I was expecting more of the same when I picked up The Lightning Thief, the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I’d never heard of the series until my li’l buddy JN recommended it to me because I live under a rock, apparently, as this book has already been reviewed on Pajiba.
Never have I been happier to be wrong.
Riordan spins a gripping little tale, masterfully weaving Greek mythology into a contemporary setting.
It’s a cute, child-friendly take on a tale that every kid wishes were his at some point in his life: the crappy parts of my life are only temporary because I am the child of someone important! When I was little, I imagined my “real” parents were celebrities or royalty. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my parents, who were always working at their liquor store (my parents were Koreans who owned a liquor store. I am a cliché in so many ways) — it was just that I longed for the glamor and adventure that I only read about in books.
But I must confess that Percy Jackson has a harder life than I do. He keeps getting punted from school to school because things have a way of going wrong when he’s around. His stepdad is a malodorous, mouth-breathing, Cro-Magnon jerk who loves nothing better than to hassle Percy. The only real bright spot in his life is his beloved mother and a fuzzy, if bright, memory of his real dad.
Of course, “everything changes” (cue jazz hands) when Percy’s suddenly attacked by a teacher at his school — who turns out to be a Harpy in disguise. This Harpy attack sets off a chain of events through which the truth about Percy is revealed: he’s the son of a Greek god!
This revelation gets him enrolled in Camp Half-Blood, a sort of summer camp for kids with divine parentage. At first, we don’t know who Percy’s father is, but (SPOILER!!!!) it’s soon revealed that his father is Poseidon, god of the sea (and if you couldn’t figure that out from the first quarter of the book, then I just don’t know what to tell you).
Since every hero must complete a quest, Percy is given the task of finding Zeus’ lightning bolt, which was recently stolen. None of the other gods will confess to taking it, and Zeus is threatening to go to war with Poseidon, whom he’s accused of stealing it, if it isn’t returned in short order. As Poseidon’s son, it falls to Percy to discover the identity of the real thief, find the stolen bolt, and return it to Mount Olympus in order to prevent a divine war of catastrophic proportions.
Riordan did a great job of bringing elements of classical Greek mythology into this kids’ adventure story. He doesn’t dumb it down, either. While it’s never explicitly stated, it’s pretty clear that certain gods (I’m looking at you, Hermes) are philanderers, just as they were in the myths. He includes lesser-known characters (such as Chiron the centaur — I’d forgotten who he was) as well as the standard gods that everybody learns in the ancient civilizations unit in sixth grade.
And as far as adventure goes, the book is tons of fun. The action never lets up, and it’s no surprise to me that the series is so popular.
Between this series and The Mysterious Benedict Society, there are going to be a lot of children’s books in my to-read list this year.