Publisher: Puffin (Penguin)
Pages: 375 (Paperback)
Series: Percy Jackson #1
Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek God.
I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. That’s when things really started going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends and generally trying to stay alive.
This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt – and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.
Can Percy find the lightning bolt before a fully fledged war of the gods erupts?
So continuing on my fantasy and children’s fiction binge – summer is the one season where I use the library regularly for lightweight, fun books I don’t necessarily want to buy. Percy Jackson is one of these very popular series where it’s practically a requirement that everyone under a certain age has to have read it. I’m not under that age. Though I had heard a lot of talk bout these books and, due to the Greek Mythology, had been half-planning to check them out for a while, it took one of my best friend’s practically ordering me to pick up the first book for me to get round to doing anything about it. And boy, am I glad she gave me that much needed boot to the arse. It’s probably a bit premature to judge the whole series but, based on the first book, these would have been five-star instant favourites with little-me. If only they had been published a decade earlier!
Percy Jackson, protagonist and narrator, is a ‘troubled kid’ – ADHD, dyslexia, a habit of constantly getting into fights, emotionally abused by his step-father – who suddenly finds out that not only are the Greek Gods real, but that one of them (though I won’t say which) is his father. Also real: every single monster from Greek myth and legend – and they’re all after him. After a bit of time in the safe sanctuary of Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods, he gets more bad news: Zeus’ lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is suspect number one. To prevent a war between the gods, Percy must undertake a quest back out into the monster-filled world and retrieve the lightning bolt himself.
It’s the sort of fun nonsense I would have adored as a kid and not only is it a fun yarn, but it’s written intelligently. The narration, as you would exect from a book aimed at children and told by a twelve-year-old dyslexic, is simple and easy to read. It also does a damn good job of portraying Percy’s character and emphasising that ‘troubled’ and low grades doesn’t mean ‘stupid’. What especially won me over to him was that Riordan didn’t do that thing where the main character knows nothing about the setting (however much they should) and has to have everything explained for him. Percy may be new to the whole demigod thing but he knows at least the basics of Greek mythology and is able to provide reader-exposition as well as many of the side characters. I also really liked the touch that his (and the other demigods) dyslexia was because his first language was meant to be Ancient Greek. In short he seems competent and he’s likable and complex enough that when certain god-like powers start to kick in I wasn’t instantly thinking ‘what a Mary Sue’.
The Greek mythology, as well, is well handled. Things are played with and changed about but there’s an obvious understanding and respect for the ‘original’ myths that I think even little-me would have appreciated (and little-me was such a pedantic little shit she refused to watch Disney’s Hercules when she was 9 because the trailers showed him riding Pegasus). I liked most of the updates and changes here and I really liked that, though several ‘obvious’ monsters were used some lesser known ones that children might not be familiar with – such as the Lotus Eaters from the Odyssey – also found their way in as well. Little-me might possibly have something to say about Athena having children but, as I said, little-me was a pedantic shit. And Athena totally had the hots for Odysseus anyway so I can buy her eventually deciding to stick the middle finger up to the ‘virgin goddess’ depiction.
The story itself isn’t too remarkable – it’s basically an American roadtrip with lots of run-ins with Greek monsters and a very foreshadowed twist. But it’s well told, enjoyable, occasionally very funny, and sets up an interesting arc for the rest of the series. I’ll be checking out the next couple of books from the library very shortly, I think.