Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book Series by Rick Riordan

August 29, 2011

Thanks to my daughter's friend who is calls herself a Percy Jackson "fanatic," I have the books of Rick Riordan's  Percy Jackson and the Olympian book series to read during this long 4-day weekend (actually only 3-day for me because I had to work on Saturday).

Book 1:  The Lightning Thief

This book introduces us to Percy Jackson, who is a problematic middle school student in New York City who had dyslexia, ADHD and trouble staying in school.   In one school activity in a museum, Percy was attacked by their substitute Math teacher and it was then that Percy found out that he was in fact a demigod, the son of the sea-god Poseidon.  At that moment, trouble was brewing in Mt. Olympus because Zeus lost his Lightning Bolt, as Perseus was being accused to be the thief!  Together with his satyr protector, Grover and the demigod daughter of Athena, Annabeth, Percy goes on a quest to prove his innocence and to restore the celestial order that threatens to destroy Western civilization as we know it.

There were several aspects that the movie changes in the name of cinematic license.  The movie does away with the Oracle scene, the other demigods Thalia and Clarisse, Annabeth's magic NY Yankees cap and the entire Ares subplot of the book.  Book and movie also vary in the way Percy obtains the three pearls required to get out of the Underworld.   Their thrilling adventure in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MI was replaced in the film by the Parthenon in Nashville, TN.  Foremost though, Percy and Annabeth were only 12 years old in the book.  In the movie, they looked like they were 16 already, and they were clearly attracted to each other already.  I guess they want to get a romantic angle going as the kids grow older with succeeding films.  Maybe they want to veer away from being too Harry Potter for comfort so they started with an older film Percy and Annabeth.

When you are reading the book, you can feel the Harry Potter influence.  An awkward hero who did not know who he was.  He has two close friends who go to a training school, in this case a girl and a satyr.  Camp Half-Blood reminds you of Hogwarts, as Annabeth and Grover reminds you of Hermione and Ron.  Whereas JK Rowling has freer rein of her imagination as to how her wizard world would be, Riordan integrates known stories in Greek mythology into his own story line.  

It was fun recalling myths about the Olympian gods, the Furies, Medusa, Chiron, Charon transposed into the New World (of America) in the modern times as you followed the trio's adventure cross-country from New York to the Underworld (in where else but LA) and back to Mt. Olympus on the 600th Floor of the Empire State Building.  Good clean fun for the young and the young at heart to read!  Those funny little one-liners pepper the book from Percy's adolescent point of view are hilarious.  And you will want to read the next books and follow their adventures after a much bigger plot is revealed in the last chapter.

Book Two:  The Sea of Monsters

In the second book, Percy and Annabeth go on another quest to seek the legendary Golden Fleece to heal the enchanted pine tree that guards Camp Half-Blood.  The tree had been poisoned and this resulted in Chiron's expulsion and was causing the entire camp to deteriorate in front of their eyes.  As they seek for Grover, they also search for Grover who had been captured by a Cyclops.  Their team was completed by Percy's giant but timid new friend Tyson, who had a mythical secret of his own.  

In this adventure, we meet the Tantalus, Grey Sisters who shared one eye, the Laistrygonian giants, Stymphalian birds, and the Hydra (which we had prematurely met in the first movie already). We also even meet the two snakes that wind around Hermes's caudaceus, named George and Martha.  We are taken on a sea voyage that takes us to meet the graceful Hippocampi, the sinister duo of Scylla and Charibdes, the wily sorceress Circe, the mystical Sirens, and even Blackbeard the pirate.  

Also in this book, we learn more about the bigger plan to take over Mt. Olympus that was hinted about in the first book.  Honestly though, the plot device that the main evil mastermind needed to be pieced back together sounded uncomfortably like Voldemort needing regain his physical form.  However, the book was comfortably paced and a quick read.  There was still those humorous bits here and there.  The ending is an excellent cliffhanger that would make to want to grab that third book as soon as possible.  You could not help but imagine the movie version in your head while reading it.  There are some significant characters in this book who were not even mentioned in the first movie.  I guess we need to wait and see how that will be handled by the script writers.

Book Three:  The Titan's Curse

The Titan in the title of the book is Atlas whom our hero will be meeting in this installment.  We all know what his curse was.  So what has that got to do with Percy?  From the beginning of this book, Annabeth is abducted by the bad guys.  Percy teams up with a newly-resurrected powerful half-blood on this quest.  They also go with a couple of perpetually young Huntresses, who have sworn off men and dedicated their lives to the goddess Artemis.   

The demigods and Grover actually meet the twin gods of the Moon and Sun, Artemis and Apollo.  We are also introduced to a pair of new very young half-blood characters, Bianca and Nico, whose fate in this book is critical to the advancement of the bigger main story, which is now formally called the Grand Stirring.  We are also going to meet other goddesses like Aphrodite and Athena as Percy had meetings with them.  Some mythological animals they encounter include the Nemean Lion, the Erymanthian Boar, Ladon (the dragon of the Hesperides) and the cute and gentle Ophiotaurus (who appears to have a more major role in the celestial conflict than initially expected).

The road trip this time starts from Washington DC as the friends try to elude ghostly skeletal warriors in the Smithsonian museums.  Then, they  find themselves in isolated Cloudcraft, New Mexico where they found the junkyard of the gods.  An exciting fight happens within the confines of Hoover Dam.  Here Percy meets Rachel Elizabeth Dare, a mortal girl who can apparently see supernatural beings.  Percy's search for Annabeth finally ends in San Francisco where a another mountain was occupied by the bad guys to mirror Mt. Olympus.  

Book Four:  The Battle of the Labyrinth

Anyone would know that there is only one famous Labyrinth in Greek mythology and that is the one occupied by the Minotaur.  Of course, in Riordan's magnified version, this Labyrinth occupies the entire underground of the Continental United States!  

Percy and his friends enter the Labyrinth in search for Daedalus.  We know Daedalus as the father of Icarus, the guy who flew too close to the sun so his wings melted and he plummeted to his death.  Daedalus in the book is a master architect who had been cursed with eternity trapped in the labyrinth because of his various "crimes."  Both sides in the brewing war of the Titans vs. Olympians search for Daedalus to gain vital information and technology for their respective battle arsenal.

We discover that Rachel Elizabeth Dare is more than just a random girl that Percy met in Hoover Dam in the last book.  Rachel and Percy cross paths again in the very first chapter. Despite her mortality, she possesses a power that would prove instrumental in the race to find Daedalus.  On a more personal note, she also gains the position of the third corner of a teen love triangle.  

Book Five:  The Last Olympian

All roads lead to New York City as the prophesied battle between the Olympians and the Titans come to a head.  The whole of Manhattan island becomes a battlefield as Percy and his demigod friends clash with the monsters allied with the Titans.  Key events occur first in the Underworld  involving the River Styx and Achilles, which prepare Percy for his monumental battle.  

We learn who the Last Olympian is, and this would not be too obvious.  We would finally see how the big Oracle prophesy would finally come to pass.  We would of course read about how the teen love triangle is going to be resolved.  If you notice, I could only write so much about these last two books without completely giving away the whole story.

This book series is quite a quick satisfactory read.  I look forward to the movies that would probably follow. Now that I have read the whole series, I feel that the first movie was not really done well at all.  There are several characters in the book who would be playing important roles throughout the series up to the final battle who were not even mentioned in the first movie.  Not to mention, the film makers also made Percy and Annabeth already older than their book counterparts.  Anyway, l guess let us just see how they deal with the rest of the four books, should they still decide to make sequels.

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