The Red Pyramid: Book 1 of The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
So the author is Rick Riordan, of that successful Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series. The film based on the first book of that series, The Lightning Thief, was recently released to DVD. You know, the one that looked like Zach Efron was on the cover. Except that wasn’t Efron.
The Olympians Series was wildly popular. It even had the daughter reading all the non-fiction mythology books she could get her hands on (pictures or no). But then N loves Fairy Tales, Folk Lore, Fables, and Mythologies/Legends. This has made her charming, morbid, and into the macabre–in other words, fantastic! For her birthday (just the other day) she received two heavy tomes on Myths and Legends from around the world. This will come in handy as we read Riordan again this time using Egyptian Mythology.
I can already tell I am going to enjoy The Kane Chronicles more than the last series (which isn’t too difficult). I hope that intuition is correct. And I hope that Riordan writes about as many as he did the last time. I also hope that the next books are a bit shorter. No, this request is not based in my long-book-syndrome. The 516 pages move quickly. It was just that the read was exhausting. The non-stop action was that, non-stop. There was little rest until the very end, when the book was resetting for its sequels after having accomplished the first mad adventure. If your young reader needs action and intrigue to keep the pages turning, this will not disappoint.
Riordan is writing another highly accessible read. And, if possible, he’s expanded his audience. First, the book alternates narratives between the brother and sister protagonists, Carter and Sadie. This easily creates appeal for either gender; though both genders seemed to enjoy the Harry-Potter-esque trio of The Olympians. Carter and Sadie remind me a bit of Jack and Annie of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse Series…somehow the girls end up as the impetuous and annoying ones, have you noticed? What differs from the earlier Riordan series is that Sadie is not a side character, and though the other female protagonist was powerful, Sadie is less the romantic foil. Riordan has another romantic foil in mind for Carter; as he has a one for Sadie.
Where he has truly expanded his audience is in Carter’s character. Carter and Sadie are siblings. Their parents are Julius Kane and Ruby Faust Kane. Carter looks like his father, who is African-American. Sadie favors their white mother’s blue eyes and has caramel-colored hair (7). There is a frequent discussion on how people do not put the siblings together, and always question Sadie’s presence with her father. Carter comments on the profiling young African-American males often receive,
Here’s the thing—I always get a little edgy around police. I remember when I was seven or eight and still a cute little kid, it wasn’t a problem; but as soon as I hit eleven, I started to get the Look, like What’s that kid doing here? Is he going to steal something? I mean it’s ridiculous, but it’s a fact. I’m not saying it happens with every police officer, but when it does happen—let’s just say it’s a pleasant surprise (262).
His father explains to him that he should dress a certain way, to avoid negative stereo-types:
[Sadie] complains that I dress like I’m an old man—button-down shirt, slacks, dress shoes. Okay, maybe. But here’s the thing. My dad had always drilled into my head that I had to dress my best. I remember the first time he explained it to me. I was ten. […] My dad put his hand on my shoulder. “Carter, you’re getting older. You’re an African American man. People will judge you more harshly, and so you must always look impeccable.” (67)
Carter remains self-conscious of this. Near the end he enters wearing “some Reeboks, blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a hoodie.[…]”Dad would probably think I look like a gangster….” (509).
I suppose Riordan could have written Carter without the social critiques. Though the children of the Olympians were not Greek-Americans, Carter is supposed to recall his ancestors in Egypt as a part of this story. I think it nice Riordan did write in some of Carter’s encounters, and I hope the attempt is well-received.
In The Lightning Thief film, a young African-American male was cast as the satyr Grover, the comedic side-kick (a move the film makes, not the book). If ever a cast is created for this, the young African-American male will share the center stage (and most likely steal it)—did I mention Sadie can be a bit over-the-top?
The Red Pyramid is 516 pages. I may have mentioned this. As the first book in a series and in his use of a (potentially) lesser known Mythology, Riordan has a lot of work to do while maintaining pace and interest. He is annoyingly good at this. [Yes, read my envy.] The Red Pyramid promises enough familial history for our protagonists, time to build some relationship, development of key side-characters, Egyptian historical highlights (in brevity), a few mythological stories, hints of re-cycling, and another road trip with perilous escapades along its way. There are hideous beasts, sleek combatants, and magicians. The Red Pyramid is a taste of what is to come without robbing the reader of a story and a sense of resolution.
The Red Pyramid begins with a Warning. “The following is a transcript of a digital recording.” Carter and Sadie have recorded their adventure and the book is the transcription; to include one-sided bracketed remarks between them as they narrate; a source of humor and a successful device to build personality and relationship. The siblings have something to tell the reader. They are not recording to merely entertain. What is happening is real (increase tension) and what is going on may be extremely relevant to some of their listeners (increase excitement over possibly being magical/powerful). The Author’s Note at the end closes out the first book by vetting the protagonists’ claims. I hope the readership knows to read the Author’s Note—glad it faces the last page of the story. This direct inclusion of the reader in the mystery/adventure and the fantasy I’m sure is successful. It is certainly an amusement park ride, an opportunity for role playing. I don’t want to be the cynic and say that it doesn’t hurt the merchandising, because we like being on Teams regardless, right? We want to be a part of something big and important, ancient and supernatural. And it’s downright entertaining and community building.
The tones of the narrative are conversational, the narrators are aware of their audience, even when they reveal things that are intimate and potentially embarrassing to be admitted before an audience (especially their sibling). Riordan creates two distinct voices. I think this book should make for an exciting audio-book experience.