The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

The Hidden OracleThe Hidden Oracle

by Rick Riordan
Series: Trials of Apollo, #1

Hardcover, 361 pg.
Disney-Hyperion, 2016

Read: August 31, 2016


Only 361 pages? Riordan is taking it easy on his readers. And maybe himself.

Anyway, following the events of The Heroes of Olympus, Zeus is a little displeased with Apollo and demonstrates this by turning him into a human teen (read: YA/MG novel star) and casting him to earth. He appears to be fully human — not even a demigod like Percy and the rest. Speaking of Percy, as soon as Apollo figures out what happened to him and where he is, he makes a beeline for Percy’s apartment to get help. Smart move. Percy gets him to Camp Halfblood and disappears back to NYC to do homework.

Once there, Apollo begins trying to figure out what quest he’ll have to do to return his status to quo. Along the way, he’ll make some friends, get a better perspective on himself and his offspring (yeah, that’s not weird), and maybe go through some of that personal growth. Note that I said, “some” personal growth and “better” perspective — that’s not saying much, basically Apollo comes across as a teenaged-Gilderoy Lockheart with a conscience. Instead of the large number of missions that we’ve become accustomed to in these books, there’s really just one (plus the series-arc mission) — such a nice change.

A lot of people from the Percy Jackson and The Heroes series are name-dropped and discussed, not to mention the few that we see — there’s even a nod to the Magnus Chase series — thankfully, my favorite is one of those who shows up in the flesh. There’s also a good amount of in-jokes to please the long-time fans. But readers new to this universe shouldn’t be put off by any of this — it’s absolutely approachable, maybe even moreso than anything since The Lightning Thief.

This is told in the typical breezy style that characterized non-adult mystery Riordan novels, but given the different protagonist, feels a little fresher. A little briefer, a little change of pace — still full of that Riordan magic. The Hidden Oracle is a sold first-entry in yet another adventure in this world. Give it a shot.

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3.5 Stars

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The Sword of SummerThe Sword of Summer

by Rick Riordan
Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #1

Hardcover, 491 pg.
Disney – Hyperion Books, 2015
Read: November 6 – 7, 2015

Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, Magnus, you didn’t really die. Otherwise you couldn’t be narrating this story. You just came close. Then you were miraculously rescued, blah, blah, blah.

Nope. I actually died. One hundred percent: guts impaled, vital organs burned, head smacked into a frozen river from forty feet up, every bone in my body broken, lungs filled with ice water.

The medical term for that is dead.

Gee, Magnus, what did it feel like?

It hurt. A lot. Thanks for asking.

Welcome to Rick Riordan’s latest tale of the offspring of mythological deities and the humans silly enough to fall for them. We’ve done the Greek pantheon, spent some time with the Egyptians, and came back for another round with the Greeks — this time with their Roman counterparts, but now we’re in for something new: Norse mythology. A whole new kettle of fish. This involves a new type of central character, a new kind of setting, new challenges. Which gives us the best thing from Riordan since the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.

Magnus Chase is a homeless teen, orphaned a couple of years back when his mother was killed. Since then, he’s lived on the streets of Boston, spending his days in museums and libraries, learning as much as he can about whatever, and establishing relationships with generous restaurant employees and fellow homeless people. Two of whom track him down one day to let him know that there are people looking for him. It turns out that this is his sixteenth birthday and life just got a lot more dangerous for him. The people seeking him are family and they’re sure that he’s about to be hunted by beings he doesn’t believe exist.

The quotation above shows how well that being hunted works out for Magnus.

But he goes down fighting — to save himself, bystanders, and a couple of friends. So a Valkyrie (who happens to be Muslim, a combination that fascinates me) takes him to Valhalla — where he makes some more interesting friends, and enjoys a quality of (after-)life that’s far better than the streets. But then, someone casts doubt on the worthiness of his selection, which puts that Valkyrie in hot water.

So now Magnus has to take things into his own hands, prove that he’s worthy, defend the Valkyrie, and prevent Ragnarok from starting — or, if things go wrong, kick it off. It could go either way, really. One of the best pieces of advice he gets — the thing that inspires him is:

The thing about fate, Magnus: even if we can’t change the big picture, our choices can alter the details. That’s how we rebel against destiny, how we make our mark.

