Sunday, May 22, 2016

REVIEW | Percy Jackson and The Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

Book 1 | The Lightning Thief | 2005
Book 2 | The Sea of Monsters | 2006
Book 3 | The Titan's Curse | 2007
Book 5 | The Last Olympian | 2009

WHY?: Honestly I'm surprised it took me as long as it did to start this series.  I was (and still am) a HUGE Greek Mythology nerd as a kid and this series would have been a godsend (Hee!) for me back then.  It's natural that I would pick it up now.

This book was my entry into the sordid world of the Greek Gods.

If you've never read it and have any interest in Greek Mythology go get it and read it now. Go on.  I'll wait.  ......  Isn't it great and the artwork stunning?  I eventually graduated on to Bulfinch's Mythology and Edith Hamilton's Mythology but D'Aulaires' will always have my heart.  I would pore over it again and again and again and my young self was never even phased by the fact that the Gods?  Kind of assholes and really amoral.  It is one of the things that is so great  and impressive about Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.  He manages to capture all the stuff that fascinated me as a child and he doesn't ignore the more troublesome aspects of the mythology but it also never seems sordid and ugly.  It's full of love, adventure and Satyrs just like D'Aulaires.
From D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. I like how Aphrodite is at the bottom all "I was born of sea foam so who knows where I fit on this family tree!"

Persisus or "Percy" Jackson is a dyslexic 12 year old, apple of his mother's eye but who has seemingly been kicked out of every school in New York City.  Unbeknownst to him, his father happens to be a Greek God. I won't say which as that is a bit of a spoiler for the first part of book one but suffice it to say his dad is very powerful.  Percy becomes aware that there is something different about him when he starts to see things others do not.  Oh and his math teacher turns into a monster and tries to kill him.  Percy is what is known as a demi-god which are somewhat more  plentiful than you would assume (or if you've read the Greek myths maybe not) and all these children of the Gods are powerfully attractive to monsters.  Many don't live for very long and others are destined to be great heroes.  Before their fate is known however many, including Percy are found and brought to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp in upstate New York where they are kept safe and trained to take on missions for the good of the Gods of Olympus.

Rather than going into the plot of each book, the overall trajectory of the series is to follow Percy from the age of 12 to the age of 16, when a great prophecy says he (or some child of the gods) will make a decision that will save or destroy the world.  Each book features a different quest-type adventure except for the final book in the series which focus on a war among the Gods and the fulfillment of Percy's prophecy.  On all his quests Percy has some help from his friends like Grover a somewhat bumbling but goodhearted satyr who just wants to find the lost nature god Pan; Annabeth, daughter of Athena and very smart; Tyson, Percy's half-brother and also a cyclops; Thalia, daughter of Zeus and somewhat too like Percy for them to work together comfortably; Chiron, the famous centaur and Percy's mentor; Dionysus, the negligent camp director; Nico D'Angelo, a mysterious young demi-god with troubling powers; Rachel Elizabeth Dare, a mere mortal who somehow can see through the "mist" which usually obscures anything magical from humans and many more of the campers.  All the Gods also make appearances, some to help, others...not so much.  In all it's a fun cast of characters and Percy's voice as the narrator of it all is pitch perfect.  He's very personable, funny and believably adolescent and his growth from kid to young man worked really well for me.

I haven't seen the movies but Logan Lerman looks perfectly cast to me (though he's too old)
I have to admit that I wasn't immediately drawn into this series.  I started it a couple times before I persevered and I'm really glad I did.  The Lightning Thief was a little slow for me; there was so much set up and the quest portion of the book ended up feeling very short and anti-climactic.  The Sea of Monsters (book 2) was also a little slow but it featured the introduction of Tyson, a character I really love, and  I liked it a bit better than book one.  Riordan really hits his stride though in Book 3, The Titan's Curse, and I think each of the following two volumes just get better and better.  Book 4, The Battle of the Labyrinth was probably my favorite. which isn't surprising considering it has a pretty baldly stated environmental message.  All that is to say, if you are like me and after book one are unsure what all the fuss is about, hang in there because ambrosia and nectar are on their way.  The books did not seem to age up quite as much as happens in for example the Harry Pottter series but they do become a little more complex and deal with some of the more interesting ethical debates that might be expected to be confronted when dealing with the ever so naughty Greek pantheon.  Basically the themes become a little more mature but it never loses it's overall playful spirit nor gets as dark as the HP series.

I also felt like in the first couple books that the slotting in of the Greek mythology into modern civilization was a little clunkier then it is in later books.  In fact, Riordan's skill at doing this in the later books is one of the total delights of those books.  It's fun to see his vision for how each of the Gods and mythological creatures fits (or not) into our modern culture.  As a hardcore Greek mythology geek, I love revisiting all the myths but seeing them in a new light.

I like how the series ends.  The final battle is sufficiently infused with tension and is exciting with the wrap up of all the moving pieces being mostly satisfying.  I was a little disappointed in the fate of Rachel Elizabeth Dare who kind of immediately became one of my favorite characters when she was introduced.  In fact,

I feel like I should also comment on how I think this series would work for the target audience since I am WAY out of it.  In a word, I think it would go over great and of course it has since it has sold a floppity-jillion books.  I know my nephews, who aren't big readers loved this series when they were younger (they are now teenagers).  I think Percy's status as the hero of the books despite his dyslexia and problems in school might be incredibly empowering to many kids. As I've said the Greek Myths do not always provide the best examples for good behavior but I think Riordan does a really good job presenting and addressing all things in a responsible way while also understanding that kids will eat up all that borderline scandalous behavior.

Finally, I listened to the whole series which had the same narrator, Jesse Bernstein, so I should say something about him.  For me Jesse was absolutely perfect for Percy.  His normal voice and the way he voiced Percy's thoughts and jokes and dialogue were perfect.  For everything else, he was somewhat less perfect, only because his voices for the other characters tended to be a little too exaggerated and cartoonish.  When voicing someone who is meant to have an American southern accent he sounds oddly Australian.  He voices Annabeth, with kind of a valley girl type inflection ending each line of dialogue on a up note which may have contributed to me not liking her as much as I could have.  Overall, I really enjoyed listening to the series and he did a great job conveying the meaning behind the lines but he did struggle with the voices.  So, if that's a pet peeve of yours beware.

FINAL VERDICT:  A fun middle-grade series that got better and better as it went along with an engaging cast of characters and action/adventure galore.  Plus GREEK MYTHS!  4 out of 5 stars for the whole series (3 out of 5 for the first two books and 4 out of five for the final 3).

Other Opinions Are Available: Writer of Wrongs | Indianapolis Public Library

Have you read this series? What's your favorite of the books?  How big of a Greek Mythology nerd are you?

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