Two New Series Starters
Reviewed by Alana Joli Abbott
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:3 (#344) in March 2011.]
Rick Riordan hit the big time when Percy Jackson and the Olympians drew young fans across the globe. The Percy Jackson novels are told in first person from the point of view of an ADHD, dyslexic demi-god (most half-mortal children of the Greek Gods have ADHD, which gives them the reflexes for fighting monsters, and are dyslexic, because their brains are predisposed to read Ancient Greek rather than English). The books aren’t quite as omnipresent as the Harry Potter novels, but they’re huge sellers — and over the Christmas season, booksellers reported that the first two books in Riordan’s two newest mythology series were making waves (and helping recover from what was reportedly otherwise a pretty bad year). The Red Pyramid is the starting novel in The Kane Chronicles, which deals with a league of magicians and ancient Egyptian gods. The Lost Hero takes off where the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series left off: Percy and friends may have saved the world from one great threat, but a bigger one may be on the way.
The Red Pyramid is narrated by siblings Carter and Sadie Kane in alternating first person. The conceit of the story is that they’re creating a transcript for other kids whose lives are just about to get touched by cosmic powers — which works, especially in both the lead in and the close, which are designed to have kids believing that the story is real (just don’t tell the grown-ups!). Carter and Sadie have unique voices. Carter, raised by their African-American archeologist dad, who was always on the move, is very aware of himself as a young, African-American man. He dresses very conservatively to prevent other travelers from viewing him with suspicion, for example. Sadie has been raised by their white British grandparents, and looks more like her mother than her father; she’s grown up in one place, and her voice is distinguished not only by her use of British slang, but by her sense of the world as a stationary place, and her longing for both adventure — which she’s always assumed Carter has had without her — and for the feeling of being at home when the dangers they find themselves in cast them adrift. The novel begins as their father tries to complete a ritual that left Carter and Sadie’s mother dead years before — and has him vanishing before their eyes, leaving them to the mercy of a mysterious group of magicians who are determined to keep the Egyptian gods from interfering with the world. Carter and Sadie, however, come to believe that the only way to keep chaos from overwhelming the world is working with the old gods, instead of against them. Accomplishing this, however, is easier said than done — and while the first volume ends with success (and even some happiness) for Carter and Sadie, it’s clear that their mission will take, most probably, another four books.
In The Lost Hero, Riordan returns to Camp Halfblood, the setting of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, this time with three new heroes — one who has mysteriously lost his memory, and two who are far more powerful than your average demi-god. Rather than using a first-person narrative, Riordan uses limited third person in this book — which works fantastically well for being able to take on the perspective of each of the three heroes without forcing a unique voice for each of them. Clearly, he can make that style work — but here, the changes between the narrators would be too jarring to be successful, particularly after the previous, single first-person narration of the previous Camp Halfblood books. Piper, the daughter of a famous actor, is a thief — or, as she explains, people just give her things, then end up regretting it later and reporting her. She wants her father’s love, and wants him to believe in her, but seems unable to get his attention unless she’s getting in trouble. Now that he’s missing, she’s determined to do anything to get him back — even if it means betraying her friends. Leo not only has a way with tools, he has a way with fire — but that’s a secret he’s not willing to share with even his closest pals, because he believes he’s at fault for his mother’s death. Jason doesn’t remember his past, but he remembers some things about the world, and although everyone else he knows seems to see the world through a Greek lens, his view is entirely Roman. What the three of them have to uncover on their quest is a secret that has been kept from the other demi-gods for centuries, and it has everything to do with why Percy Jackson has gone missing. Like Riordan’s other books, The Lost Hero has a great sense of pacing, but an even better sense of fun. The characters all have real desires and real worries, and they seriously consider the consequences of their choices (something that can’t be said of all main characters in novels for this age group), but despite those qualities, they have moments of lightheartedness, of enjoying each other’s company, and of giving each other hope and support. Riordan had to raise the stakes for saving the world to continue the series, but the writing in this book definitely seems up to the task — and I suspect that more heroes (probably some of the favorites from the Percy Jackson series) will become part of the narrative as the story moves on.
Overall, each book is a strong launch to a new series — readers who followed the Percy Jackson series will find a lot of the same things to love here, and will be glad for more adventures in Riordan’s steeped-in-myth world.