I’ve had the Percy Jackson books thrust at me by random people because they know I’m a big Harry Potter fan, and people who really know me can tell them that the more people foist a book on me the less likely I am to pick it up. Hence, it’s taken me a while to pick up the Percy Jackson books.
I originally read the first book because I was planning on seeing the movie, but changed my mind about the movie when I heard it was a long way away from the book. So I ended up reading on in the series instead. I finished all five books in the space of one week in February: the first two books in one night, and the next three books (borrowed from my cousin Chickoy) in one sitting.
Here goes my verdict post.
The Percy Jackson series is a light, fun, and engaging read. I liked the idea of a modern-day Olympus, the references to mythology, and the gods personified (I have a crush on Apollo!). I can’t help but compare Percy Jackson to Harry Potter, though, because people are hell-bent on pitting the two series against each other, and because I can’t conceal my biases anyway.
Of course there are the obvious similarities: Pre-teen kid with a miserable existence turns out to be an extraordinary being of important parentage. Kid goes to a special establishment magically protected from enemies and humans where the young charges are classified into groups based on their special ability. Kid gets sidekicks: the bumbling but sympathetic male friend that injects much of the humor in the series, and the insufferable know-it-all gal pal. Bad blood develops between the Kid and a bully from a notorious group in the establishment.
Both use mythology (Harry Potter spans a wider range, including Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, the English tradition of magic, astrology, and general folklore), so it’s not surprising that some characters and plot devices appear in both books.
But I couldn’t ignore some other common elemnts: the hero has the ability to communicate with a certain species and is involved in incidents of freeing a creature of this species; Kid has an encounter with the bully in the girls’ bathroom; there is a special sport at the establishment for which the kid exhibits a special aptitude; death omens appear everywhere; Kid has a powerful, legendary sword for a weapon; Kid flags down emergency magical transport; there is a history of a tragic death on the school grounds; Kid has to return home periodically because the relative he hates has served as his protection all the while; a prophecy has been made about the Kid’s birth which may or may not pertain to him; a Dark Lord is on the rise, and he uses an insider as a tool so he can resume his physical form; Kid has a psychic connection with the Dark Lord — I stopped listing after book 2… (I have an actual table that I thought of posting here, but it would have spoiled things for those who haven’t read the book).
It’s a pretty linear series of episodes, tackling one monster after another until the final triumph. A lot of readers love Riordan’s hip, urban writing, and that’s okay, but straightforward narration isn’t really my thing, I prefer more eloquent authors that find offbeat ways to express themselves. The style tends to gloss over explanations for certain things, which makes plot devices appear too convenient or contrived — e.g. halfbloods’ psychic dreams, how the prophecies work, etc. I don’t like how the prophecy generally directs the storyline, either; it would have been more interesting as a character vs. destiny, fate vs. choice kind of book), etc.
The humor isn’t something I’m crazy about as well — too many lame jokes cracked at inopportune moments. The phrase “Percy wouldn’t recognize a joke if it danced naked in front of him wearing Dobby’s tea–cosy,“ pops into my head and I crack up instantly.
Out of the five books in the series I really can’t say there was a book that stood out for me, perhaps because they seemed more like installments and not individual books. I liked them all the same amount, and they went by too fast for me to develop an affinity for any single volume. There were few stirring moments in the books for me — I think the only moment that really moved me was the end of Book 3 — and I constantly craved more depth.
It’s a light and entertaining YA series, especially for boys and reluctant readers, and it’s a great way to introduce the younger generation to Greek mythology. But if you’re a Harry Potter fan looking for more meat, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy is a better bet.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1 The Lightning Thief, movie tie-in paperback and #2 The Sea of Monsters, paperback (p55 at Book Sale!)
#3 The Titan’s Curse ,#4 The Battle of the Labyrinth, and #5 The Last Olympian, borrowed from Chickoy — I’m still considering whether I should by my own copies, or just wait for them to come up on Book Mooch or Book Sale)
Books 1-5 all 3.5/5 stars; series rating 3.5/5 stars
Books 23-27 of 2010
*cover photo courtesy of sxc.hu