Series Review: Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Image credit: readriordan.com

Author: Rick Riordan

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Mythology (Greek), Adventure

Books:
1. The Lightning Thief — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
2. The Sea of Monsters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
3. The Titan’s Curse — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
4. The Battle of the Labyrinth — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
5. The Last Olympian — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Characters:
Main: Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, Grover Underwood
Secondary: Sally Jackson, Chiron, Luke Castellan, Clarisse, Tyson, Thalia Grace, Charles Beckendorf, Silena Beauregard, Zoe Nightshade, Nico di Angelo, Paul Blofis, Rachel Elizabeth Dare, Blackjack, Mrs. O’Leary, Greek gods, Greek mythological heroes, mythological monsters, Kronos

*Warning: This review is not entirely spoiler-free (though I’ll try and keep the major ones out). Also, this is a long post!

I decided to review the whole series as one instead of the individual books because, frankly, I got so hooked on to the story once I started that I binge-read them all in less than a week. At the end of it, I had no idea where one book ended and the next began. All I knew was that I’d gained a new set of characters, book series, and an author to add to my favourites. Oh, and that I was going to try and read every single thing Rick Riordan wrote.

Told from the first person perspective of Perseus “Percy” Jackson, this series follows his adventures as he takes his place in the world of demigods and living Greek mythology, going on dangerous quests, meeting gods and goddesses, and battling monsters.

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“You ever hear those old stories about Greek gods? Like Zeus, Poseidon, Athena? Well… those gods are still alive. They kind of follow Western Civilization around, living in the strongest countries, so like now they’re in the U.S. And sometimes they have kids with mortals. Kids called half-bloods. We’re like… heroes in training. And whenever monsters pick up our scent, they attack us.”

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— Percy Jackson, in The Sea of Monsters

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To explain in Percy’s own words: “You ever hear those old stories about Greek gods? Like Zeus, Poseidon, Athena? Well… those gods are still alive. They kind of follow Western Civilization around, living in the strongest countries, so like now they’re in the U.S. And sometimes they have kids with mortals. Kids called half-bloods. We’re like… heroes in training. And whenever monsters pick up our scent, they attack us.”

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The Books

In the first book, The Lightning Thief, we meet Percy, a troubled young boy who always has weird things happening to him, and has been expelled from every school he has attended. After a particularly bizarre encounter in which he fights his maths teacher, who has turned into a monster, his mother Sally takes him to Camp Half-Blood, a place where children “like him” can be safe. “Like him” meaning Percy is no ordinary boy.

At Camp Half-Blood (CHB), Percy learns that his biological father, who was never part of his life, is actually the sea god Poseidon, and that he himself is a demigod (also known as a half-blood: half-god, half-mortal-human). (Even thousands of years later, the Greek gods don’t seem to have become tired of chasing after and mating with mortals at the drop of a hat.) And CHB is a magically-protected place where demigods like him can live safely and train to survive against monsters.

He makes friends — Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena, and Grover Underwood, a satyr with hooves and horns — (and enemies!), learns sword-fighting, and goes on a quest to retrieve a stolen magical item so as to avert a war between the gods.

He also learns that there is a big prophecy that might involve him. And realizes that there are far more dark and sinister happenings afoot that threaten the very existence of the Olympians and the demigods of CHB.

Book 2, The Sea of Monsters, finds Camp Half-Blood in danger of being overrun by monsters when its magical borders begin failing. Meanwhile, Grover has gotten himself into a rather peculiar predicament. And Percy gains an unexpected and unusual new relative.

Percy, Annabeth, and their friends have just a few days to rescue Grover, and retrieve a powerful magical item that will protect CHB from monsters again. But to succeed, they have to sail through the Sea of Monsters and come out of it alive (and preferably as the same species as they went in!). And, most importantly, prevent the evil Titan lord Kronos from getting his hands on the magical artefact.

Book 3, The Titan’s Curse, sees Percy on yet another rescue mission, this time to find and bring back Annabeth a kidnapped goddess Annabeth, after an attempt to extricate Grover and some half-bloods from a boarding school ends in disaster.

Percy and Grover team up with two powerful demigods and the immortal hunters of Artemis to find the goddess — and Annabeth — and solve the mystery of the monster that could destroy Olympus. Percy and Annabeth end up shouldering a rather heavy curse. And not so fortunately for Percy, Aphrodite decides to take an interest in his love life.

In the fourth book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, the campers learn that Kronos’ forces are planning to invade CHB… from the inside. With the war between the gods and the Titans looming closer, Percy and the others must stop the invasion. And the only way to do that is to journey through the Labyrinth (yes, the same labyrinth of the Minotaur fame), a sprawling underground maze with danger and peril around every corner, to recruit an invaluable ally. As always the quest involves monsters, other mythological beings, gods, and rather surprisingly, a mortal.

