Monday, June 27, 2011
Rick Riordan and the Awesomeness that is Greek (and Egyptian) Mythology
I have a mild to moderate addiction with Greek mythology, and until recently there haven't been too many books to read with the obvious exceptions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Edith Hamilton's Mythology. But then Rick Riordan came onto the scene with The Lightning Thief and from that single book, three series popped up. Many readers will be dissuaded by the fact that these books are all in the kids' section of their favorite bookstore (obviously Barnes & Noble), but don't let that fool you: These books are the perfect addition to the collection of any age reader, from young to old. Besides, Harry Potter is in the kids' section too, so whatever. In this post, I'll be reviewing 8 books, from 3 different series: Percy Jackson & the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus series. All of them are outstanding but I would wholeheartedly recommend starting with the Percy Jackson series, particularly before the Heroes of Olympus series.
Okay, Percy Jackson for 200. Riordan did an amazing job writing a modern tale with a Greek twist; the many mythological references are within the same sentences as references to iPods, cell phones, and even Adele! As civilization migrated westward, so too did the mighty Olympians from Mount Olympus to the top of the Empire State Building. After his teacher reveals herself to be one of the Furies, Percy Jackson is sent to Camp Half-Blood, where it's revealed that he is the result of a coupling between his mother and the god of the sea, Poseidon (daddy issues, anybody?). Being the son of a god seems to create more problems for Percy, however. In addition to being attacked by a Fury and the Minotaur in the first thirty pages, he also faces Medusa, the fearsome hydra, and a whole slew of Greek gods and monsters in his quest to find Zeus's lightning bolt and clear his name from the list of suspected thieves. But seriously, where would you even hide the king of the gods' lightning bolt? Under the bed?
As the first book ends, it appears that Titan lord Kronos, beaten and banished long ago by the Olympian gods, has begun gaining power and preparing to rise in combat against the gods again. The remaining books in the series follow Percy and his friends as they work with the Olympian gods to once again defeat Kronos, and save the world. Same old, same old. The series is very well written, and reading these books is comparable to taking a course on mythology, there are so many different references and descriptions of legends and stories. The golden fleece, the lotus eaters, Cyclopes, and even Daedalus are all references and characters in the series. I highly recommend this book for any age reader with or without any background and knowledge in Greek mythology.
Chronologically, the next series released is the Kane Chronicles, which follows two siblings as they learn more about their connection to Egyptian gods and pharaohs (yepp, completely different mythologies, but still very, very fun to read and learn about). In the first book, The Red Pyramid, Sadie and Carter Kane, siblings separated after the death of their mother, learn that they are of pharaoh/magician blood, and that their mother died during an attempt to summon the gods of ancient Egypt. With the help of the cat goddess Bast, their uncle Dr. Julius Kane, and the voices of Horus and Isis in their heads (yep, the pre-teens have to handle puberty AND hosting a major god and goddess, respectively), they must work together (again, unrealistic. siblings working together?) to defeat the evil Set and his plans of world domination from atop his Red Pyramid (so I'm paraphrasing, whatever. Poetic license, sue me).
In any case, the story is well written, and leads perfectly into the second book, Throne of Fire, in which the siblings must work together, again, to stop the chaos snake Apophis from escaping his prison and the world from ending. To do so, they embark on a worldwide quest with some new apprentices in an effort to find the Book of Ra, in order to summon the eldest of the gods and the only true match for Apophis. One of my favorite things about the Kane chronicles is the way the stories are written. Each chapter is narrated by one of the siblings, and the entire story is told as if they are recording the story orally to be listened to by future generations of Pharaoh descendants in their times of need. This is when it seems much clearer that the two are brother and sister (i.e. poking fun at each other, trying to steal the 'recorder' from each other, and so on), and it makes the book much more fun and realistic (??) to read. Same as the Percy Jackson series, the books are fast paced, fun and exciting, and make for a bit of light reading perfect for those looking for an adventure. And again, knowledge of mythology or not, these novels make learning Egyptian mythology simple and fun. Take that, textbooks!
The final series begun so far is Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus, a series which takes place almost immediately following the last book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian. Kronos has been banished, and Camp Half Blood rejoices! But, Percy Jackson has mysteriously vanished, and even his girlfriend Annabeth has been unable to find him. At the same time, a boy named Jason wakes up in the back of a bus holding hands with his girlfriend and his best friend in the seat ahead of him. But, he has no memory of who they are, or who he is! It takes an attack by wind monsters and a trip to Camp Half Blood for the three of them to realize that they are demigods as well. Only, they are the sons and daughters of the ROMAN aspects of the Greek gods and goddesses. Fun stuff, it's like school all over again! Gotta remember the two different names of each god. This story follows Jason, Piper, and Leo as they try to help Jason remember his past, help Piper save her father from the monsters who have kidnapped him, and help Leo... with everything, really. Roman meets Greek mythology in an outstanding twist on the Percy Jackson series. Seriously though, Rick Riordan seems unable to miss with his modern-day mythological stories and tales. His stories are creative and original, his characters refreshing and easy to like and to identify with. Geared toward young adults but perfect for any age, the stories are fast paced and keep your attention right through the ends of each book. I am eagerly awaiting the Son of Neptune, book 2 in the Heroes of Olympus series.