My teenage nephew is one of those people who can’t stop talking about whatever is crossing his mind at the moment. As he’s read Percy Jackson and the Olympians umpteen times, as well as the two sequel series, he’s mentioned quite a lot about it. I was not particularly intrigued or impressed by his renditions of certain scenes, but there comes a point where one just figures, “What the hell.” At least I could now follow some of the jabbering conversations he has with his younger siblings, who also read and loved the series.
If nothing else, this experience has now made me appreciate the value of the words, “target audience.” I mean, I know there are a number of books that are generally intended for younger audiences, but I still, to this day, enjoy Harry Potter, The Prydain Chronicles, and the Redwall series, so I’ve never really prioritized that, ya know? It has always been my opinion that a quality story, well-written, well-crafted, and well-told, can appeal to and entertain anyone, at any age, and it is only consideration for aspects which children and young adults might not be ready for which determined whether it was appropriate for them. But apparently, I stand corrected, there are some stories that just don’t do it so well for adults as they do for kids. Why? Because it’s just so stupid!
Seriously, that’s how cartoons became not just “child-friendly” but “for kids” in the Western world. Before Disney’s Renaissance, their animated movies had catered to kids to much that they became stale and stupid, a pain for mature, experienced adults to watch. Heck, even the kids weren’t enjoying them as much anymore!
Now, I acknowledge, Percy’s story follows him from the age of 12 until he turns 16, so I can understand if the boy fails to learn much. But even so, one can only watch the same boy, and his much more experienced friends, fall into obvious traps again and again and again, all unsuspecting and unwary despite how many times they’ve almost died already, only so many times before it becomes obvious that they’re only falling into these traps for the sake of adding more plot and more pages to the book. It’s a bit wearying to see them remain so stupid.
Not to mention how, for the first half of the series, every time anyone supposedly dies, they turn up again in a pivotal moment, perfectly all right. It kind of took the tension away, so much so that when, at almost exactly the halfway point, one character actually does die, I did not believe it. Literally. I. Did. Not. Believe. It. Because no one else had ever actually died before! They didn’t show it, just intimated that something had happened, which was exactly identical to every other supposed “death” throughout the preceding half of the series. So I kept waiting for the dead person to show up again, only they didn’t, and then not only was it finally confirmed as the first fatality of the series, but then we saw another character die at the end of the same book.
And suddenly the series had shifted gears. It went from, “Nobody actually dies,” to “Everyone is being served up to the Grim Reaper on a silver platter… unless they have plot armor, ie, the main characters.” I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the Game of Thrones approach, but perhaps something a little more in the middle, where the heroes who die in battle may not be main characters, but we’ve at least gotten to know them a little?
But then, everything is told directly from Percy’s first-person viewpoint, so there are some inherent limitations. Such as how anytime Riordan wants to visit the villains’ side of things, Percy always has a dream about what they’re saying and doing at that exact moment. Which gives him a level of luck that is of absolutely divine proportions. Forget commanding the seas and making mountains erupt, I want to be able to listen in on every significant conversation my enemies are ever having! Heh, I remember a scene from Ghost Hunt where a monk tries to make that happen, encouraging a young psychic girl to nap on the job the moment he realizes she’s gaining vital information anytime she does so! Somehow Percy and company never manage to think of the same, and, wait, if the lesser gods, including the God of Dreams, is against them, then how do they have such significant dreams all the time? Ah, well, best not think about it too much!
Indeed, best not to think about most of this story too much, which is kind of counter-productive to the entire point of telling stories in the first place!
Example: how are there so many demigods in the first place?
I mean, the gods have apparently kept themselves very well entertained with mortals, given that they have enough half-mortal kids to literally make an army out of. Actually, they make up two armies, on both sides of this conflict between gods and titans. Annabeth Chase, Percy’s best friend, most stalwart comrade, and obvious love interest, is a daughter of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and sworn not to get with men, and yet she has several children. Annabeth explains that she apparently just came into being from Athena’s thoughts and affections for a brilliant, passionate aviator. I imagine that holds true for some others, especially other children of Athena, but certainly not for all of the demigods! Seriously, the entire plot revolves around the many, many, many offspring that these gods have. Hera is the only one to apparently have no children whatsoever, being a goddess of marriage, while Artemis seems to adopt the daughters of other gods as her immortal Hunters, but in both cases, why could they not do the same as Athena?
Either way though, it turns out that everything happens pretty much because the gods suck at keeping it in their pants. Which is just so child-friendly, to parade that in front of kids, riiiiight?!
I once heard Larry Correia read a short story that is attached to his Monster Hunters series, and this girl in the next seat was taking notes to keep track of her thoughts. I recall her writing something like how the fantastic element is kind of just slapped onto the real world with not much sense to it. While I disagreed, that thought has still always stayed with me, and I find it made manifest here in Riordan’s work. Everything drawn from Greek mythology is just slapped onto the real world like a sticker. Monsters set up shop all over the place, killing scores of people with no one noticing. Mythological sites simply exist somehow on top of the real world. The gods and heroes and monsters do their thing, and nobody notices because that would be bad for the plot.
Gee, I wonder how Riordan handled adding Norse and Egyptian mythologies to this world in later series. Couldn’t possibly have just slapped those over the world like bumper stickers, eh?
In short, there’s not really any world-building, and that is pretty much the state of the plot and the characters as well. And the themes? The deeper meaning? The weighty matters of good and evil and humanity made manifest for discussion and learning, as Percy and his friends interact with heroes and monsters, with gods and titans, with figures literally out of myth and legend?
These five novels basically boil down to: the gods suck, most heroes suck, and their only redeeming virtue is that they’re better than the titans and monsters that literally prey on people. It’s so bad that when Percy finally saves the day, and is given a boon from the gods for his efforts and accomplishments, he basically refuses the chance to ascend to godhood and just asks the gods to straighten up and suck slightly less than they have thus far.
You know the one redeeming quality of this series? The one that I hear my niece and nephews going on about? The humor. The witty turns of phrase as everything is relayed to us in first-person. That was the secret sauce that made everything go down easy, or at least easy enough that I was able to finish this series. Every single time my nephew has mentioned Percy Jackson, it’s been a rendition of some funny line. And I will grant that Riordan does certainly have a certain skill in that arena, though my nephew has far less skill when it comes to relaying them.
Outside that, however, I find that I can hardly stand the series. Plot twists and surprises? Saw them coming miles away. Pivotal decision to make at the climax? Had me face-palming, “That’s it?!” Great battles of swords and wits? Not really impressed, we didn’t get that much of it, and when we did, Percy was nearly immortal at the time. Tension and suspense? …um, no. Really. No.
I’m sure – quite sure, in fact! – that I would probably have enjoyed this when I was a kid. Like I enjoyed Power Rangers. As an adult though, it really… really… falls flat.
Rating: 4 stars out of 10.