I started reading the Percy Jackson series in spring of 2008. I was near the end of my first year in my MFA in Creative Writing and was pretty burnt out on “serious” literature. It was during the MFA that my love of children’s and YA literature was reignited. I was having fun reading again, and taking part in the pure experience of reading for entertainment like I hadn’t done for a long time. The day the fourth Percy Jackson book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, came out, I rushed to Auntie’s Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore in Spokane, plucked it off the shelf, and hugged it (and then bought it, of course).
So, when author Rick Riordan wrote a new series set in the same world as Percy Jackson, The Heroes of Olympus, I knew I’d have to read it. The first book in the series, The Lost Hero, features some of the same characters from the Percy Jackson series (Annabeth, Chiron, Thalia, some of the minor characters from Camp Half-Blood, and the Olympian gods, of course) but the story revolves mostly around three new demigods: Jason, Piper, and Leo.
For me, it would be almost impossible not to compare Percy Jackson to the Heroes of Olympus, though I acknowledge that doing so is a little unfair. Inherently, however, I think the Heroes of Olympus succeeded in very similar ways that Percy Jackson did, so the comparisons are mostly favorable. For instance, I adore the way Rick Riordan reanimates mythical characters. In this book, we meet many new gods including Medea, who runs a shopping center, the god of the North Wind, who lives in a frozen penthouse in Quebec, and the god of wind, a scatter-brained weatherman. The personification of the gods is often hilarious, and it ranks among my favorite aspects of both book series. I think I enjoy reading Riordan’s interpretations of the gods for the same reason I love fairy tale retellings: it’s fascinating to see how an author can transform what is basically an inanimate, ancient myth into something that has a personality, something that exists in a different context than was originally written.
I also really appreciated that two of the main characters are from minority ethnic groups: Piper is Cherokee and Leo is Latino. Discussion of cultural identity takes a bit of a back seat when they discover they are the children of Greek gods, but I applaud Rick Riordan for attempting to infuse modern children's literature with a little diversity. Unfortunately, Native American and Latino characters are still rare in broad children's literature.
One criticism I have is with the narration style. One of the things I loved most about Percy Jackson was the hilarious first person narration. The Lost Hero, however, is told in third person and is, as a result, much less funny. I understand why Riordan needed to do this—there are three main characters in this book, not just one. And, there were a few laughs from Leo, a wise-cracking kid who has a way with fire and machines (guess who his dad is). I thought the third person narration made for a bit of redundancy, too; every two chapters, the narration focuses on a different member of the trio. As a result, we often hear about what each character thought about the same event, and it got a little tedious sometimes.
The alternating third person narration created another problem: the frequency of dreams in this book. Each of the major characters has dreams constantly—we’re talking one every couple chapters—and I wonder if they didn’t detract somewhat from the story. A fiction professor said once that writers should avoid writing dreams: most of the time it’s impossible to relate a dream accurately since real dreams often don’t make any kind of narrative sense. There is also the propensity to fill dreams with prophecy and foreshadowing when real dreams don’t work like that. I fundamentally agree with this; I can’t remember all the times I’ve read a book that an author has put a great deal of effort into making authentic, believable and true-to-life when suddenly a ridiculously unrealistic dream pops up, foreshadowing in some really clunky way.
Most of the dreams in The Lost Hero involve either obscure conversations with unknown adversaries or gods, vague prophecies, or amazingly detailed, accurate memories from the characters’ pasts. In the beginning, it was hard to keep track of who dreamed what because they came so frequently and were so similar. I understand that the dreaming works differently in the world of demigods, that gods can contact them through dreams, but I still felt that the sheer number of dreams was overwhelming. I felt like many of them could have been cut or minimized (why do we have to see every single dream from Jason, Piper, and Leo? Couldn’t some of the dreams have been off-screen and been relayed later in conversation?). In general, I think dreams are one of the less efficient, and least satisfying modes for delivering information and they should be avoided as much as possible.
The book really picked up speed as it progressed. The scope of the series came into sharp focus toward the end when we discover where Percy Jackson has been; when we learn Percy’s role, all of the previous events are more meaningful. The ending of this book does what all books in a series should do: build momentum for the forthcoming books in the series. I’m quite excited to read the next book in the series, The Son of Neptune, when it arrives in stores in fall of 2011!