"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · series · young adult lit

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coverlostThe Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus #1) by Rick Riordan

Hyperion, 2010.

576 pages. (hardback)

Percy Jackson fans can rest easy: this first book in Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus spin-off series is a fast-paced adventure with enough familiar elements to immediately hook those eager to revisit his modern world of mythological mayhem. Clever plot devices–like gods who shift back and forth between their Greek and Roman personae–keep the book from feeling like a retread of Riordan’s previous novels. Jason, Piper, and Leo, three students at a wilderness school for troubled teens, are transported to Camp Half-Blood after an unexpected encounter with evil storm spirits on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Not only do they discover that they are the offspring of ancient gods, but they also learn that they are three of seven demigods mentioned in the Great Prophecy uttered by Rachel in The Last Olympian. Wasting little time acclimating to their new lives, the three embark upon a quest to preserve Mt. Olympus and the divine status quo, by rescuing an erstwhile enemy. Rotating among his three protagonists, Riordan’s storytelling is as polished as ever, brimming with wit, action, and heart–his devotees won’t be disappointed. Ages 10 — up. (Oct.) Publishers Weekly.

 

I can’t say much more, as Publishers Weekly summed up Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero beautifully. Although, I suppose I would add to the second sentence. The “clever plot devices” mostly “keep the book from feeling like a retread.” I cannot criticize a successful formula (as I enjoy the comforts of a few myself) and Riordan is working from an old formula, the hero’s quest.

The shifting between the Greek and Roman personae is very clever, and the premise from which Riordan is working from surpasses the first Olympus series. Also, Jason is not annoying (as I found Percy to be).

Besides the length of this first book in a new spin-off series, 576 pages to The Lightning Thief’s 384 pages, the series differs in the shifting of point-of-views. In The Red Pyramid, the first book of the Egyptian Myth Kane Chronicles Series, Riordan made the move to alternating narrators, proving he is successful at maintaining voices. Readers also found that the story unfolded rather nicely, garnering information unique to each character while maintaining the suspense when the Reader had to wait for narrators to change to learn something potentially important.

The Lost Hero shifts between Mythological personae and three different characters. Riordan is not hard to follow. He lets you figure things out, while holding a few cards for his own. Using lesser know Myth Stories doesn’t hurt. Though, how Piper knows more than we were supposing early on in the story, I can’t figure out. Her little bit of research seems to have been enough. And again the “I know things” female role (in the trio with two boys) goes to Hermione Annabeth Piper.

The Lost Hero unapologetically hurtles itself toward the next (I’m guessing) two books maybe three? I know the next, Son of Neptune, is announced for Fall 2011. The reader is reminded of the prophecy that Rachel Dare imparts at the end of the Percy Jackson series. The greater plot is set in motion, and the pace is as precipitous as Riordan books have proven over and over. No rest for the weary, especially when there is a lot to pack in. That he can still be entertaining, that he can still provide character building, is to Riordan’s credit. The characters are spared complete cliché status—yet again. Riordan is getting better.

I have to say, The Lost Hero is better if you’ve read the Percy Jackson & the Olympians Series. Riordan informs the reader of past occurrences easily enough, and I don’t think the read would be indecipherable without the first, but it would be more enjoyable. Your emotional investment would be higher as well. For those who love Percy Jackson, you are an immediate audience for this series.

So, new heroes, new twists, a new Quest that promises greater action.

*****

A few things I appreciate about this The Lost Hero:

Leo is a strong character, not merely side-kick to Jason. He is a hero as well, and important. Also, I like that he is Hispanic (and he isn’t white-washed on the cover). He is the comedian of the group, but that he isn’t relegated to the side-kick role, and is still a source of charming humor is marvelous.

Piper is part Cherokee. I like that Riordan uses this to include Native American Mythology into the story. He draws parallels and so not only do the Greek and Roman have shifting personae, there are Native American ones as well; the same with constellations.

The ending of the book. A perfectly timed, well worded, launch into the next book. I was determined to finish the book, grumbling over the formula, but I found myself invested in a few of the characters. And then there is the part where I am very much intrigued by some of the probable conflicts to follow in the next books. The last sentence is the sort where the screen goes black and you are given the half-minute pause before the credits roll. I have to wait until Fall 2011?!

