Tag Archives: Rick Riordan

Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles, book two), by Rick Riordan, 2011, Book Review

Like most of his books, Mr. Riordan’s second installment in his Kane Chronicles has positive and negative elements. I won’t object to my kids (12+) reading them, but I don’t push them, either. The books are exciting, imaginative and funny, a combination that has made them wildly popular with middle school kids. But they also delve into some subject areas that make this mom a little uncomfortable.

I do appreciate that Mr. Riordan keeps the language pretty clean. As always, he has some oh my gods jokes, and this one does use the word “bloody” an exorbitant number of times. That would probably concern me more if I were British. As it is, I mostly though it an overused expression, but others might find it objectionable. He also keeps guy/girl activities very innocent. The hazy area comes with the spiritual nature of his books.

This is a fantasy about ancient Egyptian gods. I know it’s fiction. I don’t believe in them, nor do I think it will influence my kids to pick up pagan religious practices. But I also believe there truly are spiritual forces, good and bad, so it makes me a little squeamish when the kids (13 and 15) in the story start channeling the gods’ powers, merging with them, using them, welcoming possession by them. I definitely want my kids to have a very solid knowledge of spiritual reality before they start diving into this kind of fantasy. Hence my 12+ age recommendation.

Another thing that bothers me a bit about these books is the absence of a solid line denoting right from wrong. Harry Potter contains some of these same issues, but the readers always know the good from the bad. With these ancient gods, that’s very nebulous. “Chaos” is negative and “Ma’at” (balance) is positive. The kids make deals with Set, a Chaos guy who actually helps them, though he is aiding his own purposes by doing so. Still, that line blurs. Meanwhile, Horus, one of the “Ma’at” guys, is “a good guy in many ways—brave, honorable, righteous. But he was also ambitious, greedy, jealous, and single-minded when it came to his goals.” So is he really worth cheering for? The line is hard to follow. Sadie and Carter, at least, do demonstrate very admirable qualities: friendship, sacrifice, loyalty, putting family first, their desire to save the world.

Anyway, let’s move along to plot. In this book, Apophis, a great and evil proponent for Chaos, is rising. In five days, at the moment of strong magic on the spring equinox, he will break his ancient bonds. To counteract him, the brother and sister team must awaken Ra, the god of gods who has been asleep for two thousand years. The instructions they need are in the Book of Ra, which has been broken into three sections and hidden separately. And the House of Life, that ancient alliance of magicians, is seeking to stop them. Their final mission takes them on a race against time down the River of Night in a leaky barge. It’s definitely high excitement.

And the silly details that make Riordan such an interesting story-teller are not absent. Take Bes, the dwarf god, who strips down to his “Ugly suit,” a blue Speedo and nothing else, (“His back was so hairy it looked like a mink coat. And on the back of his Speedo was printed DWARF PRIDE.) to frighten away demons. Or how about Sunny Acres, a retirement home for forgotten gods, many of whom drool and smell and tote around iv poles? This guy certainly has an imagination.

Overall, how would I rate The Throne of Fire? It’s fun, but approach it cautiously.

Book one: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, book one), by Rick Riordan, 2010, Book Review

Rick Riordan is a master of modern tween story-telling. He keeps the action fast-pitch, his characters feel distinct and real, and he writes kid-funny. No wonder his name is repeatedly at the top of the best-sellers list.

The Red Pyramid is a 516 page battle of good vs. evil.  Sadie and Carter are two siblings that grew up apart. Little did they know their parents were powerful magicians in Egypt’s ancient House of Life and descended from the line of Pharaohs. Little did they suspect that, with their combined bloodlines, Sadie and Carter were the most potent magicians born for centuries. Nor were they aware that Chaos was rising, gaining power, and only a union of gods and men would be able to save the world. But to do so would require the breaking of a thousands-year-old law, and that would turn the House of Life against them. All this was news to Sadie and Carter; unfortunately, Mum and Dad were too dead to tell them the easy way. The children only learn their fate as it whirls around them, catching them up in a vortex of danger and magic–the mother of all adventures.

