Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Olympian Strike Team- Go!

      I consider myself an anti-hypist.  I don't usually care for hype; the more something is talked about and popularized, the less I am interested in it.  (I don't go in for hype-bashing, either, but that's a different thought-train for another time).  However, there are those rare times when the object actually lives up to the popularity, and Percy Jackson is one of those times.  In fact, I think that the hype does not do enough justice to the awesomeness of Percy Jackson.  With the first series, it was quirky humor, great action, a little introspection, and inspiring re-telling of ancient myths and cultures.  This second series has been even better, culminating in the Platonic perfection that is The Mark of Athena; that is more than just hype (and there is still one book to go!).

     Much like another reviewer on Goodreads, I am having a hard time breaking this down for a review.  Where to start?  The plot?  The characters?  The setting?  The development?  Every aspect at this point is so complex; it's like trying to name the individual notes in a symphony that define the entirety of the piece.  It's not just one aspect; it's the whole, acting in concert, creating a masterpiece.

     All the same, I have to analyze the parts, to show just how they make up such an outstanding story.  The story opens in Camp Jupiter/New Rome near San Fransisco.  Percy, Hazel, and Frank have successfully returned from their quest, fought off the invading giant army, and are getting ready to greet the airship from Camp Halfblood.  Annabeth and Percy are finally reunited; sadly Reyna finds Jason has moved on with a new girlfriend, Piper.  Leo is as crazy and ADHD as ever.  Hazel and Frank are still very new to their own relationship; it doesn't help that Leo looks exactly like Hazel's first love.  Admittedly, these guys are all teens, but their life experiences have added a bit of maturity.  Still, as youth is, youth does.  The tensions, doubts, and resolutions are wonderfully done.  Everyone questions themselves and their peers at this stage in life.  Piper wants to believe she is the kind of girl Jason wants as a girlfriend, but there is always doubt.  Hazel is conflicted between her new life and her new boyfriend, Frank, and that Leo represents about her past.  Annabeth is caught between her mother, Athena's, need for vengeance, and her new friends from Camp Jupiter.  Percy's disappearance and reentry has also left herein some doubt about his feelings for her.  Jason and Percy are both leaders of their respective camps, and both feel the weight of it pressing down on them.  It's only when they realize they need to work together that the job gets done.  Frank fears Leo, both for his ability to make fire and his connection to Hazel.  Enough drama to please a theater full of ancient Greeks.

     All of these tensions play out well; there is humor and vulnerability in equal measure.  The author did an incredible job of balancing these threads within the overarching plots.  It is challenging navigating these emotional sandbars as a normal teenager.  Riordan uses extraordinary circumstances to show that as a common denominator, we can all relate to this angst.  He also ingeniously orchestrates the plot as a method of examining other big life lessons.

     During the first series, Percy originally had a hard time seeing Luke's point of view about their omnipotent parents.  At twelve and thirteen, you realize that while your parents may be flawed, they still care about you, and do their best to raise you.  As Luke points out, not every parent does their best.  In fact, some parents do their worst.  At sixteen and seventeen, you begin to envision what the rest of your life could be, should be, and the steps you might need to take to get there.  With the gods, or bad parents in general, their children are merely extensions of their own egos.  The child's life, desires, and dreams are always secondary to the needs of the parent.  At thirteen, Percy couldn't grasp this idea; Luke's outlook was selfish to Percy then.  However, Percy is now beginning to understand what Luke was getting at; the gods don't care much about the demigods, whether or not they are their own children.  They care about what the demigods can do for them, like pawns on a chess board.  The epiphany that comes to Percy is that while the gods may be deeply flawed and terribly selfish, they care what happens to the human race (loosely speaking).  Every enemy Percy has faced has been in favor of destroying the human species.  Percy finally comprehends the totality of the phrase "better the devil you know".  This is a deep philosophical concept (and a necessary one to becoming an adult).

     Another deep concept that is necessary for adult relationships occurs towards the end of the book.  Annabeth has to face her quest alone; lucky for Percy doesn't always follow the rules.  As they are reunited, Percy tells her that everything is alright because they are together.  One of the most important hallmarks of any lasting relationship is the willingness to continually meet challenges together, as a team.  Personal injuries, emotional baggage, doubts and fears- none of these matter as much as facing those things with one's partner.

     As usual, I am left in awe of Riordan's use of mythology in complimenting and completing these stories.  His research is thorough; he brings the world of the ancient Mediterranean to life.  When mythology and ancient history are taught in school, the dryness of the subject is usually stereotyped.  But much like Shakespeare's plays manifesting as teen movies, the subjects rely on accurate reinterpretation.  Taking ancient myths and putting them in modern scenarios breathes new life into a once "boring" subject.  Riordan's storytelling will kindle a desire to read more stories and books on these topics; no longer complex genealogies or impossible-to-pronounce names, these characters and people are accessible because of this modern introduction.

     I gave this book five (out of five) stars, which is truly high praise.  Magnificently well done, I encourage anyone with a love of mythology and adventure to tackle this series.  The hype is warranted, and I am eagerly awaiting the next book.  I hope that ones lives up to the stupendous cliffhanger on which this ones ended.

     "Then suddenly Percy was next to her, lacing his fingers in hers.  He turned her gently away from the pit, and wrapped his arms around her.  She buried her face in his chest and broke down in tears.
     'It's okay,' he said.  'We're together.'"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trapped, like rats!

