Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Books 1-5 by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)The premise of these booksThe Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2) is intriguing: the ancient Greek gods are still alive and well and still up to their usual philanderings, begetting a number of "half-blood" children with mortals. These children usually have trouble in school, have ADHD or other learning difficulties (because their brains are hard-wired for ancient Greek), and often have monsters chasing them by their early teens. Percy Jackson learns that he is a half-blood when he is twelve and is attacked by his math teacher (a monster in disguise) on a school field trip, effectively turning his life upside down as he escapes to Camp Half-Blood and takes on a dangerous quest to save the world. Each book follows the same pattern of a threat to the gods or Camp Half-Blood, with Percy and his friends encountering many fantastic dangers and tense moments as they search for the elusive unriddling of the Oracle's prophecies and save the world.

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3)The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4)Now I understand a 30-something mother of two is not the intended audience for this series, so you'll have to bear with me when I take what The New York Times Book Review meant as a positive for a negative, describing The Lightening Thief as "perfectly paced, with electrifying moments chasing each other like heartbeats." Don't get me wrong, that's a perfect description of each book in the series, but I, for one, found it a little wearying. I'm sure that non-stop action and adventure are the perfect pacing for a pre-teen or teen boy reader, but when each book is yet another quest to save the world and almost every chapter raises and resolves yet another crises, it left me thinking the characters were more automatons than "real" people. I think a large part of this stems from the first person narration - we only get Percy's point of view, which is understandably a little scattered due to his ADHD - and I must say the author seemed to capture the thoughts and perspective of a teen boy pretty well, including a little bit of attitude. But if you contrast this writing style with the semi-omniscient narrator of the Harry Potter series, it's clear that the latter lends itself much better to character development, which is an essential quality of a great book, as far as I'm concerned.

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5)In the final assessment, I enjoyed them as quick reads with creative, if somewhat repetitive plots. For adult readers, I would recommend not reading them in quick succession, since I think both the unrelenting action and redundancy would not be so obvious or annoying with some time between each reading. 

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Revised EditionThey were a fun way to reacquaint myself with Greek mythology, which I'm hoping to delve into on an introductory level with my daughter as we study ancient history using The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child (Vol. 1) in our homeschooling plan for first grade this year. But I won't be adding the Percy Jackson series to our read-aloud list. 

I will be interested to see how Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief was adapted to the screen, but as with the books, I doubt that I'll be sharing it with my three-year-old and six-year-old, There are just too many potentially frightening scenes since Percy and his friends are constantly battling monsters, and the Underworld just isn't a pleasant place, after all. I'll be sure they are ready to handle fictional accounts of false gods and many tense battle scenes before recommending the books, although I can see how these would be very engrossing for reluctant young male readers.


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Hmmm. I've wondered about these books. I don't think *I* would enjoy them too much, but then again, as you pointed out, I'm not the intended audience.

Thanks for a balanced review!

Carrie said...

REALLY was excited to see your review and catch your perspective on this series. I've largely ignored it but when on vacation a few months back, there was a copy of The Lightning Thief at the rental. I didn't have enough time to get into it and I had no idea that there was a tie-in with Greek mythology. I think I made it two chapters in and I could see why it would have appeal but, obviously, didn't make it very far! Glad for your thoughts.

Thanks for taking the time to share!