Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Review: Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief

As a child, I was enthralled by the stories of the Greek Gods. Zeus and the titans; Hercules and his labors; Aphrodite and her many lovers; these were stories that filled me with awe and wonder. I read books about these fantastic Olympians and their many scandalous, if not obscene, affairs with mortals. Yes, Western influence came at a very young age. Add some Hollywood movies (Clash of the Titans; Jason and the Argonauts) to this process of acculturation and viola! I was hooked on the Olympians for life.

Bulfinch was a buddy in high school. Edith Hamilton, a companion in freshman college. In this age of ICT and reality TV, I wonder the writers who could lure kids, my own included, into the realm of Greek mythology and the like. I found the answer to my question after reading Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief but with a few disappointments along the way.

What Worked
Riordan writes energetically. His work on the first book of the 39 Clues Series was exciting. In the The Lightning Thief, he kept his style of writing with the same verve and energy. The trip which Percy took from Long Island to Denver then Los Angeles and back to New York was arrayed with monster attacks, magical gifts to ward off the beings from hell and enough nymphs to sustain him and his companions. Reading Riordan is indeed a roller coaster ride.

The intertwining of myth and reality was carefully designed that for once, you would believe that the gods do walk among us mortals. While this conceit is not new, Riordan picks out places in modern United States as setting to establish one's suspension of disbelief. Thanks to Holywood. I had no difficulty imagining the Empire State Building as a gateway to Olympus and Los Angeles as a route to the Underworld. The mythological monsters that thrive in stories and grow in the imagination populate these places and other city states in between. Medusa tends a garden with sculptures, apparently, victims of her deadly gaze. The furies are a couple of retired old ladies on a vacation trip. And the fates, yes, my personal favorite, can be found in common flea markets spinning and cutting one's thread of life.

If only for these trivialities, The Lightning Thief is an engaging read. Sadly, it is not entirely so.

What Did Not Work
Percy has dyslexia and ADHD. He's a darling despite the disorder. Then again, what educational research try to find out and understand for years, Riordan demystifies in one novel for young adults. Kids with special needs are sired by the gods. So if one kid can't read English, try using some Greek texts. Yeah, right. This conceit is not for me. Sorry.

Percy's friends, Annabeth and Grover, are characters I've met before. Think Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. Both were cut from the same mould except that neither did any significant actions or decisions to push the story further on. If there were, I did not find it relevant to stand out in Percy's quest. In the end, both ventured into their own internal and external quests by leaving Half-Blood Hill -- the summer camp for godlings. As for the adult characters, none of them appealed or grew on me. Even Poseidon's surfer dude persona lacked the yummies. The villains are too predictable, besides. There was effort on the characters' part to show tenderness and sensitivity to each other but it just does not bring home the bacon.

I think I've read too many Neil Gaimans and Dianne Wynn Joneses and Eva Ibbotsons. I've watched too many Miyazakis as well. For the late tweener and early teener, however, Percy Jackson and The Lghtning Thief is probably the book to bring at bedtime or in a long trip to grandma's house on a weekend visit. My twelve year old son is actually carrying Percy wherever he goes and has put aside the required Newberry book this semester.

Now if that's a sign of hope, then let the disappointments rot in the basement.

My rating -- 3/5 Bookmarks

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Did you mean "ZEus" and not zUes?

Zarah Grace C. Gagatiga said...

correction done! thanks!

Helen said...

You'll be even more disappointed by the movie...

Patrick said...

That's too bad. I love this book series especially because of the Greek mythos. It's no Harry Potter but it's really funny and I like my fantasy books that way. But based on your reaction, I think I can safely say this kind of book is not for you. Still, I think you should try book 2. That's my favorite of the series so far. Reading book 4 now. :D

ivy said...

i'm done reading the entire series and seriously, Riordan knows what he's talking about.
the book is not only engaging but in the end, it drives home a point so common that we tend to overlook it.
i love book 5 - The last Olympians!

Anonymous said...

hahahahaha funny.........
i like both harry potter and percy jackson.........

Anonymous said...

i've read the entire series. it's entertaining as far as novels go, but it was painfully insubstantial and shallow. there's no way it's comparable to the "harry potter" series. i hated how the author only differentiated the gods from the demi-gods by pointing out that they are indeed gods who have enormous stocks of power. i was hoping that the distinction would be felt through a gap in personailty and air. By which, i meant that the gods should have been more graceful and wiser. In the story, they were just thinking and acting the same way humans(or half-humans) did.

Another problem i've seen was the way the writer subdued the characters' emotions. this is particularly evident in book 1 when percy saw her mom got crushed by a monster and thought she was dead. it was implied that he felt horrible, but it was very short-lived and it immediately went into the background. even worse, that short-lived grief was unbelievably bearable. as if he just lost a dog.

i've also noticed that the story of "percy jackson and the olympians" was predictable. there were events and/or encounters that were complete give-aways, and it followed some story cliches like characters dying (or so other characters thought) then coming back.

lastly, the story had a monotonous pattern: something comes up, percy goes into a quest, percy and crew encounter monsters, percy and crew overcome obstacles.

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