Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan
Recommended Age: 12+

Percy Jackson is a troubled kid. He never knew his father, and his mother is married to a world-class slimeball named Gabe Ugliano, a.k.a. Smelly Gabe. He has dyslexia, a rebellious streak, and a habit of getting kicked out of one private school per year on average. But he doesn’t know the meaning of trouble until one of his teachers turns into a bat-winged, taloned monster who wants to kill him.

One thing leads to another, and Percy finds himself at Camp Half-Blood. The kind of Half-Bloods at this camp have a human being for one parent and a god for the other. A Greek god, that is. Like Athena, Dionysus, Ares, Hermes, you name it. Some of them only spend the summer at the camp, others live there year round. Why? Because they’re safe there from the monsters who always want to challenge semi-divine heroes (also known as “demigods”), and who can easily kill them. Unlike gods as such, demigods aren’t immortal – though they do have some powers, if they learn to use them on time. Hence, Camp Half-Blood.

Percy has very little time to settle in to his new home, his new identity as a half-blood hero, and his knowledge of who his father is and the kind of destiny in store for him. For someone has stolen Zeus’s thunderbolt and the prime suspect is Percy. He has no choice now but to go on a quest to retrieve the thunderbolt from the one who really took it, and bring it back to Zeus by the summer solstice...about a week’s time. Accompanied by two friends – a daughter of Athena named Annabeth and a young satyr named Grover – Percy travels across the country, encountering many perils – monsters, traps, hostile gods – while a disturbing prophecy dogs his steps, while freakish dreams ruin his sleep, and while his ulterior motive of saving his mother from the underworld threatens the existence of the western world.

Who knew that in the 21st century, Mount Olympus would be located in New York City? Who knew that the entrance to the Underworld would be in West Hollywood? Who knew that a story containing a motorcycle-riding god, a wheelchair-bound centaur, a giant waterbed salesman, and a goat boy in winged sneakers could be so thrilling, so scary, and so funny? This hip update to ancient Greek myths has a great deal of educational value – for example, who after reading this could ever mix up Chiron and Charon again? But that’s by the way. What really hooks you is how much fun this book is to read.

The Lightning Thief comes closer than any book I have found to capturing the same combination of originality and literary recycling, of excitement and horror and comedy and rip-roaring fun, that have made the Harry Potter series such a worldwide phenomenon. Best of all, this is only the beginning of a new series! This book is styled Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One. Book Two, The Sea of Monsters, has already been written. I’ll be looking for it.

The Sea of Monsters
by Rick Riordan
Recommended Age: 12+

In Book Two of “Percy Jackson & The Olympians,” our hero – son of the Greek god Poseidon – almost makes it through seventh grade without getting expelled from a school. But on the last day of classes, P. E. turns into a deadly game of monster dodgeball that leaves the school in ruins. Once again, Percy flees to Camp Halfblood, whose boundaries protect demigods – children with one mortal parent and one who is a god. And when he gets there, he finds those very boundaries under attack.

A lot of things have changed at Camp Halfblood. The lone pine tree whose spirit provides a shield that no monster can penetrate (don’t ask; it’s a long story) has been poisoned, and will die soon unless someone goes on a perilous quest. The centaur Chiron, Percy’s mentor and supporter, has been fired and replaced by a nasty piece of work called Tantalus (even Snape comes off looking like Teacher of the Year next to this jerk), and Tantalus refuses to let Percy go on the quest. Spurred on by a visit from a god, helped by two friends, and driven to greater urgency by a series of nightmares about his satyr pal Grover, Percy risks explusion from the camp and countless other dangers to bring the golden fleece back to Camp Halfblood...and to keep it from falling into the hands of a treacherous enemy who aims at nothing short of the end of Western Civilization.

In this hilarious, exciting, and fast-paced story, many old myths get dusted off for a fresh, 21st-century treatment. Here a chain of donut shops conceals the nest of a many-headed monster. Here a cyclops wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “World Sheep Expo 2001.” Here the gaping maw of Charybdis wears braces, and the key to understanding centaur behavior is revealed (OK, I won’t give that one away). The pain of coming from an eternally messed-up family combines with heartbreaking betrayal, the needs and obligations of true friends, and the threat of a truly chilling evil power to add moments of touching tenderness, moving heroism, and gnawing dread to the adventure. Plus, at the very end there is a surprise twist that will propel you right into the series’ third book, The Titan’s Curse...
and, I would guess, beyond. [EDIT: I was obviously right; the series has gone onto a fourth book, The Battle of the Labyrinth.]

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