During meals, between Masses, before going to bed, when I’m sick… I find time to read as often as I can, even though I don’t really set time aside for it. Since I’ve been sick for the past few days and unable to do much that requires physical activity or mental creativity, I’ve had time to polish off two books. Just a couple of days earlier I finished another one too. So, I thought I’d share my impressions of them, one post per book. Here’s number one:
This is the first book in a series that follows up on the author’s Percy Jackson series. The context is the same and the chronology picks up where the first series left off, but the main characters are new. This is a worthy successor of the first five books. My evaluation of them all is basically the same. They are very colorful and imaginative, and a fun way to review or learn the characters and stories of Greek and Roman mythology. The books are specifically aimed at a juvenile audience, and that is evident in the vocabulary and humor that the author employs. Some adults might find this annoying; I don’t. Maybe I’m still a big kid inside…
The underlying structure of the plot of many (most? all?) of the books is pretty similar: the main characters have some sort of a deadline by which they must accomplish some specific feat; they run into lots of monsters and bad guys on the way, but their combined talents pull them through; they more or less make the deadline at the last minute, but up until the last book, there is always something left hanging. The characters often have to discover their own value and learn to trust in themselves and in each other. Throughout the books they resolve problems in their relationships with their human parents, as well as come to terms with their parental deities, accepting the limits of their relationship, feeling loved and learning to forgive. So, don’t expect very intricate and complex plot lines (although there are some surprises). For me, the big draws of these books are instead the creativity of the author in bringing each of the ancient mythological creatures into modernity, the fun and likable characters, and the humor.
Of course, I also come to these books as a priest, so I automatically look for the way in which religion and moral issues are approached. Regarding the topic of religion: At the beginning of the Percy Jackson series, the author Riordan makes it a point to differentiate between the Greek gods as he presents them (as sort of personifications of forces of nature and Western culture) and the supernatural, metaphysically “other” God of religion. He clearly does not intend or expect kids to start worshiping Zeus because of his books. He basically leaves religion alone.
Regarding moral issues: The very premise of the book – taken from Greek mythology – is that the Greek gods have illegitimate children with human lovers. However, this is not overly romanticized or glorified; the problems that this kind of behavior causes are also essential to the plot. So, although at times it is portrayed somewhat romantically, I don’t think it comes across as if the author is promoting pre/extra-marital sex. It’s a plot device, a feature of Greek mythology, and (unfortunately) a fact of life. There is nothing explicitly sexual in the books. The only other morally dubious aspect of the books I can remember is one early incident of revenge where someone gets turned into stone.
A similar evaluation could be made of “The Red Pyramid”, although there perhaps the way Riordan describes the relationship between the Egyptian gods and human beings is a little more problematic. Not that the book is bad; I enjoyed the book and the intent of the author is, again, clearly not to get kids into occult Egyptian practices. However, there is at least a remote possibility of manipulation there, as is the case with the Harry Potter books (which I thoroughly enjoyed as well). So, I’m not saying “don’t read this”, just “kids who read this should have common sense”.
So, to sum up: “The Lost Hero” is lots of fun, but should be read after the Percy Jackson series to be well understood. It should appeal to fans of the fantasy genre who don’t mind humor aimed at adolescents.