The Last Olympian, the fifth and final book, is a great conclusion to a great series (and luckily, it’s not the last we see of these awesome characters!). While Zeus and Co. are busy battling Typhon, the most terrible of all Titans, Percy and his friends face off against Kronos and his army of Titans and monsters to protect Mount Olympus, CHB, and the world. But before he can take on Kronos, Percy has to journey to the Underworld on a dangerous quest to prepare himself.

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So many thoughts! 

I’m generally not a fan of the first person PoV. There seem to be very few books that utilize it well, and make it vivid and engaging enough to hold the reader’s interest. Most authors that I’ve read who use first person PoV offer a very narrow perspective of the story, and when badly done, it makes the narrating character come across as either shallow, judgemental, or whiny.

But right from the first page of the first book, Percy’s voice and tone — his sarcasm, wit, and irreverence as he narrates his adventures — hooks your interest. A sassy twelve-year-old boy’s point of view of Greek-mythology-meets-modern-day is pretty unique, and there’s never a dull moment as Percy recounts how he, Annabeth, and Grover fall out of one scrape straight into another — with the occasional break between quests to return to everyday things such as school and regular life.

The storyline is fun, original, exciting, and engaging. Riordan does a great job of incorporating characters, stories, and locations from Greek mythology into present day.

My knowledge of Greek mythology isn’t extensive — only what I read up as a child when I was mildly fascinated by the subject for a time; the myths we covered in school, like Medusa, Icarus, the Minotaur, King Midas, etc.; and whatever I looked up over the years out of curiosity on Wikipedia. So, there are plenty of stories that I’d forgotten or not heard of at all. Reading this series not only brought it all back, it also extended my knowledge of the Greek myths.

The writing is fast paced, and there is a good balance of action, description, and world-specific detail. There are plenty of quirky connections. For instance, as Mount Olympus shifts to wherever the centre of Western civilization is, it is currently located far above the Empire State Building in Manhattan, and accessed via a special elevator to the 600th floor. And the entrance to the Underworld is located in a recording studio in Hollywood, Los Angeles.

There is no dearth of humour, most of it coming from Percy himself, but there is plenty from the other characters as well. Like one of Percy and Annabeth’s earliest interactions: when Percy imagines that Annabeth would be impressed that he killed a minotaur, her only reaction is, “You drool in your sleep.”

And this bit of stellar dialogue from The Sea of Monsters:

Annabeth: My fatal flaw is hubris.
Percy: That brown stuff they spread on veggie sandwiches?
Annabeth: No, Seaweed Brain, that’s hummus. Hubris is worse.
Percy: What could be worse than hummus?

Or that Hades has had to deal with several problems due to overcrowding in the Underworld over the past century, like opening new subdivisions, hiring more security ghouls, traffic problems and backed up lines in the judgement pavilion, and budget issues.

Or that dam joke. 😜

But the funniest parts in each book starts with the table of contents. Every chapter has a completely out of context title that makes sense when you actually read the chapter. But seen as a list of seemingly random headings, it makes you wonder what Rick Riordan was on when he wrote the books. Or how the publishers actually went ahead and published it.

Just a few of the best ones from the long list are:
• I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom
• We Hail the Taxi of Eternal Torment
• Nico Buys Happy Meals for the Dead
• My Parents Go Commando and
• We Trash the Eternal City

Percy, Annabeth, and Grover. Fan art by Viria @ viria.tumblr.com

My favourite characters are easily Percy and Annabeth. But the first character I loved was Sally, Percy’s mother. She may not be a literal goddess, but she is an actual goddess, the best person in the PJ universe, and a total badass. Then of course, there’s Grover and Tyson (you want to give him so many hugs!). Paul Blofis and Rachel Elizabeth Dare are pretty cool too.

The main demigod antagonist is well-written, with credible motives for going over to the enemy side. The reasons for his bitterness and for developing a grudge against the Olympians are understandable, though his actions are another matter. From his backstory, one sympathizes with him, and for the way his story plays out. He is, as CHB director Chiron (the centaur) says, “an interesting case”.

Obviously as the series’ protagonist, Percy’s character is the character we deal with the most. He is sarcastic and has an easygoing demeanour. He is also clever, resourceful, and quick on his feet. Throughout the books, he demonstrates growth, ingenuity, and street smarts when he gets himself and his friends out of many a difficult situation. Despite this, sometimes he comes across as dumb, because he doesn’t seem to be able to see the obvious, even when it plain to everyone else.

He is reckless, and has a rebellious streak a mile wide. He is also unfailingly loyal to those he loves, and as his mom says, his heart is always in the right place.

It is definitely interesting to chart his progress. Starting out as a troubled kid, he is recognised as a force to reckon with as early as the end of the first book. By the end of the series, he is widely acknowledged as one of the most powerful demigods, respected by gods, fellow half-bloods, and even his enemies.

