Laistrygonians (8 foot tall Cannibals – or Canadians, according to Annabeth) attack Percy. Percy and Annabeth flee to Camp Half-Blood, where a heated battle is raging against giant bronze bulls. Tyson, Percy’s 6 foot friend from school, enters camp and is found to be a Cyclops (and therefore also a son of Poseidon.)
At the end of the battle, they discover that the protective borders of the camp are damaged because the magical tree that protects it has been poisoned. Percy and Annabeth undertake a quest to find the Golden Fleece to restore them, with Tyson tagging along. They also encounter Grover, who has gone on a quest to find Pan, the missing god of satyrs. Grover has been captured by Polyphemus – who guards the Fleece and is a giant Cyclops himself. He is aided by fluffy, cute, carnivorous sheep. Lovers of the Iliad and the Odyssey will find this book a page-turner.
The Titan’s Curse is the third of the five books. Percy, Annabeth and Thalia (daughter of Zeus), hook up with Grover in a military school to rescue two demigods. There is some trouble because they encounter a Manticore (a red lion with a human head and a scorpion tail) disguised as a teacher. He is a very scary villain. Annabeth is thrown off a cliff with the beast during the fight. They are aided in defeating the Manticore by the goddess Artemis and her Hunters, who takes one of the rescued demigods into her company. They bring the other to Camp Half-Blood, accompanied by the Hunters; a quest ensues across country to California in order to save the captured Annabeth. Percy cannot help but tag along.
The Titan’s Curse – the condemnation of Atlas to hold up the world after the Titans were defeated by the Olympian Gods – becomes crucial to the ending of the book, but is only the beginning of a great conflict between those who are loyal to Mount Olympus and its Gods and those who would seek to return the Titans to power. I think this book might make an excellent movie – but the effects had better be good!
The second to last book in the series, The Battle of the Labyrinth, begins with Percy’s first day of high school. But as in each of the other books, things go wrong right away, as something is disguised as someone. In this case, the cheerleading squad is actually a group of empousas (fanged creatures with one bronze leg and one donkey leg) bent on killing him. They appear right at the beginning of the book, and the action at the beginning really draws the reader in. During his narrow escape, he meets a mortal girl whom he met in the previous book, who can see the monsters through the Mist (which normally conceals monsters from mortal eyes).
Percy and Annabeth then go to Camp Half-Blood, and Percy learns of an awful prophecy that involves him. The first step to fulfilling it is to enter the Labyrinth, which is underground and stretches everywhere. Their journeys take them to even stranger places, transported from Greek mythology . . . and it’s hard to describe any more without spoiling this or the next story for the reader. In Labyrinth, the war between the Titans and Gods continues, reaching its climax in the newest book in the series, The Last Olympian. The book’s plot is complex enough that to really understand it you have to read some sentences twice. It’s absolutely impossible to review The Last Olympian without ruining the dramatic effect – but it’s worth waiting for.
In the stories, Riordan has moved the Greek Gods from the Mediterranean to America – the Underworld is beneath Los Angeles, Mount Olympus is 600 floors up in the Empire State Building, the Island of the Lotus-Eaters is in Las Vegas – and all of the monsters, gods, and adventures have been brought up to date, in a way that is funny for the reader but respectful of the original myths. Just ask Ares, the biker. I think this makes actual Greek mythology more exciting if you read these books.
In summary, I highly recommend these books for both children and adults. They’re funny, fast-paced, mythologically accurate and really well written.
About the Author
Aline Hunt is a seventh-grader in Bellingham, Massachusetts, and is the daughter of Walter Hunt, a science fiction and historical novelist. She is an avid reader and a flute player, and is active in the International Order of Rainbow for Girls.