Well, well, well. What do I say?
I guess I can start off telling the CSM readers who are idly reading reviews for the pure fun of it (which is always so much fun) and have never read a "Heroes of Olympus" novel what on earth is going on: Percy and Jason have united the camps. The two most powerful demigods in the mythological world of Rick Riordan, each kidnapped from one of the militaristic camps for demigods and sent to the other, reunite the feuding camps to prepare them for a great war against the giants...
...till Leo ruins it all. In other words, he starts firing on the Romans' beautiful city of New Rome and pretty much destroyed their awesome cafeteria. They weren't too happy about it so, after Jason and Percy, along with their ever-loyal comrades escape, they are left with the threat of invasion by the vengeful Romans against their beloved Camp Half-blood, and the looming deadline of the destruction of the original citadel of Rome.
Epic? Totally. Fast-paced? Now that’s a dumb question. Rib-cracking humorous – like the Riordan we know and love? Ha, ha! Love the characters? Piper needs some quality time, but of course we do; who can resist the quirky, silly charms of Leo, anyone?
Got to say this: Riordan, and somewhat surprisingly, gets it again, even after I thought he was starting to lose his touch with “The Serpent’s Shadow” back in May. Maybe it’s because Greco-Roman mythology is pretty different from Egyptian, or maybe its simply because no one takes Percy’s gilded, ruddy crown of most awesome protagonist written by Riordan ever. Sorry Carter Kane! So anyways, Riordan’s writing is still sharp: sparkling, specific word-choice helps weave a story of loyalty, bravery, and wits while staying cool under the pressure of an apocalyptic deadline, as usual with Riordan, and sarcasm, puns, and inside jokes helps keep the reader laughing and becoming more attached to the slightly whimsical, deep characters – four of whom narrate the novel in intervals. The characters really pop in their own ways: Annabeth with her a little too-good-to-be-true brains, Frank with his reserved nature and awesome shape-shifting abilities, Jason with his steady and leading persona (though altogether he is overshadowed by Percy), Hazel with her supportive attitude, Piper with her calm attitude and… not much else, Leo with his comical, not to mention big, personality which keeps all the others from going insane, and, of course, Percy being Percy – sarcastic and loyal, with his quick wits about him. The plot is always quick-paced, though sometimes you feel that this isn’t supported by the disappointedly juvenile dialogue that takes place amongst the characters. It’s disappointing that the dialogue and some plot points can’t take on a deeper build and tone; I love the humor, but sometimes it gets the plot development off-track.
And Narcissus! HA! HA! HA! Loved how Riordan incorporated this infamous myth into the story! In fact, it was so understandable and incredibly hilarious that I found myself thinking fondly of Riordan’s first novel, “The Lightening Thief,” which was his best. It was almost like he succeeded at making the standard once again just by weaving the myth into this installment. Totally, rib-cracking, “Percy Jackson”-approved hilariousness!
I do have to agree with countless other, Riordan-crazed readers: seven’s a crowd. Giving adequate time and love to all seven of the demigods on the quest, along with a few constant minor characters like the karate-chopping Couch Hedge, is a challenge Riordan more or less failed to overcome. Also, there’s a barrier that Riordan can’t cross because of the young audience of readers that he likes to appeal to, which is he can’t go sentimentally deep into his characters. There were countless instances where I wished Riordan could have gone deeper into his characters thoughts, maybe even sounding like Victor Hugo while he did it, even subtly inserting his own opinion into the matter. These moments usually occurred in big characterizing moments, like when two demigods see a vision of the other’s past or Percy and Annabeth talk about their future together. I wish Riordan would have taken his time with these moments, slowed the story down, just so we could get to know these characters more. I’m a teenager, so obviously I find the Jason/Piper and Percy/Annabeth relationships very interesting (oh, I forgot about the mild Frank/Hazel thing going on. It’s not very memorable though.) And on those moments, when Piper’s thinking about her and Jason or Percy worries about Annabeth while she goes on a climatic, solo quest, I wish Riordan would dare to venture just a little further, just enough so that we don’t think that their relationships aren't that shallow, and, if they are, expose them to be so. But then I remember all those ten-year old fans of his, saying “We don’t care about that! We want Greek myths and action!” so many ten-year olds saying that they probably drown my voice out easy: too bad.
When it comes to the violent content in the novel, the level of it is mostly the same as it has been with all of Riordan’s novels. Countless monsters are killed with the help of Greco-Roman weaponry and a few Celestial bronze modern devices, but always crumbling into dust and sometimes making a comeback later in the novel after they reform in Tartarus. There is a little more blood in this book than in previous ones - mostly because of injuries which are quickly healed later – but no bloody, wrenching deaths. Not yet. As far as sexual content, it’s brought up a notch in this novel. Percy and Annabeth kiss frequently, mostly after a battle or one of them saves the other (and may I note that it gets a little annoying, especially when you know they still have a battle to win and should save the romance for a more peaceful time) but the kissing is never graphically described, besides for Annabeth describing Percy’s lips as salty. In a more notable scene, sneaking out after hours, Percy and Annabeth fall asleep together, cuddling, after talking about the quest and their life together after the war. No, nothing bad happened – don’t totally freak out parents - but I do have to agree, I think this book should be labeled at +11. Piper, who’s involved with the strong-and-silent Jason, constantly analyzes her relationship with him, and there’s a petty feud between Leo and Frank over Hazel. Alcohol content: nothing to be worried about, if I remember right. In the context of language, the characters shout out “gods” when in stressful situations, but very little besides that.
I just wanted to remark to parents of readers who are preteens that you keep in mind that little “Percy and Annabeth falling asleep accidentally in the stables” scene. Some preteens may be a little too young to understand what their glimpsing: the sometimes foolish things teenage couples will do together, and the relationship that Percy and Annabeth are developing –the things they talk about in that scene are really interesting, especially when Percy brings up having a life together, married with children, after the war is over. I think this would be an interesting conversation to mull over with your teenager, pointing out the elements that make up a functional, loving relationship between a man and a woman.
This is, overall, an exemplary novel that I recommend readily to fans of Riordan’s books. The maturity of the novel has gently been raised, thanks in part to the maturity of the characters and their relationships with one another as well as the direness of the situations they are often in, but is still suitable fun for Riordan’s usual audience of excitable, preteen fans. The plot still excites and ends with a traditional cliff-hanger, or in this book heart-wrenching abyss-hanger, and the characters are bookmarked in one’s memory as beloved, quirky, and totally human, though one of their parents are usually a neglectful god or goddess. I give you a big warning though: it’s impossible to put down. (Ah, those minutes-before-midnight reading marathons!)