This was fun! I think this book and the promise it holds in the rest of the series is the only logical successor to the Harry Potter series. It lacks some of the narrative magic and wonder that Rowling’s series manages to create and doesn’t create as much empathy for the characters, it’s not bad. I realize that doesn’t sound like I’m saying much to recommend it, so perhaps I should clarify: I disdain urban fantasy. With a passion. I’ve read too many bungled attempts to recreate magical geography and fantasy worlds “just around the corner” of every day existence to make me seriously doubtful of any attempts no matter how highly recommended. The idea is clever and promising in inception, but always ends up gimmicky in execution. I think I’m about the only person that read Gaiman’s American Gods and didn’t really think it was the next best thing to sliced bread. And in the space between reading that novel and this one, I’ve had some rather poor experiences.
I don’t know, maybe it’s the Greekness of this urban fantasy tale that makes it different, but I liked it. I didn’t shudder at the “gods in hiding” idea as much this time around, or the cheesy attempts to hide magical geography like Hades or Olympus behind modern facades. Riordan does a pretty awesome job with the basics of the old “quest” tale and the prophecies he introduces throughout are just enigmatic enough to keep you interested in how things will eventually play out. Sure, they’re not brainwracking riddles and any reader halfway cognizant of the old myths should be able to figure things out - but it’s fun! It’s a testament to just how much the hero’s journey, told competently, still resonates with human beings in its myriad forms.
I also like Percy a lot. Less whiny and far more capable than Harry, he’s a more confident leader of his little band (which coincidentally includes a wise female figure and a kind of bumbling and awkwardly clumsy best friend figure who help in his transition to the world of magic he didn’t know existed as part of his legacy - including attendance at a special school that he can only attend for part of the year; sound familiar?). The group dynamic between Percy, Annabeth and Grover seems far more equitable and harmonious than the relationship between Harry, Hermione and Ron, where it seemed that the bulk of responsibility for saving the day always fell to Hermione. Not that that was a bad thing! Hermione is probably the greatest female role-model for young women of the 21st century. All I’m saying is that in the Percy Jackson series, everyone seems capable and everyone has a role to play.
I also thought that the whole mysterious parentage thing and the explanations for the relocation of the Greek gods of old to America were exceptionally well done. Riordan builds a political family feud into a tangled web that makes for a sufficiently layered and interesting story that goes beyond the well-hashed out mythologies of old, keeping enough of the original for familiarity’s sake and changing just enough to keep it from being stale and suitable for a younger, more intelligent audience.
Highly recommended for filling the Potter void!