Monday, July 8, 2013

The Lost Hero (Rick Riordan)

I was a big fan of the Percy Jackson series. I can remember discovering the first book (with this weird, not-so-good cover) in a Barnes and Noble in Arizona while we were on vacation years and years ago. I begged my parents to buy it for me and then promptly devoured it--the thing about vacationing in Arizona is that there's at least a two hour drive between one noteworthy thing to another, so I did a lot of reading on that vacation. I'm spiraling off topic. 12-year-old me loved that book, and looking back now, I can say I'm not embarrassed about it like I am for some of my other literary interests as a youth. Riordan's grafting of Greek mythology onto modern society is the best I have ever seen and the narrator, Percy Jackson, is an actually funny teenager. This is so important, because too often are characters "funny" and their humor is tired and grating. Percy is actually funny.

The series wrapped up a few years ago and I thought nothing of it, assuming that it was all done. Then I saw another book come out called The Lost Hero; I can remember excitedly picking it up to read the blurb, thinking how great it would be for more Percy Jackson. But the blurb mentioned nothing at all about Percy, just that it was set in the same world. Disappointedly, I set the book down and never gave the new series another thought. Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was on Goodreads and I saw book four in the series is coming out in October. I clicked on it and read the synopsis; to my surprise, Percy Jackson was mentioned. I was thrilled; okay, I thought, maybe he's not in the first book. So I did a little more research and discovered I was right. I picked up The Lost Hero from my library and began reading.

Our premise is that Jason wakes up on a school bus with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He is allegedly best friends with a boy named Leo and is dating a girl named Piper, but he can't remember any of that. It's not long before some vicious storm spirits are attacking the trio and their teacher/chaperone of the trip turns out to be a satyr who gets kidnapped by the spirits. They end of at Camp Half-Blood, where they are shocked to discover that the Greek gods still exist and that they are, in fact, children of these gods. Of course, none of this is new information to readers of the original series, so it's frustrating to have all of this explained to us again. I've talked before about what a difficult job it is for an author to decide how much information to retell from book to book, and this one, clocking in at 550ish pages, clearly suffered from too-much-retelling.

A prophecy is supplied by Rachel Elizabeth Dare and our three heroes must venture out to rescue Hera, who has been trapped by some unknown entity. I will say that the action in The Lost Hero is as captivating and pleasurable to read as it was before; Riordan has certainly not lost his edge in crafting interesting plots that never stop chugging forward. And seeing that these are books written for the children/YA sector (and I must say, he does a good job straddling these age groups to widen the appeal), I suppose that's what should matter most of all. So that's my highest praise for the book--the action is riveting.

However, I was a little weary by the time I finished reading the book. For one thing, the novel feels a little forumlaic--if you read the plot introduction I wrote earlier and found yourself struck by the similarities between it and The Lightning Thief, you are not alone. Discovering the existence of gods? Check. Journey to the camp for demigods and not quite fitting in? Check. Going on a quest to prove oneself against all odds? Check. Encountering famous mythicals in totally ordinary places? Totally check. It feels like the author just grafted his ideas for this sequel series onto his original template. That's a frustrating feeling.

More problematic is the narration of the story. I mentioned that arguably the best part of the original series was Percy Jackson's hilarious first-person narration, and that's missing here. Not only is the book not narrated in the first person, but it switches between Jason, Piper and Leo over and over (every two chapters, if you're wondering). None of them are as engaging as Percy and their attempts at humorous observations aren't as funny and feel strange coming from a third-person telling. I'm not sure if that is why the book wasn't as funny as I wanted or if Riordan just wasn't on his game this time around.

On top of that, the new narrators aren't as interesting as Percy to be around. Piper gets stuck on the fact that her romance with Jason is a trick of the mist; too often do we have to hear about how frustrated Jason is that he can't remember anything about his past; Leo spends too much time skirting around the important part of his backstory--does any reader really like secrets to be kept unnecessarily from him/her? In fact, that's a general issue with The Lost Hero--Riordan purposely withholds information in order to build suspense, but in both cases (regarding the identity of Hera's captor and the past Jason has forgotten), it could have been revealed much earlier by a character who knew it. I felt as though I were being dragged about every time this secrets came up, which was often. I wasn't excited or shocked by the revelations because I was too busy thinking how glad I was for the resolution of these Important Pressing Mysteries.

But, like I said, are these things really going to matter to a 12-year-old? Probably not. Did they even matter to me that much? No. I'm still going to read the other four books in this series because I forgot how great the idea of a camp of demigods in the modern United States is. Rick Riordan is great with engaging plots and I'm glad to get to spend time with Percy and Annabeth again (from what I understand, they feature far more heavily in the future books). If you liked the original Percy Jackson books, don't waste a moment. Read the Heroes of Olympus series.

My rating: 3.5/5
The Lost Hero on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

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