As interesting as Percy’s character is, I think one of the main reasons why these books appeal to readers, especially young girls, is the character of Annabeth. A daughter of Athena (the Greek goddess of many things, but most notably wisdom and strategic warfare), Annabeth is the deuteragonist, and one of the strongest points of the PJO series.

Right from her introduction, it is clear that she is no simpering ninny or damsel in distress. She is definitely not just a female prop. She is a powerful demigod, and what makes her so formidable is that unlike Percy or Thalia, who respectively have water- and lightning-related powers not unlike magical, mutant, or super powers, Annabeth relies on her intelligence, and natural physical strength, agility, and fighting skills (which, yes, is a great deal more than the average mortal’s).

She is a widely respected leader at CHB, and acts as a mentor and guide to Percy throughout the series, filling in the gaps wherever he (and the reader) requires information and background on the Greek mythological world.

She is a formidable young girl, but not without flaws, weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which make her believable, realistic, relatable, and inspiring to both young and older readers..

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“I swear I understood their intentions. They were about to start rumours flying around the sea about the son of Poseidon and some girl at the bottom of Siren Bay.”

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— Percy Jackson, about himself and Annabeth in The Sea of Monsters

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Percy and Annabeth’s friends-to-romance relationship is probably the most entertaining thing to read throughout the books. It’s not difficult to spot the signs, and there is much awkwardness, embarrassment, and accidental hand-grabbing. Also, “Seaweed Brain” and “Wise Girl”.

One completely sympathises with them as they each deal with their changing feelings for their closest friend. Aphrodite’s interest in their relationship only adds to their torment.

What’s funnier is how they’re doing something quest-related, or get stuck somewhere together, and everyone else is convinced they’ve sneaked off to spend some time alone, no matter how much they protest otherwise. Percy also endures a good amount of teasing from his mother, who calls his and Annabeth’s first outing together in The Battle of the Labyrinth a date, despite his “Mom! It’s just Annabeth, it’s not a date. Jeez!”.

Even the fish are interested in their developing romance. Once, when Percy is comforting Annabeth and hugging her while they’re in a bubble of air underwater, he has to shoo away a school of curious barracudas and marlins who gather to watch them. He claims, “I swear I understood their intentions. They were about to start rumours flying around the sea about the son of Poseidon and some girl at the bottom of Siren Bay.”

As hilarous as watching them stumble around is, the best part about their relationship is that it is based on their solid friendship, and that it isn’t insta-love. The books aren’t about their relationship; it evolves naturally over a period of time, without sounding forced or unrealistic.

Percy & Annabeth. Fan art by burdge.tumblr.com

One of the things I admire most about the books is that both lead characters Percy and Annabeth (and most of the other demigods) have dyslexia and ADHD, which are not considered disorders. As Annabeth explains to Percy soon after they first meet, the dyslexia is because, as Greek demigods, they are hardwired to read ancient Greek. And the ADHD — the impulsiveness, being unable to sit still, the attention problems — is actually their battlefield reflexes and heightened senses.

Not only is a protagonist with a learning difficulty or a mental health issue rare, this is such a lovely way of showing young readers who have these disorders that there is nothing wrong with them, that they aren’t stupid or dumb if they don’t get high grades in school or can’t spell right.

Another thing to note is that though the books are meant for middle-grade children (8–12 years), there is more darkness beneath the humour than is apparent due to Percy’s way of narrating. I suppose this is one reason why this series also has a good following of older readers.

Most demigods have suffered from neglect on the part of their godly parent. Many of them have run away and lived on the streets on their own because of difficult relationships with their mortal parents, before ending up in CHB. Tyson was homeless, isolated and bullied, and attacked by monsters all of his life until he met Percy and came to CHB.

Up until the events of The Lightning Thief, Percy himself lives a difficult life with his abusive stepfather, Gabe Ugliano, who hates him and treats his mother Sally like a servant. There is a high probability that Gabe might be alcoholic, and Percy is sure that his mother has suffered domestic violence at Gabe’s hands.

Percy offers to get rid of Gabe permanently (like seriously permanently), but it is Sally who finally does it by herself, using the same method Percy was going to employ — Medusa’s head.

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The TL;DR version

As is obvious, I really enjoyed reading the PJO series. I liked the setting, and I was invested in the characters and their dynamics. I didn’t expect to get so completely hooked — it’s been a while since any series did that to me.

I’m over a decade behind in reading the books. But the good thing is, by the time I started reading them, all the books in the books in the series were all published. I don’t think I’d have had the patience to wait until a new book came out. I don’t think I’d have survived the cliffhangers!

Adults or kids, if you haven’t read these books, I’d say definitely go ahead.

*Featured image courtesy readriordan.comAll book covers courtesy Goodreads.

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