AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.8 out of 5
Percy Jackson And The Battle Of The Labyrinth
Book four. The forces of the Titan Kronos attempt to use the ancient Labyrinth to circumvent Camp Half-Blood's defences, forcing Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Tyson to descend into the maddening maze to seek the help of its creator Daedalus.
Plotwise this is by far the most meandering book of the series so far, with some narrative dead ends and even some loops, including having the heroes return to camp and re-enter the Labyrinth from scratch about halfway through. To begin with, although I was certainly enjoying the read, I found this chaotic plot structure a bit frustrating. However, as the book progressed I came to realise that what seemed like random tangents were actually feeding into the tone of the book if not the plot. The story follows the twists, turns and, occasionally, deadends of a maze and if this is accidental on Riordan's part then it's by far the most fortuitous mistake he could've made as an author. So whilst I prefer a cleaner narrative structure than this, the fact that it's a bit tangled absolutely enhances the overall setting of the Labyrinth itself.
Twisting plot aside, this is a really enjoyable book. Percy continues to mature as a character and so does the world which Riordan creates around him. Whilst there is still a bit of the more whimsical tone of the first and second books, the overall tone of this book is of a desperate group of heroes undertaking a near-impossible quest in a last-ditch effort to stave off disaster. You really get the sense in these pages that the celestial war which has been building up in the preceding books has begun in earnest.
I'm also a bit of a sucker for a bit of awkward romance, so having Percy confusedly caught between feelings for three separate young women made for a nice subplot woven into the darker story around it. It also serves to remind us that Percy is still only fourteen and has to deal with all of the hormonal challenges that come with being on the cusp of manhood, whilst also dealing with gods and monsters.
4 out of 5
Percy Jackson And The Last Olympian
The fifth and final book of the Percy Jackson series. As the gods rush to face the monster Typhon, marching inexorably towards New York, the Titan Kronos unleashes his army against Manhattan with only Percy and his small band of allies standing between it an Olympus itself.
This book opens with a commando raid on the high seas which ends with one of Percy's friends dead. This sets not only the tone of the book but the stakes too; all-out war where no-one is safe. Often I criticise books if they only work as part of a series and don't stand scrutiny on their own, however here it feels entirely justified that this book should focus entirely on the final battle. After four books of adventures across America, not to mention through the Underworld, I think only dedicating part of this book to final throwdown with Kronos would've felt like a cheat. There are still a couple of detours for Percy and company, but they're all aimed towards gaining advantages for the battle.
There's a much more mature feel to this book as Percy bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood, having to confront his own preconceptions and prejudices if he's to have the courage, allies and insight to win the battle. I liked that quite early-on Percy learns that the Great Prophecy heavily implies he'll die saving Olympus and he spends the rest of the book with that knowledge weighing on him, without ever letting it weaken his moral code and dedication to those he loves.
All in all this is a satisfyingly epic conclusion to the series. Although 'satisfying' might not be the right word since it left me wanting more and has prompted me to queue-up the Kane Chronicles, the Heroes of Olympus, the Magnus Chase books and the Trials of Apollo (all set in the same world of gods, monsters and heroes) in my Amazon shopping basket.
4 out of 5
Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief
The first book of the Percy Jackson series. After being attacked by monsters, twelve year old Percy Jackson discovers that he is a Half-Blood, the son of one of ancient gods of Olympus. He reaches safety in Camp Half-Blood, where other mortal children of the gods live and train, but soon has to embark on a quest to not only save his mother's life, but also prevent a war between Zeus, Poseidon and Hades.
This book was re-released as simply 'The Lightning Thief' in an apparent attempt to avoid comparison with a certain series of books titled 'Harry Potter and the...'; but let's be realistic, that is a fair comparison which needs to be made. For me this book wasn't as solidly or cohesively plotted as those of transphobic monster J. K. Rowling, nor as immersive in its newly-revealed magical world, but there are a number of things which are much more enjoyable too. For starters Riordan clearly has a deep and informed appreciation of the mythology he's tapping into, whereas the the Harry Potter books rarely show much deference to real-world mythology. As someone who's always loved myths and legends, it's nice to see the Greek ones finally done some justice, rather than the "I watched 'Clash of the Titans' once" level of research that many writers who borrow Greek myths fall back on. Also, I would point out that although the plotting is less cohesive than the Potter books, it's clearly a choice on the part of the author, not a lack of ability. Riordan has decided to make Percy's adventures episodic in the way that the stories of the likes of Heracles, Theseus and Odysseus were.
How Riordan presents the mythological world crossing over with our own modern world is brilliant too and, honestly, put me more in mind of Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods' than anything else, albeit aimed at a YA audience, of course. Perhaps the most iconic example of this is Aunty Em's garden centre, where the garden ornament statues are suspiciously life-like.