I enjoy Mr. Riordan’s intriguing writing style. One dilemma follows another, but they’re relayed with half a smile and little smirks of humor. There’s an ongoing joke about cheese being one of the five elements of nature and a lot of silly references to chickens. And Riordan makes great use of understatement: “I couldn’t believe I was standing there having a chat with my somewhat dead parents.” Best of all, Riordan takes it to his readers, inviting them in, hinting that they might be personally involved. It begins: “We only have a few hourse, so listen carefully. If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger.  Sadie and I might be your only chance.” By the end, we understand the kids are recruiting others who also have the blood of the Pharoahs in their veins. “If this story falls into your hands,” they warn in the closing moments, “there’s probably a reason.” It just makes my spine tingle thinking–hoping–“maybe it’s all true?”

The writing is free of swear words, but it does contain multiple uses of OMG. And it features a whole host of Egyptian gods. When Sadie asks her uncle, “You’re telling me our parents secretly worshipped animal-headed gods?” he answers, “Not worshipped. By the end of ancient times, Egyptians had learned that their gods were not to be worshipped. They are powerful beings, primeval forces, but they are not divine in the sense one might think of God. They are created entities, like mortals, only much more powerful. We can respect them, fear them, use their power, or even fight them to keep them under control…but we don’t worship them.” That whole “use their power” thing can get a little weird, as hosting and possession feature into the story numerous times. But the story never takes on dark occultic tones. It’s a fun fantasy, an epic struggle to overcome evil, and the good guys eventually win.

I have to admit, I liked Riordan’s “The Lightning Thief” better. This one was very long and complex. It was wildly entertaining, but it was also somewhat confusing keeping gods straight and sorting out the implications of all their separate death-defying adventures. But it was a powerfully fun read. 12+

Book two: Throne of Fire

The Maze of Bones (39 Clues, book one), by Rick Riordan, 2008, Book Review

I enjoyed this story. I can’t say I loved it, and part of that reason may be because I listened to it on CD with my boys over a two-week period instead of reading it alone in a couple of days. But it also left me feeling a little gypped. Titles from today’s commercial fiction provide a fast ride, gadgets and hip dialogue which, I suppose, today’s kids eat up, but they feel so shallow, always missing the depth and beauty I so love. For that, I have to search out more traditional stories.

But The Maze of Bones is fun. Written in typical Riordan style, it has easy-flowing prose, some funny moments, and lots of adventure. Within, Dan and Amy Cahill, two young orphans, become embroiled in a contest initiated by their dead but very rich grandmother. It is a search for treasure, a competition between family members, and a dangerous ride. For the Cahill family is the most powerful family in all of history, and each competing team will stop at nothing to win the treasure for themselves.

The first clue begins with Benjamin Franklin, himself a member of the Lucian branch of Cahills. Dan and Amy, accompanied by their au pair (babysitter), Nellie, follow leads to Philadelphia and then to the Parisian catacombs, surviving adventure after adventure. Their hunt turns up an ingredient and a second clue, which promises to lead them to Venice.

I happen to know the outcome of all the ingredients, which also probably contributed to my less-than-optimal enjoyment of this book, because I accidentally picked up the first Cahills vs. Vespers (a spinoff series) book. I knew in moments I had the wrong story, but I read it anyway. More on that next time.

My final thoughts: Kids are going to love The 39 Clues. Judging by its bestseller status, they DO love them.  But me? I get a little turned off by all the marketing paraphernalia that has gone with them. The story itself, however, was entertaining and clean, and I’d recommend it to kids and parents. I just might wander into the next book myself, but I haven’t been driven there.

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians), by Rick Riordan, 2009, Book Review

last olympianI’m done. I read the last book. Mr. Riordan has certainly written a rousing tale. In The Last Olympian, the epic battle that’s been building between Kronos, Lord of the Titans, and the Olympian gods comes about at last, and Percy, of course, features prominently. Finally, we learn the Great Prophecy in its entirety, and after lots of loops and twists, the series ends as we know it must, but not at all as we expect. Frankly, it’s exhausting. The battle lasts over 200 pages.

