Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Actually five books… Over the last four days, I’ve demolished all five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and instead of doing individual reviews for each, I thought it appropriate to review them as a whole.

The overarching theme is that the Greek gods never died and they continue to operate in the world, including having offspring. This series follows a group of these demigods as they grow from childhood. Along the way, they battle various monsters from Greek mythology as well as journey through that unique mythological universe. Honestly, it’s an interesting premise with some fun twists along the way, and if you’re a Greek mythology fan, you’d probably get a kick out of it.

The Bad

Yeah, so I switched how I normally do this (good first, bad second), and you’ll see why.

The first book is outright awful. Truly. The writing in particular is terrible, filled with cliches, and otherwise sub-par. There is literally no connection with the characters, and the storyline is fairly obvious.

The second book continues much in the same vein, but by the mid-point of this book, you start realizing that there is some hope and that Riordan is actually improving.

The third is alright. That’s about all I can say.

Books four and five are when things start improving (“things” being the writing in particular and the quality of the story). Still, the story is fairly weak and the writing about average.

But that’s not my biggest complaint. What got to me the most is that this book is obviously trying to be a Harry Potter, and it fails miserably. Some of the connections between the books are outright lifts. For example:

  • Both series have a group of people known as Half-bloods.
  • Both series revolve around a main character who, around the age of 11 (12 in Percy Jackson) discovers that he has “magical” powers.
  • Both series have a prophecy about the main character.
  • Both series are set in a school-like setting which is the primary target for the bad guys.
  • Both series have divisions within the school system based on houses (cabins in Percy Jackson).
  • Both series have a female lead who is wildly intelligent and a male who acts as the comic relief (think Ron).
  • Both series talk about normal people using a specialized term (muggle vs. mortal).
  • Both series have a bad guy who was previously defeated, disembodied, and struggles to return to corporal form. Similarly, both bad guys actually achieve that goal in book four.
  • Both main characters come from dysfunctional familial backgrounds.
  • Both series have giant friends who initially appear bad/stupid/less than ideal and later turn out good (Grawp vs. Tyson).
  • Both series use the name Percy.
  • Both series involve a main character who will make a choice between saving those he loves or the bad guy that is based on a prophecy heard by the teacher figure.
  • Both tell about a school-wide game against the other houses/cabins.

And I could honestly go on. The unfortunate thing is that if Percy Jackson had come first, it would actually come across as a better series. It still wouldn’t be a great series, but it would be at least better. But it didn’t, and frankly, Rick Riordan is not the storyteller that J.K. Rowling is. Not even close.

The Good

And with all that being said, the last two books have been alright. You just have to fight through the first three books to get there. I think Rick Riordan grew up as an author while writing these books, and it is apparent in the quality of his writing. By the end of the fifth, you are finally starting to see the evidence of, and I apologize in advance, intelligence in the story. But you really must ask yourself if wading through that is even worth it….

Again, if you appreciate the Greek mythology, you’ll enjoy how Riordan weaves it in. You visit some places that Homer just doesn’t give justice, and Riordan’s journey through the labyrinth is both interesting and fun even if it is not nearly the inescapable labyrinth of old.

Conclusion

They are shorter books, maybe 1900 pages all together, but you have to read well over 1000 of them before the story actually becomes even remotely worthwhile.

As adolescent lit, they are fast and solid enough that I think a classroom of 6th graders would enjoy them enough, but if quality is more your thing….

Ah… I must apologize to Riordan, though. He is, after all, published and sitting on a throne of 30 million books sold. How and why he got there is a matter of debate, but I’ll leave it rest that I will personally not by contributing even a single book to the throne. No not one. If nothing else, it at least gives hope to the unpublished masses who want to publish. If Percy Jackson can find room in the published world, there’s hope for the rest of us, right?

Ratings:

  • Book 1–.5 stars
  • Book 2–1 star
  • Book 3–1.5 stars (are you noticing a pattern?)
  • Book 4–2 stars
  • Book 5–2 stars
  • The series–2 stars based only on the finish
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