Monday, June 11, 2012

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Perseus Jackson is called Percy by his friends, not that he has many. He is what they call a ‘troubled’ twelve year old, diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. Add in serious impulse control issues and a very bad temper, and it is easy to understand why he never lasts more than a few months in any school before he is expelled. It is almost the same at Yancy Academy, only this time he has found a friend, Grover, and a teacher that he actually likes, Mr Brunner, who teaches Latin. However, during a field trip to a museum, Percy’s pre-algebra teacher, Ms Dodds, turns into a large, winged creature and attacks him. Percy vividly remembers Mr Brunner throwing him a pen that becomes a sword, which causes Ms Dodds to disintegrate when he hits her. This is strange enough, but when he gets outside no one else remembers Ms Dodds at all, not even Mr Brunner.

At the end of the year, Percy returns to the apartment that he and his mother, Sally, share with his horrid stepfather, Gabe. Sally decides that she and Percy should take a brief holiday in Long Island, but then Grover turns up, shows them that he is in fact a satyr and warns them that the Furies are coming. As they race towards a safe place called Camp Half-Blood, they are attacked and Sally disappears in a golden shower of light as the Minotaur strangles her. In his fury, Percy kills the Minotaur so that he and Grover can get to the safety of Camp Half-Blood. Once in the Camp, Percy discovers that he is the son of a god, as are all the other children there and Mr Brunner is actually the centaur Chiron. As if that were not shocking enough it soon becomes clear that the gods hold Percy responsible for stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt, so he has to go on a Quest to find it before returning it to its rightful owner.

I chose this book as my ‘Mythology’ title for the Once Upon A Time VI Challenge. I found it difficult to find an interesting title in that genre but I had heard that the Percy Jackson books were very good. I did see the film adaptation, which I thought was pretty poor. However, I know that it is very difficult for films to recapture what makes a book great: the Harry Potter novels are far superior to their film counterparts. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, and I was.

Percy has a cynical, world-weary tone of voice and we immediately sympathize with the unwarranted persecution that seems to follow him from school to school. He seems to have nothing going for him, what with the ADHD and dyslexia, and I can understand his frustration with trying to cope in classes. I found the later explanation of his dyslexia a little forced, although I have studied ancient Greek myself and I could never get the hang of the different letterforms, so it did make sense to me. This does bring me to one minor criticism though: I was confused as to why the phrase “Di immortales!” was used so much. This is the Latin for “By the immortal gods!” but I thought that they were hard wired for Greek, not Latin. I was also a little confused as to why Mr Brunner / Chiron was a Latin teacher but included Greek mythology in the course: I can only assume that this is an aspect of the American education system, with which I am not familiar, as Mr Riordan thanks a Classicist for his input.

The other characters were also appealing, although I felt that they were not given much room to show any complexity. I am not sure if this is due to the fact that Percy is the narrator or not. I particularly liked Grover and his habit of munching on tin cans. Chiron was suitably fatherly and wise, while Mr D made an excellent camp leader: totally disinterested in his charges and ever so put-upon. I liked Annabeth, the Hermione clone, but it would be so nice to see a girl who was not the brains of the operation, but the brawn instead. I also thought that her Cap of Invisibility was a rather blatant nod to Harry Potter’s cloak and provided an overly easy answer to many of their problems. I would have preferred to see more examples of quick thinking like that in the scene with Cerberus, which was actually rather cute.

As Ellie at Musings of a Bookshop Girl comments, the action is face paced with the mythology nicely integrated into modern America. It is also nice that the gods behave more like petulant children than all-powerful beings. They have their petty disputes and, as the Little Red Reviewer notes, they have not changed since ancient times, even if they now wear beautiful Italian suits or Hawaiian shirts. Refreshingly, Percy is untrusting of the adults he meets and so he avoids that starry-eyed, too-good-to-be-true vibe that YA characters can have. I guess my other criticism is that the book definitely seems to read as if it is aimed at the YA audience, which is something I did not feel whilst reading The Hunger Games recently, or remember from the Harry Potter novels or those in the His Dark Materials trilogy. However, I will try the next book in the series.

1 comment:

  1. This was one of my choices for this year's OUaT too. It definitely has a different feel to the writing compared to Suzanne Collins' style, but I think he is also aiming to please readers who are 2 or 3 years younger, as well as those of us who enjoy good storytelling directed at a variety of ages. I wondered at first if the grade-school humour would wear on me, but I kept chuckling fairly steadily, though I agree that some of the action-scenes were more satisfying than others. Still, fun, and I'll read on in the series too. 


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