Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

Reviewed by Liesl

Published: 2005

It's about: (Stolen shamelessly from Amazon) Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. When his mom tells him the truth about where he came from, she takes him to the one place he’ll be safe—Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods on Long Island. There, Percy learns that the father he never knew is actually Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon Percy finds himself caught up in a mystery that could lead to disastrous consequences. Together with his friends—a satyr and other the demigod daughter of Athena—Percy sets out on a quest to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

I thought: At first I was afraid this was going to be some Americanized version of Harry Potter. However, I gave the books an optimistic approach and was pleasantly surprised. The books are entertaining, narrated by Percy and the chapters have eye-catching titles such as "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom" and "My Mother Teaches Me Bullfighting."

The series' biggest strength comes from the Greek mythology. The children often draw parallels from the past mythology to help solve their problems and even throw a few twists in there. The modern-day parallels were especially interesting, what with Mount Olympus moving according to whatever society is at its peak culturally and economically. I was constantly looking up myths and legends to see if Riordan got it right, and just to find the background in general. It was more fascinating when I knew the background and understood better what was going on.

The characters, despite their flaws, are still endearing. I first found Percy's friend Annabeth obnoxious, but she grew on me. Percy entertains well with his sarcastic comments and observations. He's loyal to his friends and mother, and you can understand his frustration over his father abandoning him. The more minor characters, such as the villains and gods, were often more interesting than the main characters because they were so complex and just downright entertaining with their eccentricities. Sometimes they were all for fighting with the demigods and sometimes they were completely against them. I was just as frustrated with them as Percy was, and it made for a more interesting story.

Something that I felt lacked in these books was an emotional impact. It was there, but it took a lot longer for it to come. It felt like the action was there for action's sake and I never felt like the characters were in any real danger. A lot of the emotion seemed to come from the telling, and I couldn't feel anything from that. I needed to see it, to feel it. Riordan's writing improved immensely by the last book and I was finally able to really develop an attachment to these characters and their woes.

Despite the lesser emotional impact, I still loved these books. Rick Riordan is excellent at describing a scene. He can create impressive tension in his action scenes and all the Greek stories were gripping. When I checked out the last book from the library, I ended up finishing the book in the parking lot because I didn't want to put it down to drive home. At the very least, I had a good time.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf, or at least borrow it from the library. These are worth reading.

Reading Recommendations: I'd say this book is definitely targeted more for kids, but I still enjoyed reading them for a lighter experience. The audiobooks are fantastic for long car trips.

Warnings: None.

Favorite excerpts: "See, bad things happen to me on field trips. Like at my fifth-grade school, when we went to the Saratoga battlefield, I had this accident with a Revolutionary war cannon. I wasn't aiming for the school bus, but of course I got expelled anyway. And before that, at my fourth-grade school, when we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Marine World shark pool, I sort of hit the wrong lever on the catwalk and our class took an unplanned swim. And the time before that....Well, you get the idea."

What I'm reading next: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale