Aug 29, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

My affair (more of a guilty slumming really) with Percy Jackson started - as most of my Young Adult frolicking (this came out so wrong...) - with a movie adaptation. I have mentioned before that I have this superpower where I get really annoyed if I haven't read the book a movie is based on. And with me trying to watch everything SFF-related that comes out, I simply had to read Rick Riordan's Harry Potter clone.

And yes, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is exactly that. The similarities are glaring and unseemly, shamelessly exhibiting themselves in the reader's face just so he won't forget what he's dealing with. Surprisingly enough, once you get over the feeling of nauseous deja vu, The Lightning Thief is actually not half bad.

Young Percy Jackson is a loser. Dealing with dyslexia, anger management issues and the fact that he gets kicked out of every school he is put into before even a year's passed, it is fair to say he is a troubled kid. Add to that an abusive step-father, and we've got the perfect recipe for a disturbing Chuck Palaniuk pretentious slice-of-life slash post-pubescent-nihilistic-wisdom novel.

Instead, we have Rick Riordan, and luckily, since no more than a few pages into the book one of Percy's teachers turns into a Fury and tries to kill him, and he finds out that his actual father is none other than a god of Olympus. All the ancient myths are true (except, let's hope, for the golden rain thing, as even Hentai is rarely that kinky), and not only that, but dear old Perseus Jackson is actually the chief suspect of the theft of Zeus' Master Bolt - the weapon he forged to defeat the Titans. With Percy's mother seemingly fallen victim of a monster sent by Hades, he has mere days to find the real thief and prove his innocence. But for that to happen, he has to figure out a way to leave Camp Half Blood - the place where demigods like him - the Olympians' offspring - come to live and train to be heroes.

The Lightning Thief is a fun and fast-paced read, intensely formulaic and unfortunately a tad too predictable, but still decent. The irreverent way in which Rick Riordan manages to completely bastardize and Americanize Greek mythology is actually quite enjoyable, if one is not naturally irritated by such things (but then one would be missing on a lot of God of War merriment, so one is obviously to be pitied). What's especially nice is the fact that even though the story is lightning-fast (see what I did there?), Riordan still takes time to build some world, and explain how said world works. Another solid point in favor of The Lightning Thief is Percy himself. No cringing-at-authority with this teenager, no worries about grades or whether the potion is going to come out right. No, Percy Jackson speaks his mind, speaks it loud, and in a sarcastic voice. Even when he's all emo and sad, you kind of sympathize, instead of wishing for him to grow a pair and stop whining.

And yet, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is not Harry Potter. That is only natural, after all, I know of only seven books that are. Still, Rick Riordan seems to have missed the point of what actually makes Joan Rowling's series so good. It is not the hidden mystical world concept itself, although that plays a part too. It is the richness of it. The little detail and the big history, and the background. The Lightning Thief doesn't have that. What's more - being based on a non-original concept, it is not only predictable (after all, if you've read the mythology, you simply know how certain characters would react), but it also feels too much like a theme-park. Percy and his friends (yeah, he gets his own Ron and Hermione) travel throughout America and meet various monsters and characters from the Greek myths, but it never feels like a real world. It's like they don't exist outside of guest-starring in his story, like they don't have independent life of their own.

I will not go into Rick Riordan's style of writing. This is a YA book, and a derivative one. Suffice to say the writing is adequate, and at times even inventive. And considering what a fast read The Lightning Thief is, I'd say it does its job.

All in all, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is shaping up to be a decent Harry Potter clone, not nearly as good but good enough to be worth checking out. It is a YA book through and through, and also very predictable, but it's fun, has a really cool protagonist and will take up no more than an evening or two of your time.


P.S. Accidentally, don't listen to what people say - the movie is also very decent, and Logan Lerman is perfect for Percy's role. Check it out.

1 comment:

  1. I'd just llike to say that, one, Percy Jackson is not that fast of a read and I really like the series. A few things are predictable, but there are also plenty of surprises along the way. I also greatly enjoy how Riordan makes sure that all the prophesies come true through and through, often in ways you may not expect. And by the way, the movie totally SUCKS!