danger, Will Robinson: mild spoilers ahead
Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson has a couple of things on his mind. At first, it was merely the fact that he was just expelled from another boarding school. But then he discovers that the ancient Greek gods still exist, he’s the son of Poseidon, and Zeus’ master bolt has been stolen–oh yeah, and everyone thinks he’s the thief. Percy and his friends must find the culprit before a war or epic proportions breaks loose, both on Olympus and the modern world. Along the way Percy battles terrifying monsters, travels to the Underworld, takes the first step of his destiny as a hero.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1: The Lightning Thief is an adventurous, wild and fast-paced ride with endearing characters and a creative premise. Author Rick Riordan also infuses the narrative with upbeat witticism, particularly the chapter titles– “Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death” and “We Get Advice from a Poodle” are among my favorites. Riordan nicely updates the Greek mythos so that the gods retain their sense of a dysfunctional family, perhaps ancient in law but modern in behavior, with superpowers and the ability to influence us mere mortals. The premise particularly reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (a certain god in a pinstripe suit seemed a direct nod to Wednesday). The story is a great page-turner, and I finished it within five days.
The Harry Potter series is the inevitable standard to which any new fantasy series is held and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the two have several big similarities: a young boy learns his true identity, trains in a secret institution, and ultimately battles the ultimate evil to become a legend. Indeed, this traditional and almost cliché fantasy storyline is everywhere, from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to even Superman. Younger readers will take comfort in the familiar, but as a young adult reader the plot became predictable, singing a tune I’ve heard one too many times.
The Lightning Thief is told in a casual third person narrative; we are limited to Percy’s thoughts and interpretations of events and other characters’ actions. Therefore, the style is more casual, allowing for humor and an easier read, but also simpler writing; the show-don’t-tell rule is often broken. As a young adult reader I sometimes chuckled, but more often I was distracted from the story and reminded that I was reading a children’s book. However, this could be a plus for younger readers, who may relate to Percy and laugh along with him too.
I would highly recommend the Percy Jackson series to any preteen and adolescent reader who enjoys similar series like Eragon, Keys to the Kingdom, and Here, There be Dragons. For an older reader, this is a fun read that you will run through quickly, but may be left wanting more. We’ll see in February which audience the film will attempt to satisfy the most.