Hoo, boy am I behind in reviews. Here’s to a rapid catch up before year-end!
The Heroes of Olympus series is a follow-up to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books. Book 1, The Lost Hero, introduces three new characters in to the world of modern-day demigods. The twist is that the main character, Jason Grace, doesn’t seem quite Greek. He has no memory before he wakes up on a school bus for a field trip the Grand Canyon, but fleeting snatches of memory come to him as he is faced by monsters of all sorts. It is a mystery that is threaded throughout the book- if Jason isn’t a Greek demigod, where did he come from, and why is he so skilled at combat? And also, what in the world has happened to Percy Jackson, who has been missing for months? This book is a quick set up for the series to come, introducing characters in rapid fashion.
The second book, the Son of Neptune, has the task of explaining where Percy’s been and what he has been up to. Here again we are introduced to a new group of characters that Percy interacts with. Percy’s been in the heretofore hidden Roman camp, which has been battling mythical monsters and Titans just like the Greeks, and sometimes concomitantly with neither group being aware of the other’s existence. This book is improved by the focus being on Percy- there’s a reason that he’s the most popular character that Riordan has written- and bogged down a bit by having to introduce an entirely new camp and structure.
Book 3, The Mark of Athena , has both groups re-integrated and questing together to bring peace to the Roman/Greek gods. The gods have been accustomed to spending part time in either their Greek or Roman personas but have all become fractured and unable to reconcile their different aspects. The heroes are trying to return to the ancient lands of Rome and Greece to stop Gaia from waking and destroying all gods and humans. This book is fast paced and entertaining, but gets very repetitive. Of the seven heroes on the quest, six are in relationships with each other. It’s a middle-grade level book, so I understand the audience is probably all about this stuff, but it is annoying to have the characters repeatedly refer to someone else solely as “my boyfriend” and never by a name. Each character gets a POV chapter and with limited pages to form a personality for each, their defining traits tend to get beaten in to the ground. The book does end on a great cliffhanger, though.
Book 4, The House of Hades, is the best in the series. Percy and his girlfriend Annabeth are in the underworld and trying to find their way to the Doors of Death to close them and prevent Gaia’s monsters from leaving the underworld. The rest of the questers are above ground, making their way to the Doors of Death through the House of Hades. The above-ground stuff is pretty par for the course, but the scenes in Tartarus are a nice change in that they focus on two characters that the reader knows well and that have more-developed personalities.
Book 5, The Blood of Olympus, ties together the whole series in a nice, neat package. The Greeks and Romans eventually come together to defeat a common foe, and there are call-backs to characters that have shown up briefly through the first five books. For being the culmination of the entire series, it is a little bit dull because the ending is never in doubt.
The Trials of Apollo books pick up after the events of the Heroes of Olympus series. In Apollo, Rick Riordan has captured again some of the magic of the Percy Jackson books.
In book1, The Hidden Oracle, Apollo is thrown to earth by his father Zeus as a punishment. He is stripped of his godhood and made human, with the new identity of a pimply and slightly flabby teenager called Lester Papadopoulos. Lester/Apollo almost immediately gets in trouble when he is beaten and robbed in a New York City alleyway and eventually saved by a tween named Meg. This book sets up the series premise: Apollo has become the unwilling servant of Meg and has to reclaim his oracles (as the former god of prophecy) before he can have a chance at returning to Olympus. Apollo is a fun character because of his complete inability to reconcile his very average teenage body with the unlimited powers and immortality he previously had.
In book 2, the Dark Prophecy, Apollo meets up with some of the characters introduced in the Heroes of Olympus series. They take a wild trip through Indianopolis to defeat an immortal Roman emperor trying to keep prophecy from the Greeks. The best new character from the last series and the absurdity of Apollo himself make for a fun read. With the last series, it seemed like the stories had lost some of the absurdity and fun inherent in stories about gods and monsters; with this series it just keeps improving.
In book 3, The Burning Maze, Apollo and Meg head to the American Southwest to find the next trapped oracle. This book works well as a message about climate change, and I really appreciate how the author works a lot of current event messages in to books aimed at this age group. Apollo and Meg are joined by Grover, a satyr featured in the original Percy Jackson series, to navigate the mythical Labyrinth. What I also appreciate is that Riordan actually kills off one of the main characters that he has built a previous series around, and leaves it at that- no magical rebirth or take-back. It is brutal but effective to give the stories some stakes.
In book 4, The Tyrant’s Tomb, Apollo is still reeling from the death in the last book but is determined to continue his quest to free all 5 trapped oracles and prevent the Roman emperors from taking over the world. He is assisted by the Romans- particularly the praetor of the Roman training camp- and by the end of the book has shown a lot of growth. Apollo is still flamboyant and arrogant and awkward in his teenage body; he is still as likely to speak in verse as not; he is still working on mastering his combat ukelele; but he is humbler and more attuned to the needs of others than when he first became Lester. This is a great series with a great main character, and I think a big part of the improvement from the last series is that there is only one voice as narrator.