Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1-5 by Rick Riordan

#1 Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2005)
#2 Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters (2005)
#3 Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse (2007)
#4 Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth. (2008)
#5 Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian (2009)

Written by: Rick Riordan


“It's funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality"

A few weekends ago I went home to Cairns for my best friend's hens night. It was my first trip home in two years (WOAH) which unfortunately meant that I completely forgot how much the flight sucks. It's only a little over two hours, so by the time you factor in take-off and landing, you can only have electronic devices on for maybe half the flight. Which is a complete drag, and I always forget to bring a physical book with me to fill the time. Luckily my little brother has a bookshelf full of young adult novels that I probably would never read otherwise. It's how I ended up reading The Hunger Games two years ago and how I ended up reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

I get pretty envious of my little brother. Where I had Baby-Sitter's Club and Sweet Valley High*, his shelves are stacked with Divergent, The Hunger Games and Eragon. I had a few iconic female characters (mostly from Harry Potter) but he has a mix of female warriors, reluctant leaders and intelligent strategists. I was basically forced to move up to adult fiction if I wanted to read something that was smart and creative, but my brother has the best of both worlds. He can read classics if he wants to, but he can also read modern young adult fiction that's actually pretty fantastic. I might be slightly outside the intended demographics for most of the books on his shelves, but it's always fun to have a look at the worlds that have been built to get kids excited about reading again.

Enter Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. I mostly grabbed this book off the shelf because I vaguely remember catching parts of the movie on TV awhile back and enjoying it and I ended up racing through it on my flight and picking up the rest of the series for a steal on my kindle. The bottom line here, really, is that these books are a heck of a lot of fun. I raced through The Lightning Thielf like I raced through Harry Potter when I was 13. If I had started reading it at night I'm certain I would have stayed up far too late telling myself I'd read "just one more chapter" before coming to the end and closing the book with a happy sigh.

And when it comes to books for kids (and Percy Jackson is probably best recommended for kids 10-13) that's pretty much all that's important. A book that can excite you and entice you and make you utterly exhausted for school the next day?

Is shirtless David Tennant inappropriate for a review of a kids book? DON'T CARE

But like the best children's books, Percy Jackson is also just a really decent series. It weaves ancient Greek mythology with the struggles of the modern school kid. Our protagonist, Percy, has been kicked out of every school he's ever attended. But when he discovers he's actually a demigod, the faults from his mortal life turn out to be the strengths of the godly blood that runs through his veins. His dyslexia is because his brain is tuned to Ancient Greek and his ADHD is because he is required to think 10 steps ahead in a battle scenario. Riordan thought up these books when his son, who has dyslexia and ADHD, asked for bedtime stories that focused on Greek mythology. I love when books take something that is perceived to be a disadvantage and gives another perspective. Does becoming a demigod magically mean Percy's dyslexia vanishes? No, but at least when he's struggling at the regular mortal schools during the year he has something to help him persevere and push through.

There are a lot of similarities to Harry Potter in Percy Jackson, from the young, dark haired 11 year old who discovers he's actually far more special than he ever thought, to the brainy female best friend and the funny, loving best male friend, to the adult mentor that has a slight sad edge to him. But perhaps the only one that's important is that there is a wealth of information behind the rather simple adventure narratives. Sure we've all heard of Hercules** and Zeus and Olympus, but can we all catch the minor references to classical Greek stories and monsters? When we hear the name Calypso do we all know instantly where that story might lead? If we hear about a hero being led through the labyrinth do we know which hero that was, or how that story ended? I went through a major Greek myth phase when I was about 12, but even still I kept my phone next to me so I could Google names or hints about appearances that didn't immediately spring to mind. It's not as full of easter eggs as Harry Potter, but seriously, what is?

All in all, if you have a kid in your life (or you want to treat your inner kid) then you can't really go wrong with this series. So if you're in the mood for an action/adventure with a hint of education and Harry Potter parallels then let me enthusiastically thrust the Percy Jackson series in your general direction, okay?

*Which are both fine, but they aren't exactly great representations of variety and complexity y'know.

**Mentioned in the book as both Heracles and Hercules, for those of you who are rather pedantic.


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