     Much like the Crab that is my astrological sign, I am a defensive creature by nature.  I don't go out looking for fights; I try to avoid them as much as possible.  I'll get into a defensive scuffle when necessary, but by and large, I avoid conflict.  This has it's own share of problems, and they are ones I think Atticus O'Sullivan can relate to.  As the Iron Druid, and the last of his kind, Atticus has done his fair share of hiding and avoiding conflict.  He's had to pretend, to live an illusion of who he is, for millenia.  However, once he decided to face down Aenghus Og, the Celtic god of love (Hounded, book 1), he has put himself out there in a way that cannot be taken back.

     In Trapped, book 5 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne, Atticus is finally recognizing the consequences of his actions, both positive and negative.  On the positive side, he has finally finished training his apprentice, Granuaile, and she is ready to become a full-fledged Druid (and thereby doubling the number of Druids in existence).  However, the negative column is much fuller.  After facing and defeating Aenghus Og, Atticus figured he could go back to his quiet life of hiding, sidestepping conflicts and avoiding lasting entanglements.  Sadly, as the only Druid in the world, and now having his presence back on the map, Atticus is a solitary man of unusual talents.  Some deisre those talents, and some fear them.  In addition to these talents, his own archaic sense of honor has also played a role in bringing him trouble.  Promises made become promises kept, despite the cost to himself and others around him. In truth, by this book, Atticus has learned some measure of the humility as a result of those consequences; some promises might be better left broken.

     Trapped finds Atticus desperately trying to bind his apprentice to the earth.  The only place open to him at the moment is in the land at the base of Mt. Olympus.  This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for Bacchus having sworn to literally tear him limb from limb.  Though Atticus's own pantheon was a little upset to find him still after twelve years after his supposed death, they did what they could to help render aid to the cause.  Plots within plots, Atticus finds himself and his apprentice the target of attacks by Roman gods, vampires, dark elves, and faerie creations.  Each group has their own vendetta against him and his apprentice, or they have been paid to stop them from completing the Druidic rituals.  Karma has come to Atticus's doorstep, and it isn't pretty.

     In the realm of (minor) plot spoilers, all I can say is- Hallelujah, they finally did it!  The tension between Granuaile and Atticus has been present since book 1 and has only become more blatant in the last book and novella.  Admittedly, this is an entirely PG show, with little of the gratuitous gratification one might find in other books of the same genre.  All the same, I for one cheered when they finally succumbed to their desire.

     The continued violence and fallout from books 2&3 is amazing.  Defeating Aenghus Og in book 1 was personal, a vendetta finally cleared.  For that, I think the pantheons of the world were willing to let Atticus slide for killing a god.  However, the battle against the Norse and destruction of half their pantheon put Atticus at number one on the wanted lists for gods and goddesses everywhere.  Not only that, but the death toll for that is still mounting, two books later.  It is the karmic equivalent of Fukushima.  The author is very strongly making the point that your actions, your choices every day, always have consequences.  You can't anticipate them all, and the bigger the choice, the more deeply felt the repercussion will be.  And though Atticus himself might say he had little chance to deviate from the path he is now on, I don't think that was the case.  We always have alternatives, but we may not always be willing to change our ways.  In choosing to remain uncompromising in his sense of honor and duty, to one person, he has condemned many others to death and destruction, at his own hand or that of another.

     The book has neatly wrapped up a few plot lines that have been running for awhile now.  As usual, the wit and humor were riveting, though it got a little annoying to keep bouncing between foes.  The action, at times, was almost too constant, without enough in-between time for analysis or introspection.  Overall, a great start to the new year for me; I am eagerly awaiting the next book, Hunted, which is due out this summer.  The next one appears to be more consequences and repercussions for "it seemed like a good idea at the time", and of course, the wit that is Atticus and Oberon!  Brilliant!

     "'You must be thinking of stories from other cultures.  Irish women tend to kick ass and do whatever they want.  For exhibits A, B, and C, I give you the Morrigan, Brighid, and Flidais.'"

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ring-a-ding, it's the New Year!!

     Well folks, here it is, 2013!  Sweet jebus, how did I get here?  It looks like the philosophy of one foot in front of the other serves well enough for getting through the days, but sometimes it's hard to see past that to the evolution of years.  So here I am, at the start of another year, and another chance to explore new realms between the covers of books.  As the widget on the side indicates, I have scaled back my goals this year, to allow for more flexibility.  In 2011, I had more free time, I guess, or maybe smaller books, so I was able to get through 50+ new books.  Last year, the goal of 50 books seemed possible again, yet by the fall it proved very difficult to achieve.  This year, I am going for 45 books, allowing room for other events in my life.  Who knows what will happen this year?  I'm trying to remain open to all possibilities.

     In turn, I would like to thank all of you that voted in my poll.  I know it was long, but I really appreciate the input.  Nine books, all so deeply tempting, and no way to choose between them!  Such a conundrum.  Now thanks to you, I have a list with which to start my year.  This puts me one-fifth of the way through my challenge.  Hopefully, I will be through February and into March before needing such assistance again. 

     Here, in the order you chose, is my beginning reading list for 2013:

First place- Trapped, by Kevin Hearne

Second place- Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan

Third place- Ashes of Honor, by Seanan McGuire

Fourth place-  Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

Fifth place- The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan

Sixth place- Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Seventh place- Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson

Eighth place- Iced, by Karen Marie Moning

Ninth place- Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness

     Look for the first review in a few weeks!