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.'"

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