I have the same likes and dislikes to mention; if you’ve read my other reviews, you’ve seen them before. I LOVE Riordan’s style, his wit and sarcasm and understatement. He always says the last thing I’d expect, and it makes me smile every time. Again, a list of my favorite quotes:

“My arm and leg wounds had healed…but I still felt like I’d been trampled by a Laistrygonian soccer team in cleats.”

“I’m sure the carpeted halls had once been very plush, but over the last three years of monster occupation the wallpaper, carpet and stateroom doors had been clawed up and slimed so it looked like the inside of a dragon’s throat (and yes, unfortunately, I speak from experience).”

“I couldn’t imagine how much Draino we’d need to unstick a hellhound wedged halfway down a tunnel to the Underworld.”

“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping along behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”

Add to this humor root beer-guzzling centaurs, shadow travel, a monster prison break under Mount St. Helens, and Mr. D. who still can’t get Percy’s name right, and you have a real kid-pleaser on your hands. And as always, I was tickled by the funny chapter titles, but none more so than Chapter Eighteen, “My Parents Go Commando.” Because, you see, in my warped family, my brothers would sometimes “Go Commando,” meaning they were a little freer under their shorts than they should be when Mom got behind on the laundry. That’s not at all what happens in this chapter, but I chuckled anyway.

And once again, I cringed at the unapologetic immorality and infidelity of the Greek gods. I mean, they all have so many illegitimate children scattered all over the world that Camp Half-blood had to build another half dozen cabins to house them all. Yes, this is consistent with ancient Greek literature, but is it appropriate in children’s literature? It would seem that sports heroes, movie stars and ex-presidents provide enough poor role models in this area that we needn’t create imaginary ones.

Percy Jackson is meant for a middle school audience. Overall, it is fun, funny fiction. There are some dark themes, but with a bit of guidance, I would let my middle schooler read it. I recommend age 12+.

The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, book 3), Rick Riordan, 2007, Book Review

the titan's curseThe Titan’s Curse is the third book in the Percy Jackson series, and while I’ve enjoyed them all, the first one is still my favorite. But I must say again how much I like Riordan’s style. It’s so funny! I mean, check out this first line, “The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school.” I laughed out loud in the first fifteen seconds after opening the cover. And again I praise (and stand amazed at) his chapter titles. These are so hard to do without giving too much away. My favorite three: “The Vice Principal Gets a Missile Launcher,” “Everyone Hates Me but the Horse,” and “We Meet the Dragon of Eternal Bad Breath.” He’s got a real knack for making you want to read on and decode each title.

Now add to that some of the other quirky features, like a sun god who writes haikus, fart arrows, hiding Mount Olympus on the secret 600th floor of the Empire State Building, and warriors growing from planted teeth. Here’s some other stuff that made me laugh:

“”The woman had a wispy mustache, and the guy was clean-shaven, which seemed kind of backwards to me.”

“It seemed weird calling a teenager ‘sir,’ but I’d learned to be careful with immortals  They tended to get offended easily. Then they blew stuff up.”

“The cafe windows wrapped all the way around the observation floor, which gave us a beautiful panoramic view of the skeletal army that had come to kill us.”

Again, I have the same cautions. These twelve gods sure have a lot of kids with a lot of different mortals. The “oh my gods” humor. And add to that the “dam” humor of the Hoover Dam scene. Still, this book is very mild. I would not object to my young kids reading it. And I must praise Riordan that while his books are based on danger and quests, the violence is never bloody or graphic. It’s always feels very fantastic (as in, unreal), and his ever-present humor keeps it light and safe. A great adventure. Once again, kudos, Mr. Riordan!

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians), by Rick Riordan, 2006, Book Review

This is book two in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. If you haven’t read them, start with my review of book one, The Lightning Thief.

sea of monstersRick Riordan did it again. I enjoyed The Sea of Monsters almost as much as The Lightning Thief. It’s a whole new adventure with many of the same characters as book one and a few new ones. Kronos is still rising, Luke is still evil, the prophecy about Percy (or another child of the Big Three?) is more fully explained, and an ultimate confrontation is obviously a few books away. I’m hooked. I’ve ordered book three.

