Richard Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
Book review by Sarah Denslow
Okay, I’m moderately embarrassed to have read The Percy Jackson series, a set of five books chronicling the adventures of one Percy Jackson, who, as any pre-teen can tell you, is the demigod protagonist of these adventure stories. Yes, that’s right: demigod.
Riordan’s tales imagine Greek myths in a modern day setting: the gods don’t live on Mt. Olympus, they live on a secret floor at the very top of the Empire State building. Apollo doesn’t drive a chariot, but a sports car. Dionysus handles not just wine and revelry, but also Tetris. At least Riordan has a sense of humor about it all.
The basic framework of the tales is that Percy, who has just found out he’s a demigod, may or may not be doomed to die and may or may not have to save the world. Along the way to the potential doomsday, he faces “normal” teenage problems, like girls, fitting in, and coming to terms with his absentee father. It’s not a groundbreaking plot, but that’s not why these books are getting attention.
Instead, the hugely popular series tends to get praised for
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
I’m not going to dispute either of those claims. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians chronicles are a great series of adventure stories, and they do provide a pretty accurate retelling of Greek myths (modern inventions excluded). The stories stay true to the ideas of gods, and even manage to point out different versions of the same myths as they are covered. All in all, it makes for a sneakily scholarly read.
Riordan does a great job of keeping the readers interested and educated (after all, I did read all of Percy’s adventures despite my embarrassment). What he fails to do is create stirring (or even particularly pleasant) prose.
Every writer has their annoying quirks, but Riordan displays a lot of them.
For instance, young Percy, our demigod narrator, has an annoying habit of making fatalistic statements to the effect of “I should have known then we were doomed” only to show a page or two later that NOTHING bad came of the supposedly dooming action. This is okay the first ten or so times it happens, but when it happens about every other chapter of every book, it starts to wear.
At five books, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is overly long. Not enough happens in terms of overall plot and character development to really justify this length, and I suspect Riordan was just trying to squeeze in more myths. The foreshadowing, the hints, and the fatalistic comments are repeated so very often that there’s a part of you that just wants to smack a few of the characters and Riordan to boot and tell them to get to the point already. I seriously debated reading the fifth and final installment, The Titan’s Curse, before finally finding it for two dollars at a used book sale.
Despite this, though, there are some truly enjoyable scenes (I myself love the various attacks by Centaurs, who are too into partying not to be hilarious when fighting), and I have to commend Riordan for conveying Greek mythology in such an accessible way.
In short, Percy Jackson and the Olympians Boxed Set is great for your kids to read, and you shouldn’t mind reading it with them. Just maybe in small doses.
The Percy Jackson and The Olympian Books are:
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