Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters – Rick Riordan

Good. Grief.

Most of the time, reading things because they are Classics-related doesn’t turn out too badly. Sometimes, however, it blows up in my face. This is one of those times. I read the first book in the series when I was young enough and ignorant enough to think it was ok. Now I am older (and have a degree in Classics) and it’s just painful.

First off: he made a mistake. I quote –

“Just listen. The real story of the [golden] Fleece: there were these two children of Zeus, Cadmus and Europa, okay? They were about to get offered up as human sacrifices, when they prayed to Zeus to save them. So Zeus sent a magical flying ram with golden wool, which picked them up in Greece and carried them all the way to Colchis in Asia Minor. Well, actually it carried Cadmus. Europa fell off and died along the way, but that’s not important.”

ARGH. Just. GAH. What. How could he not check that? The entire series is based around Greek mythology and he makes a gaff that big?! How could he /not already know the Europa myth/? I am perfectly willing to forgive someone for not knowing the names of the people saved by the ram with the golden fleece. That is not massively obvious. The Europa myth, however, is somewhat more well known. Certainly well enough known that if you are writing a book full of Greek mythology you should DAMN WELL know about it. If you are writing a book full of Greek mythology, you should probably a) know that the ram saved Phrixus and Helle or b) LOOK IT UP.

Right. Breathe. Step back.

Ok, so if you’re not familiar with the series, the Percy Jackson books, of which this is the second, are about the modern-day sons and daughters of gods and humans. The eponymous hero is (minor spoilers) the son of Poseidon which is the source of much plot for Reasons. The books are aimed at kids, fairly obviously. I read the first one, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, when I was perhaps slightly too old for it, but only just (I was 15 or so when it came out), and I enjoyed it for the trash it is. Recently, I may have made the great error of watching the film version. If you do this, do so in company, because a film that bad cannot be enjoyed in solitude. You need a friend to shout at the screen with you. On the other hand: Pierce Brosnan is a centaur. I think that’s the only good thing I can say about it. But anyway, having watched the film, I felt the need to read more of the series. And it is very much not something to read at 23. The escapades of a really stupid thirteen year old (oh lord I’m a whole decade older than the protagonist no wonder I hated it) don’t work so much any more. The basic idea behind the series is that the demigods of the modern day (or modern-day USA anyway) go to a summer camp called “Camp Half-Blood” where they learn anachronistic skills like stabbage and irritating-the-gods to prepare them to fight the monsters that inevitably attack them, drawn by the delicious scent of half-immortal teenagers. It’s Greek-god Harry Potter, basically. And it is about that original in the plotting too.

As a concept, much though I am grumbling about the book, I like the series. It’s a cute idea, if not a massively inventive one, and I can’t help but enjoy Greek mythology all over the place. Riordan also does some quite clever things with the setting, on occasion. Highlights include angry guinea pig Blackbeard and a satyr in a wedding dress. It doesn’t sound it, but the first one of those at least is actually a clever use of the setting. Promise. Then Blackbeard says “Arrrr”. Because clearly Riordan couldn’t resist. But yeah, I like that a series in this setting exists. It makes me happy, as a Classicist.

However, even for a kids’ book, the plotting is weak, the characters weaker and a lot of it is incredibly derivative. When I said Greek-myth Harry Potter, I wasn’t wrong. The main characters are: a boy in some way involved in a prophecy, who’s none too bright but handy and heroic and somewhat lonely for various reasons; a very smart girl (or at least a girl who is stated to be very smart… whether she actually is or not… hmmm) who for some reason deigns to hang around with the hero; and a gangly, slightly odd guy who gets on very well with the hero but doesn’t actually appear to be much use. Sound familiar? Then there’s the old, wise dude, the nemesis (though in this she’s a girl), the parts of the family who are caricaturedly mean… now I come to think about it, it is ridiculously Harry Potter. Not the storyline, but the characters and the basic ideas. The story is ok, but nothing amazing. It’s fairly predictable all the way along, even by the standards of children’s fiction, and the cliff-hanger ending is about the least subtly done thing he could have managed.

For all that, I will probably read the sequel. I will grumble about it… a lot… but I will read it. And that is because the book does have a redeeming feature. It’s funny. Every time I fall into a pit of despair about some aspect of the book, Riordan drops in a clever line or a funny idea or just something quite wonderful that makes it actually worth carrying on. Ish. And I’m easily amused. Something good enough to make up for his clumsily disguised villains or idiotic hero or failure to do some basic research. Not good enough to make the book actually good, but good enough to make it some tolerable, hilariously bad, trashy, escapist fantasy. And I’m ok with that.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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