Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

Well, to be more specific the first two: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters.

For those of us who don’t pay much attention to hot new children’s books: Strange things have always happened to Percy Jackson, but the field trip at the end of his sixth grade year proves the most peculiar: his pre-algebra teacher morphs into a screaming harpy on the steps of the ancient history museum. He kills her, but much to his surprise, not only is he not punished, no one seems to know that there ever was a pre-algebra teacher by that name at the school. Kicked out of the [mumble]th school for acting out and being unable to keep up with his schoolwork–he has ADHD and near-crippling dyslexia–he is invited to a mysterious Camp Half-Blood for the summer, where he discovers that he is the son of Poseidon…and must retrieve the stolen lightning of Zeus in order to prevent all out war between the gods. Seventh grade, as The Sea of Monsters begins, at a new school proves little easier; someone has poisoned the protective pine tree at the gates of Camp Half-Blood and Percy must retrieve the Golden Fleece from Polyphemus in order to heal the tree and save the school…unfortunately the fleece works a little too well: the tree transforms back into Thalia, leaving Our Characters with a perfect cliffhanger setup for book three.

I have to admit that I wasn’t as crazy about these two as I thought I was going to be for a couple of reasons, although never fear–unlike Maggie Steifvater’s books I will at least be able to recommend them wholeheartedly to kids. The standard disclaimer is, of course, I’m no longer part of the target demographic, and have read considerably more than said target demographic.

The lesser reason, the one that I cannot dismiss, is that Riordan doesn’t seem to have mastered the ‘show, don’t tell’ lesson, at least in tween literature. The far larger one (for an adult reader) is that the Percy Jackson series strikes me as being purely derivative of/from Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Boy who’s the subject of a prophecy? check. Prophecy might refer to one of two people? check. Powerful evil being struggling back to life in order to bring about the subjugation of all we consider good and whose name the lesser beings fear to speak? check. Magical/supernatural world of which mortals have no ken? check. Two friends for the protagonist, one clever girl and one goofy inept guy? check. Place for education of these magical/supernatural beings? check. Said school divided into groups by quality/traits of student? check. Our hero even has green eyes. although he’s not an orphan–his mother is very much part of his life. However (and a very important ‘however’ under the circumstances!), the series’ very similarity to Harry Potter might attract less skilled (younger?) readers who loved the Harry Potter books but who don’t prefer dissimilar fantasies. In other words, the very people for whom the series was intended in the first place. The series isn’t meant for adults.

Hopefully, it’ll inspire kids to look up what all those creatures/people from mythology did and signify.

I have to wonder, though, whether Disney/Hyperion employs human editors at any level. I found several errors in the two books in the series I read–not misspellings but grammar errors of the sort that only a human reader would notice. Computers are great for scanning quickly through a document and finding spelling errors but they won’t necessarily pick up instances when the word is real but it’s the wrong word; one example I recall from the books I read was “assess” versus “access”. That sort of thing. Rick Riordan’s adult series sell well enough that I would have hoped the publisher of this series would spring for a human editor. Or a better one, at any rate.


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