*****

So, 576 pages are a lot. But Riordan is good with action, he is charming with the romances, and his sense of humor is sharp and perfectly suited to his audience (middle-grade & up). He is a good writer and storyteller. He has this annoying capability to be informative and entertaining, all while communicating themes we need and like to hear…and he is only getting better.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Tales

pyramidic proportions

The Red Pyramid: Book 1 of The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

Disney/Hyperion, 2010.

516 pages.

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.

cinema · juvenile lit

the things we do…

I am slowly but surely making my way through the Percy Jackson and The Olympians Series by Rick Riordan. Waiting on the daughter to finish the 4th book, and then hopefully the request for the 5th (and final) at the library will be filled quick.

Today, a local library is having a “read it before you see it” party for The Lightning Thief. Natalya seems to be enjoying the series. She loves Mythology, FairyTales, and Fables. The only hiccup in the reading experience thus far, other than my sometimes hostile takes, and my “unfortunate” ability to anticipate an upcoming plot event and mention it aloud, is when the other morning she was eating her breakfast and reading the fourth book. We asked her to please close the book and shovel the rest of her food in–it was time to run for the bus. She flipped the book closed where she mutinously ate and read the back cover. She mumbled through her food, “It says Disney.” “What?” “It says Disney, right here, above Hyperion, the Publisher.” She looked distraught, and confused; apparently very worried as to whether she can continue reading the book, let alone the series. Her quandary earned stifled chuckling from us, the parents. It was like she’d unwrapped her Subway sandwich to read a huge imprinting that Subway was owned by McDonalds…she has fairly convinced herself that Chipotle is okay, ever since I pointed out that it was owned by the “despot” McDonalds. Her concern? with McDonalds, it is the health content, and her 3rd grade teacher telling them about reading Super Size Me. With Disney? I was surprised, as we do not boycott Disney by any means. I think it is the sheer commercialism Disney represents to her; the part where she is inundated at school with pressure to like their shows and their starlets. Couldn’t be the rhetoric she finds served up along with her dinner at the table. Especially during those few months of that Pop Culture class I was taking. How did we respond? I shrugged and suggested that was probably how the film was brought through so quickly, and why the marketing has been so well maintained, and an author just wants to be published don’t they? She frowned at the last part; her “there are ethics to be considered here” frown.–and yes, she does have this frown.

She is going to finish the series. We are going to the library function today. And we are going to see the movie when it hits theaters.

***

Sean and I went and saw Avatar in the theater yesterday. We had initially planned to see The Book of Eli but decided that we should probably see Avatar in theater, due to the screen and the 3D.

The visuals were stunning. The story/dialogue lacked something–“originality” comes to mind.

Was thinking if I were still in Travel Narrative class, we would use this to talk about colonialism/imperialism. That EcoCriticism Lit class would flesh out the apparent environmental overtures. My Critical Approach to Cinema would discuss the technological implications. And the Cinema and Cultural class, as well as that Pop Culture class would interrogate the ideologies saturating the “allegory;” not to mention gag on Cameron’s massive ego.

I doubt I would anything new and shocking to the innumerable discussions of Avatar except to say “I dislike James Cameron.” Well, maybe not even that is absent from conversations/articles.  I dislike the persona he has/is creating. I abhorred his first speech of the 2010 Golden Globes when he essentially told competitor and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow that he’d won and not her–even her best effort/work (thus far) failed. This abhorrence simmers from discussions held in American Cinema & Culture after we’d watched Strange Days (1995) where Cameron wrote, and Bigelow directed. Feelings only worsened by that ridiculous final acceptance speech with his “Give it up for yourselves!”–unless that was permission to go ahead and vomit.

You’ll notice, of course, that we went and saw Avatar after the awards. I basked in the visual stun, and I refrained from snorting too loudly when they broke through the mist to view a gorgeous waterfall; barely hearing James Horner’s orchestration over the want of the John Williams’ composition (Jurassic Park (1993)) that entered my mind.  I am only thankful to have the awareness that Avatar does not reside only in Cameron’s “genius” but within the influences and extensive talents of those with which Cameron had inevitably come into contact.