Again, I cringed a bit at the offhand way the Greek gods produce offspring, both half-human and half-beast. Such mythology is a tricky subject to base a children’s series around, but nobody’s delving into details. And creatures with super-human powers sure provide opportunity for rousing adventures. This time around, we get a Confederate ghost ship, death-defying chariot races, sirens, rides on hippocampi, a feminist sorceress, hard-partying wild centaurs and a satyr who plays “YMCA” on his pipes.

I just love Riordan’s witty, understated writing style. I had a slew of favorite passages I wanted to share, but I trimmed it down to these:

“You’d think getting chopped into a million pieces and cast into the darkest part of the Underworld would give him a subtle clue that nobody wanted him around.”

“They reminded me of miniature cafeteria ladies who’d been crossbred with dodo birds.”

“Facing the hooves of a rearing stallion is scary enough, but when it’s a centaur, armed with a bow and whooping it up in a soda-drinking hat, even the bravest warrior would retreat.”

“I mean, I’ve met plenty of embarrassing parents, but Kronos, the evil titan lord who wanted to destroy Western Civilization? Not the kind of dad you invited to school for career day.”

“Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related, for better or worse…and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

I have to mention some very mild profanities. Characters repeatedly utter the tongue-in-cheek “oh my gods.” At one point, someone exclaims, “D— the heroes!” And another character is told to “go to Tartarus,” a formal name for the Underworld. On the brighter side, Percy learns a sweet lesson about loving the big stupid, ugly guy for who he is, and a lot about loyalty, friendship, and brotherhood. Overall, Percy Jackson is pretty restrained in a day when more and more trash is acceptable in the children’s genre. I give the book two thumbs up.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians), by Rick Riordan, 2005, Book Review

the lightning thief“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life. 

Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.”

Percy Jackson is a troubled twelve-year-old who’s been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD and been kicked out of every school he’s ever attended. Then in sixth grade, his life really starts to tank. Particularly when his pre-algebra teacher turns into a bat-winged monster and tries to kill him. Things go from bad to worse until he learns he’s only half human. Then the fun really begins.

Rick Riordan’s imagination is astounding. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is a quest among the ancient Greek gods, a fresh and unique setting for tween readers. He kept me on the edge of my seat all the way to the end of the book with a great mix of suspense, action and a hilarious writing style. Consider some of my favorite moments:

“Mr. Brunner was this middle-aged guy in a motorized wheelchair. He had thinning hair and a scruffy beard and a frayed tweed jacket, which always smelled like coffee.”

“He looked like a cherub who’d turned middle-aged in a trailer park.”

“Standing behind us was a guy who looked like a raptor in a leisure suit.”

The one drawback to using the ancient gods in a book for kids is their legendary tendency toward promiscuity. In Camp Half-Blood, where Percy goes for the summer, a cabin is built for each god to collect all the cast-off children he or she has created with mortals. In a book for kids, this background of complete social dysfunction makes me cringe. But Riordan’s handling of it never crosses any bounds of propriety, never prompts kids to start asking questions that demand uncomfortable answers. It’s simply a pitfall of featuring gods. I greatly appreciate the restraint Riordan uses concerning inappropriate language. It’s nice to make a recommendation without having to include that post script.

One of my favorite things about The Lightning Thief is the way it becomes personal immediately. Warning kids right off that they might share Percy’s half-blood condition, that they too might be in danger, lends his predicament authenticity and sends a thrill of danger through the reader. It sure caught me right away. Riordan also makes effective use of his chapter titles. With headings like “I Accidentally Vaporize my Pre-algebra Teacher” and “Grover Unexpectedly Loses his Pants,” what kid isn’t going to keep reading?

I know I’m coming to this series extremely late, but there may be others even more behind the times than me. On the chance that you, reader, happen to be one of the twenty-five Americans left who haven’t read it yet, let me encourage you to look up Percy Jackson. I give this book my enthusiastic, whole-hearted approval. Be assured, I will be looking up the sequels. They are: