A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hidden Oracle is the first book in a series that's a spin-off of a Percy Jackson spin-off series. Did you follow that? The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series came first, then the Heroes of Olympus. It helps to read them both before digging into this first book in the Trials of Apollo series. The storyline picks up after the war at the end of the Heroes of Olympus, and many old favorite characters make cameos or are mentioned. And, for extra credit, reading the Apollo chapter in Percy Jackson's Greek Gods helps when our "suddenly mortal and very unhappy about it" narrator Apollo recounts key moments of his godly life. There's a lot to learn about mythology here and, on a deeper level, about how a god like Apollo can get corrupted by power throughout his long, immortal life -- the humbling experience of being mortal makes him so much more likable by the end of the book. Expect much of the same kinds of fantasy violence in this story as in past series. Giant ants and a massive automaton statue do the most damage. Teen campers are kidnapped and almost set on fire. Healers in the Apollo cabin take care of injuries, even reattaching one leg, and some tree spirits sacrifice themselves to stop a fire. Apollo mourns lost loves, male and female, including the discus thrower Hyacinthus, who was killed by a discus thanks to a vengeful wind spirit.
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What's the story?
You know Zeus is extra mad at Apollo. Not only does he punish him with a mortal life, he also lets him fall to earth into a pile of New York City garbage and watches as he's beat up by a bunch of thugs and saved by an impetuous tween demigod girl named Meg who eagerly accepts his servitude as payment. At least Apollo knows where to go in New York for help: Percy Jackson's place. After some fresh clothes and mortal food, Percy offers to drive Apollo and Meg to Camp Half-Blood on Long Island. Apollo is sure Chiron will know what to do. But Chiron has his own problems: Campers are going missing, and the Oracle has gone silent. Demigods can't undertake a quest to find the campers until they get a prophesy -- from the silent Oracle. Apollo knows that back in his godly days, he was the one to blame -- he didn't defeat the monster Python at the Oracle of Delphi when he had the chance. Now in his mortal form he has no chance at all against the monster -- or a purple-suited man ominously named the Beast who seems to control Python. The Beast has connections to his new demigod friend, Meg, and an evil corporation that's out to destroy the demigods and eventually the world.
Is it any good?
Striking his usual stellar balance between mythological monster battles and character growth, humor and pathos, this start to a spin-off of a spin-off series doesn't disappoint longtime Riordan fans. And you need to be a longtime fan to follow along. The storyline picks up where Heroes of Olympus leaves off and references the other books and their main characters often.
THE HIDDEN ORACLE treats us to Riordan's familiar formula but a very different kind of narrator. Apollo sure is a self-obsessed annoyance to start, not at all like instantly relatable and funny Percy Jackson. He comes around quickly enough for the reader to root for him but only after a few trials suck the wind out of his sails. (It also helps that Zeus sticks Apollo with the mortal name Lester Papadopoulis and a face full of teen acne.) Lester/Apollo also sports some special talents that, even watered down in mortal form, make for some truly curious combat options. The power of a Neil Diamond song has never been wielded so successfully before, and -- finally -- being the god of plagues is good for something.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what near absolute power did to Apollo's conscience over the centuries. What's he like at the beginning of the book? How is he after a taste of life as a mortal?
The geyser spirit Apollo meets is pretty funny and pretty annoying at the same time. How does that character demonstrate the pervasive power of marketing messages?
What did you learn about history and mythology so far in this series? Does it make you want to know more?
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