29 June 2009

Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I pretty well always like young adult fantasy. Even though they're often very predictable, adventure stories are just fun. So the entertainment value is high and they let me indulge in the things I like about all fantasy – world creation, interesting magic (even if it's not called that), even the comfort of archetypal characters and the tropes of the genre and seeing them played with – without the things I don't like about adult fantasy – mainly women who exist as sex objects or not at all. I'm sure there are heaps of adult fantasy books I'd like if I read them, but I can't bear to weed through the crap to find them.

I've gotten so that I don't know where to start with young adult fantasy either. So many compare themselves (through blurbs on the covers) with Harry Potter, which is lazy and tells me nearly nothing – kids will triumph over evil and magic will be involved. So, you know, suggestions are always welcome.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan was recommended to me by a good friend who'd picked up the first book while looking for something light-hearted and fun, without too many depressing elements. The first book, The Lightning Thief, fits the bill pretty closely.

Opening paragraph:
Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.

If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.

Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.
Like a great many young adult adventure series, The Lightning Thief begins when a 12 year old boy, Percy Jackson, discovers that he's not quite a normal boy and that there is a whole other world hidden from outsiders, a world of magic and monsters and fights for power. As it turns out, Percy is the son of a mortal woman and a Greek god, one of the Olympians who still hold power, even if they're only thought of as myths. Percy, and other "half-bloods", is trained to be heroes, performing quests, following the whims and wars of these capricious gods. Percy is set to the task of recovering Zeus' stolen item of power, his master lightning bolt, and must return it by solstice or the gods will descend into another brutal war. Naturally, there are triumphs and minor defeats, allies formed and betrayed, battles and monsters, and twists on top of unexpected twists.

As in a lot of young adult literature, there is a curious lack of consequence and morality. Notwithstanding the fact that gods can be killed but will always return, Percy's response to his first kill is remarkably nonchalant. One death is treated as a practical joke and all, even the most personally hurtful of them, are treated in a remarkably emotionless way.

The story is a lot of fun, though. The action is never-ending, the down-time short enough to keep from bogging down the pace (although there could have been a little more build-up to a couple of the action sequences and perhaps fewer of them with the more minor gods and beasties). There are enough moments of lightness and humour to keep the book from becoming too serious. I could have done without the pop culture references, though. (Seriously, Hilary Duff? Way to date your novel, Riordan. Nothing wrong with setting the novel in a certain time and place, but maybe do it without referencing real life people who 20 years from now will only leave readers going, What? Who? Is that a joke?)

In any case, an enjoyable read. I think it would be great read aloud – each chapter ends with a bang, making it easy to break up into once-a-day reading sections. I'll definitely be picking up the rest of this series, once I've finished a few more of the books I already own.

Rick Riordan is the author of five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, as well as an editor of Demigods and Monsters, a collection of essays about the series. He also wrote the adult mystery series Tres Navarre. His website can be found here.

Riordan, Rich. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. New York: Hyperion, 2006.
Finished: 25 June 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 fork-tongued monsters
This was my 5th book in June and my 22nd in 2009.

*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.

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