Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Blood of Olympus (Rick Riordan)

Conclusions are hard. I read a lot of series in my youth, so I'm very familiar with the intense pressure of ending a storyline that spans multiple books. I can think of several big-name publishing events with bad finales, some which I haven't even read: the Sookie Stackhouse books, the Delirium trilogy, arguably Mockingjay, Allegiant! There are tons. I assume you're here, then, reading this, because you want to know if Rick Riordan screwed up his series with book five, The Blood of Olympus.

Well, he didn't. At the beginning of the book, we're only days away from the awakening of Gaea. Reyna, Nico, and Coach Hedge are en route to Camp Half-Blood with the Athena Parthenos via Nico's shadow travel, which is draining him of his life: he becomes less corporeal and functional with each trip. The rest of the gang (with a gravely-injured Jason in tow) has to find the goddess of victory, Nike, at Olympia, whose warring personalities are making it hard for the demigods to win the war against Gaea and her minions.

Of course, there are obstacles in the way, the most notable of which is Orion, a hunter who once loved Artemis, was killed, and has come back to fight for Gaea. He pursues Reyna, Hedge, and Nico as they get closer and closer to New York, and it prompts a lot of interesting conflict between, for example, him and the Amazons and the Hunters of Artemis. In general, I found the Nico/Reyna/Hedge story far more interesting to follow, not in the least because Nico and Reyna are probably the two most intriguing characters in this series. Reyna's backstory is really well-developed in this novel, in a way that's touching and painful, and I am always up for more Nico, whose complexity is, in fact, unrivaled by any character in the Heroes of Olympus series. While Percy may be my favorite character (I mean, isn't he everyone's favorite?), Nico wins the prize for most-thoughtfully-constructed.

But they're only about half of the novel. What about the other half? It was okay. I again took issue with the characters who get chapters of narration. We hear from Nico and Reyna, of course, but our other two perspectives are Piper and Leo. I'm not the biggest fan of Piper, but she is better in book five. The less she talks dreamily about Jason, the better (obviously). Leo, on the other hand, remains the most frustrating character to listen to. I've been pretty vocal about my distaste before, and it's entirely because of his unfunny jokes, which are so awkward. Nonetheless, I was a little more invested in his character arc than normal, and have been ever since the Ogygia/Calypso incident.

There's a shockingly little amount of Percy, Jason, and Annabeth in this book; Frank and Hazel aren't incredibly present, either. One of my biggest problems with Riordan's writing is the moments where he tries to sound like the age group he is writing for. Slang terms, awkward sentences ("Jason nodded at Percy like 'Sup?" or something very like it appears in the book, for instance), and stilted dialogue between characters (having Jason and Percy refer to each other by their last names to demonstrate their rivalry reads like every bad '70s sports comedy) marred my reading experience. If it's bad enough to pull me out of the book, then it should have been fixed.

And then there's the ending of the book. I'm obviously not going to spoil (uncover your eyes!), but I will talk about my response to it. It's incredibly difficult, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, to end a series satisfactorily. With most of the series I've read, the final volume features a big conflict between enemies--think Harry and Voldemort in Deathly Hallows, or the entire last volume of The Lord of the Rings--and the closer of this series is clearly no different. What makes it so hard to write these properly is that the endings have to achieve a very precise balance between epic events and character arcs that fulfill everything we've been craving since book one.

We've been ramping up toward the awakening of Gaea for five whole books, and when we get to the end of the book, I'm upset to say that this whole conflict is quite a letdown. It felt as though it were over in a flash, and there's literally a deus ex machina moment to resolve this battle. I was quite dismayed when I read this scene, which is supposed to play as the pivotal centerpiece of the book. It is very much not that. As for the character-arc fulfillment, results are average. There are some characters whose endings I found to be quite satisfying--Nico's in particular, but that's no surprise, right?--and there are others that felt cheap and anticlimactic (Percy and Annabeth, for example). There are a lot of pretty, neat bows tied up on the end of this book, and I honestly would have preferred something a little sloppier.

The book is a lot of fun until it reaches the end, and the ending isn't so bad (in fact, it's my understanding that most people are very pleased with the author's choices) that the whole book or even the whole series is spoiled. I just wish that it had been edited a little more vigorously and maybe slightly retooled.

My rating: 4/5
The Blood of Olympus on Goodreads
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