Mythology aside, one of the strongest elements of this book (and one of the ways it's superior to the Potter books) is the character of Percy himself. Percy is a surprisingly charismatic kid, whose realistic struggles with dyslexia, ADHD and simply not fitting in provide a hook for the reader to pull them into the bizarre world that unfolds as the book goes on. My favourite scene in the whole book is where Percy impulsively mails a deadly object to Olympus and is told that the gods will be annoyed and think him impertinent, to which Percy, annoyed at being toyed with by the gods, replies "I am impertinent". I have to say that to begin with I was finding Percy's detailed knowledge of Greek myths to be a little unrealistic until I remembered that as I kid I probably had just as much encyclopedic knowledge of them, so it's just my cynical adult brain thinking that kids wouldn't know this stuff.
So overall a very enjoyable read which nicely explores and updates the myths of the ancient Greeks in modern day America.
4 out of 5
Percy Jackson And The Sea Of Monsters
Book 2. When the tree which protects Camp Half-Blood is poisoned, Percy, Annabeth and Percy's brutish new friend Tyson sneak away to attempt to not only recover the Golden Fleece, famed for its healing powers, but also rescue Grover, who has fallen into the hands of a man-eating Cyclops.
This is definitely a step down from the quality of the first book. The set-up here feels very rushed and contrived, whilst a lot of the encounters with mythological figures feels much more like pure name-dropping than it did in the first book. On top of that, although this book has a stand-alone quest story, it's very much a bridge novel, serving largely to connect the events of the first book to the larger story arc to be picked up later on.
All that said, this is still a very enjoyable book on a purely entertainment level. Once the quest story actually gets going and the heroes make their way into the titular Sea of Monsters, it felt much more like the best bits of the first book. I also continue to really like Percy as a protagonist, his irreverence being delightfully appropriate to a series involving powerful beings who literally demand reverence. He also makes a great conduit for Riordan's sense of humour, which is something I really enjoyed. ('"No, Seaweed Brain. That's hummus. Hubris is worse." "What could be worse than hummus?"')
So, a marked dip in quality overall, but still a book you can have a perfectly enjoyable time reading nonetheless.
3 out of 5
Percy Jackson And The Titan's Curse
The third book of the series. Whilst trying to recruit two new half-bloods, Annabeth is captured by the forces working for the Titan Kronos and she is soon joined in captivity by the goddess Artemis. Percy and Grover join Zeus' daughter Thalia and two of Artemis' Hunters in a quest across America to free the captives and prevent a mysterious monster from destroying Olympus.
There are bits of the early part of this book which felt pretty awkward to me. For starters, Annabeth being captured and Percy dreaming about her being his motivation is all too similar to the situation with Grover from '...Sea of Monsters'. Also, the summer camp framing of Percy's adventures feels pretty contrived here, as if the author felt like he had to include it, whether or not it makes sense to the narrative, because it's the formula he's set for himself. I mean we go from one of Percy's best friends disappearing (and remember that Percy isn't even sure she's alive at this point) to him eagerly getting stuck into a game of Capture the Flag. It just feels tonally off.
A big part of why the summer camp fun feels tonally off is that this is a much more mature book than the ones which came before. Far more than in either of the previous books we get a sense of impending catastrophe and a feeling that their are genuine stakes to what's going on. I won't spoil anything that the Delphic Oracle doesn't, but one of the main characters dies at the end here (and possibly one mid-way through too, but something tells me we've not seen the last of that one). This is by no means a complaint and I really like seeing the narrative mature as Percy himself does.
Although it lacks some of the iconic feel of mythic encounters of the first book, this is a really enjoyable continuation of the series and I particularly enjoyed the Herculean theme woven throughout the narrative; reminding us that not only do heroes have to overcome great challenges, but that they're just as capable of making bad or selfish decisions as the rest of humanity.
4 out of 5
Percy Jackson: The Demigod Files
A collection of three short stories and various Camp Halfblood-based extras including details on the Olympian gods and interviews with Percy and his friends. The stories see Percy helping to recover Ares' chariot, confronting a bronze dragon automaton and venturing into the Underworld once more.
This is a companion piece to the main Percy Jackson books, with the short stories apparently taking place between books four and five. This means that we get stories where Percy, his friendships and rivalries are already well established, so whilst this book would be a terrible starting point for readers new to the series, those already familiar (like myself) can just get on with enjoying the adventures.
And I certainly did enjoy them. I was worried that as short stories published separately from the novels that these would feel shallow and inconsequential but that was absolutely not the case. We soon realise that there are plenty of Greek gods and monsters that Riordan can still use without having to worry about contradicting the stories of those in the main narrative, so here we get to see things like Percy battling the gods Phobos and Deimos or having a fateful confrontation with one of the Titans; Iapetus, brother of Kronos. Although short and self-contained, these stories were every bit as enjoyable as Percy's adventures in the novels.
I was less impressed by the additional materials, which include a few puzzles and some in-universe character interviews, but I totally get that I'm not the intended age bracket for those parts of the book. And they're not all bad either; with the interviews actually touching on some important character points, not the least of which is Annabeth's frustration and fascination in regard to Percy.
4 out of 5