Now it’s just a question of what kind of mark he leaves.

Love, love the voice/attitude, I’ve seen some criticisms of it from parents, but I think it’s fun, and it’s just the kind of thing to feed into his audience (both the target and those who’ve grown up reading Riordan and still read him despite no longer being age-appropriate). It’s the clearest, crispest, funniest narrative voice since the Percy books — and might end up surpassing them by the end of this series.

I really don’t know that much about Norse mythology — world tree, Ratatoskr, Asgard, Valhalla, Odin, ravens, Hel, etc. I’ve got, but the details are really fuzzy. Most of what I know about Norse myth comes from Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles and Jacqueline Carey’s Daisy Johanssen/Agent of Hel Urban Fantasy books. So I’m learning a lot — and I assume younger readers will, too. The few pages of supplemental materials in back of the book are such a nice help! I really enjoy Riordan’s take on these mythological figures — both those I know and those I’m new to. I think the Thor you meet in these pages is fantastic. Yeah, Hearne’s Thor is a better character, but Riordan’s Thor induced more chuckles.

There are some great chapter titles here — I tend to ignore them (anything beyond a number is a distraction), which is short-sighted, I realize, but that’s what I do. In this book? It’d be really dumb to skip them. Every now and then I’d stop to go back and read the last few that I’d missed. If they’re not the funniest (and most creative) lines in the book — they’re in the top 2%.

The tie-in to the Percy Jackson books is obvious (and I felt really stupid having to have it spelled out for me in the opening chapters rather than sussing it out much earlier) and unexpected, but I can’t wait to see how that develops. But even more entertaining are the jokes about aspects of the Percy-verse — flat-out funny, and nice bit of fan service, too. Oh, and they won’t make a lick of difference to the Riordan-novice.

I just realized that I haven’t even addressed the titular sword. I don’t know what to say about it without ruining anything, but if I was eleven years old? It’d be my favorite sword ever — better than Excalibur or anything that Tolkien could offer (as someone much older than 11, I don’t think that, but I wouldn’t argue with my younger self).

One other thing — I read a review from one review site that I respect that dampened by enthusiasm for getting this — but I decided that Riordan had earned my trust (and I was curious), so I gave this a shot. That review complained about the sarcasm — I don’t get that, but apparently that’s a thing for some parents. And they complained about the addition of cussing — now maybe I missed it, but outside of the taking the names of Norse gods in vain (and that could be argued), the only cussing I saw was in dialogue tags. As in “…,’ he cussed.” Seriously? If we have to shield our middle graders from the concept of cussing, they’re not going to survive the middle grades. There were a few other complains that were about as baseless as these — I kept waiting to see these problems as I read and missed every single one.

Which isn’t to say this is a perfect book — but man, it’s the best he’s done in quite a while. The problems I have are really not worth getting into, they don’t ruin the experience, and if you’ve read Riordan before, you’ll be expecting them (they’re less problematic in this book than the last 2-3). The Sword of Summer is funny, exciting, with real heart — just the thing for middle grade readers (or those who don’t mind reading below their fighting weight).

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4 Stars

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus, #5)The Blood of Olympus

by Rick Riordan

Hardcover, 516 pg.
Disney-Hyperion, 2014
Read: October 25 – 28, 2014
Well, after ten novels, it’s time to say good-bye to Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and the other residents of Camp Half-Blood — not to mention their new-found allies and friends (when they’re not trying to wipe them out) from Camp Jupiter. But first they have to stop Gaea and her army of giants from wiping out the gods, humanity, and all life as we know it.

Just another day for these demi-gods, really.

As is the norm for Riordan’s books, our heroes are faced with a series of tasks which build up to a major confrontation — this time, a couple of them. It’s amusing as usual to see these kids outwit various minor gods, titans, etc. Good teacher that he is, Riordan gives his readers plenty of education about the Greek and Roman pantheons under the thin disguise of plot development.

The big epic battles that he’s been building for since the beginning of this series — well, they were epic. They were tension filled. And still managed to be funny. And will likely be read with breaths caught, and lumps in throats. Possibly the funniest visual in Riordan’s works appears in the midst of one of these battles, and for a second I was torn between enjoying it and turning the page to find out what happened next.

