Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

In the midst of family drama this week, I managed to finish The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. It is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, a series written for children in grades 4-9. I ordered it from Paperback Swap after seeing a trailer for the upcoming movie at "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" this summer.

Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old boy who can't seem to keep himself out of trouble. He has attended a different school every year because every school he has attended has expelled him. Every time his class goes on a field trip, some kind of disaster occurs, and it is usually blamed on Percy. It turns out that Percy is a demi-god--the father he never knew is a Greek god--and the disasters that happen around him are caused by other Greek gods who are angry he was born and think he has stolen Zeus's lightning bolt. When his mother learns that the gods have figured out who Percy is, she races him to a summer camp for demi-gods, only to be confronted by a Minotaur. Percy gets in, but his mother disappears. The rest of the story consists of Percy learning who his father is and going on a quest to find Zeus's lightning bolt before the gods go to war over it (and hopefully free his mother from Hades in the process). His travels take him across the country and into the underworld, meeting Medusa, the furies, and various other immortals. Along the way, Percy is changed from a troubled kid into a hero.

This book is definitely written for kids. I'm not sure what I expected--perhaps something with a wider appeal like Harry Potter?--but this did not meet my expectations. I had a hard time with the characterization of Percy at first--he's a bit of a hothead--but later he has some admirable qualities. I think my problem with this book is that I'm not a kid. I kept figuring things out before the characters did, which always frustrates me, but I am not the target audience--of course an adult would catch on to the events before kids would. It's an exciting and action-packed story that kids would probably really enjoy. The references to Greek mythology are interesting and the way Riordan has drawn the mythology into present-day reality is really creative. I had to laugh that the entrance to the Underworld is located in Los Angeles, while Mount Olympus (where the gods live) is in New York. Is Riordan trying to say something?

I also thought there were a lot of (coincidental?) similarities to Harry Potter in the book. Percy's true nature is hidden from him, just like Harry. They both go to a special school for children with the same special ability (for Harry it's magic, for Percy it's demi-god abilities). They both have two close friends in their quest, one boy and one girl. They both battle beasts (three-headed dog, anyone?) and go on a quest for a magical and powerful object. There is an evil bad guy lurking in the wings, though Percy didn't get to confront him in the first book. There are differences between the two, but I was puzzled (and distracted) by such strong similarities.

I considered reading the next book in the series, but will probably put it off for a while. I'll probably go see the movie, so I'm glad I have a better idea what to expect. Ultimately, this book was not as good as other children's series I have loved (Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia for example).

Rating: 3/5 stars ★★★

This is my 11th book for the 1st in a Series Challenge. Just one more to go!


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