Review of The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5) by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a series that embodies many of enjoyable aspects of YA fiction and fantasy.

The difference between this volume and the first is pretty vast in my opinion. The development of the author is clear throughout the series, more so than in similar sagas. Writers don’t often find their feet and then run a marathon in the way Riordan has done for the length of his career.

The only back-step was the second volume. Now at the finish line of this influential series, this book is marked by spectacular action, great stakes, good characterization, and payoff for all of the set-up. The Last Olympian provides a satisfying conclusion. Some characters are redeemed and others have to turn over the spotlight. The whole thing was tense and interesting, with a few unexpected turns.

From the beginning, the strength of the series was in its characters and the choices they make in the final volume continue to keep them relevant. The lessons from the last few volumes trickle over and you’re not always sure what is motivating them. The tone is dark, but it makes for cinematic set pieces.

The theme of sacrifice is well-explored and memorable gods and titans paint a vivid backdrop for thematic elements.

Review of The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3) by Rick Riordan

The Titan’s Curse is better than it predecessors and sets up the next entries nicely.

Where the last book was weighed down by lackluster stakes, this one brings the conflicts to a new level of urgency. The plot grows in every chapter and the power of the main villain is on display. The villain is finally someone to fear, since we see what he does to those that serve him and what he has in store for our heroes. The immediate quest feels more perilous and important. By the end of the book, even if good prevails, so does an uneasiness, since the future is full of implications.

The strength of this plot-driven sequel is the give and take of loss and victory. Sometimes heroes need to fail to grow . The first entries suffered from a safer approach. With this one, all bets are off and a nice tension permeates the pages as safety nets dissolve.

Character-wise it’s more of the same. The differing personalities of the cast result in a well-rounded lineup, rather than a main character stealing the show. Motives and backstory add layers, but some of the touches could be called “paint-by-numbers.” Nobility is sometimes predictable, but you shouldn’t come into this series looking for subtlety.

It would be nice to see more nuanced villainy, to get more motive for their dastardly deeds. There are a few exceptions in some of the newly introduced characters, hinted at with a returning villain, Luke, but overall, it was consistent with the other books.

The writing seems to have improved as well. The narrative relied less on happenstance and the tense ending felt well set-up. It lacked poetic descriptions and memorable lines, but the juxtapositions of myths and our world are always good for a grin. Playful irreverence and pop culture references don’t distract from an engaging quest. I would like to see more world building in the next installment and some new mythological references to texture the reading experience.
Unfortunately, it would be difficult to get into this book without first picking up the previous adventures. At least by this point the training wheels begin to come off.

Review of The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) by Rick Riordan

Nothing beats a good adventure story. 

Whether it’s the adventure of discovery like in Ringworld, the adventure of slaying a dragon in The Hero and The Crown, or a hybrid like Brave Story, you can get into these journeys so long as they are done well. Which is why, though the Percy Jackson series is not particularly deep, I still have fun reading it. It is a “slay the dragon” story that knows exactly how to do this sort of thing.

The first book in this series, The Lighting Thief, does exactly what I would want from the first in an epic adventure. It sets-up the general world and story expectations while introducing us to characters and the plot to come.

Character-wise, the main cast is fine. Percy is a good lead who is a mix of flaws and capabilities. He does fail and is not always right, leaving room for the characters surrounding him to show-off their own strengths. This dynamic of character interaction is where the book is at its best. Though none of the characters are brilliant, they play-off each other well and are amusing to follow. This interplay of personalities is pivotal to the longevity of any series like this and is a clear strength, akin to what Rowling did in her series. The character interplay will be what keeps you reading, even if some of the other aspect of this book rust with age.

The set-up is fun, though the world-building is generic at this point. In this world the gods of the Greek pantheon are still alive and living in the West. Along with them comes the whole of Greek mythology and their predilection to make demi-gods. Percy finds himself thrust into this unknown world but soon finds he fits better here than in the mundane world us mortals live in. Again, nothing special, but the mix of the familiar and foreign is as good as any other example I could think of. It is fun to read each chapter waiting for the mythology to sneak in and subvert our expectations. The details are built up constantly though they are never overwhelming, and for any fan of Greek mythology will seem appropriately crafted within the realm of those myths. Rick Riordan does a good job of using these ideas to the fullest while also (usually) knowing how far to take them.

The writing is aimed at a younger audience. It is never challenging, but flows at a steady pace. The tone is similar to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (even though this came first). Even while dire things are happening, the characters make jokes or sarcastic comments and the interplay of Greek mythology and our world can be tongue-in-cheek. The whole book reads fast and kinetically. If you’re wanting a deep plot story this is not for you.

The over-arching story is also well done. It has the right amount of twists and turns to keep you engaged in the unfolding adventure but never feels like its talking down to you or did not set-up a twist. It foreshadows its sequels well. It does not end on a cliff hanger per-se but definitely hints at how this will end and how epic that ending will be.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lighting Thief was more novel of an idea when it first came out. Now it feels more generic, surrounded by a sea of copy-cats. What makes it last is that the adventure and the character who experiences it are memorable and a blast to read. Any fans of adventure or Greek mythology should give this a try. If you don’t like a semi- constant goofy tone that never takes itself too seriously, stay away. This is Neil Gaiman for a younger audience , but I would argue that most adults can enjoy what it has to offer.