My one quibble was that the resolution to the Gaea story was a little too easy, a little too quick after all this build up. Still, the way he wrapped up the other story lines and conflicts was sufficient, so I was able to move past it easily. Riordan continues dabbling in themes I’d prefer not to see in MG books, but I know I’m in the minority on that.

At the end of the day, especially at this point in these series, it’s the characters that readers care about. I read this ahead of my son (who started these back when there were only three in the original series, and is now a good deal older than the target audience) and made a joke about something bad happening to Grover — and the glare he gave me probably took a year off my life. It’d that kind of dedication that Riordan instills in his fans. As such, there’s plenty of development and resolution given to these characters — Riordan doesn’t spell out their futures the way that Rowling did at the end of her series, but he gives us enough to be able to say good-bye.

Riordan does right by his characters — Reyna, Jason, and Frank particularly. Annabeth and Piper shine like neither has before. And Leo Valdez is even more of a star than he was before (if I’m going to talk about my son’s soft spot for Grover, I’d better be honest about my Leo-centric focus). I’m not saying they all survive, or are otherwise unscathed, but Riordan treats his characters with respect and keeps his readers turning the pages.

It’ll be odd not getting a new adventure with these characters next year, but I’m looking forward to seeing what Riordan does with the Norse pantheon (and learning about them, too).

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4 Stars

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The House of Hades
The House of Hades

by Rick Riordan
Hardcover, 597 pg.
Hyperion Books, 2013

I guess I already said the essence of what I have to say about this back when I checked in midway. This is a fun read, but a tad formulaic. However, it’s Riordan’s formula, so he pulls it off very well.

Hades didn’t charm me as much as his book usually do, and I’m not sure if that’s just me, or if it was a flaw in the book. Part of it was knowing that there was one more book, no matter what victories the Campers scored, they were only going to set the stage for the ultimate battle. Even as I say that, I know that’s not the case — but a lot of it just felt like marking time until the final installment next year.

The central conceit of Riordan’s mythology books is that these kids — near-teens or teenagers — are beating various and sundry mythological creatures — from monsters, to nymphs, to Titans or gods — in a variety of contests, even in battles to the death. Which can be hard to swallow sometimes, if you stop and think about it. But this is a common thing even in the old myths — mortals outsmarting these types. Too many of these contests in Hades are resolved by the Campers goading their opponents into making an obviously stupid move. Once or twice a novel, they could get away with it. I should’ve written it down, but he used that trick at least three times (maybe four or five) — in any event, it was enough that I groaned at least twice.

I don’t want to come down to hard on this book, I did like it. I haven’t chuckled at an obituary like I did at the one included in this book in a long time (you were supposed to, I’m not that twisted). There were some great character moments, some good personal growth — most of which I can’t get into without getting really spoilery. But, in short — Frank’s growth (in every sense of the word) was fantastic; Percy (and to an extent, Leo) realizing some of his former blunders and broken promises — he really comes off looking far less heroic and more human (which ends up making him more heroic). I do wish we’d had a bit more Reyna, I think she was given short-shrift, but what she did was probably more important in the end than what happened in most of the book.

Leo Valdez, however, is the hero of this book (and he’s come close to being the hero of one or two others in this series). Riordan really makes him shine throughout. It’s a real pleasure to read every one of his scenes — whether he’s the point-of-view character for that chapter or not.

I’m looking forward to the final book in this series, I do fear that it’ll be the last Riordan series I read. Unless he returns to adult fiction, that is. I have one son that currently provides me excuses to read Riordan, but he’s getting a bit long in the tooth for these books and has pretty much decided this is it for him. Hopefully, we can get his little brother into them, so I can keep going.

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3 Stars

In Medias Res: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

as the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through

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House of Hades
The House of Hades

by Rick Riordan

Okay, we’re in the home stretch of the third mythology-based series from Riordan, and by this time it’s pretty easy to what he’s up to, it’s like clockwork, the way he builds these things.

But just because his books have become formulaic doesn’t mean they’re bad. It’s not the formula, it’s the execution. There’s a reason that NCIS and Law & Order reruns are almost constantly on the air somewhere, they do it right. As does Rick Riordan. Fun, engaging, educational — bah, enough of this, I’m getting back to Percy, Jason, Annabeth, Leo and the rest.