I better get started or I might not finish in time. So, here’s the book that started it all, The Lightning Thief.
Two notes before this review begins:
- I had watched the movie first.
- I had already read Sea of Monsters.
Does my odd start to the series colour my opinion of the official start to the series? We shall see.
The series begins with twelve year old Percy Jackson, a sixth grader going to a boarding school in New York for juvenile delinquents. He’s diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, which means his grades aren’t exactly the best, and neither is his permanent record–the longest he ever stays in a school is about a year.
Despite this, Percy’s favourite class is Latin, which is all about Greek and Roman mythology. However, he doesn’t expect to get attacked by his math teacher, who is an actual Fury, on his field trip to the museum. After surviving the attack, no one remembers the math teacher except Percy, and his friend Grover. Later, he hears Grover talking to their Lain teacher, Mr. Brunner, who both inexplicably fear for Percy’s safety.
When the school year ends, Percy goes on a three day trip with his mother, only to be attacked by a minotaur, who kills his mother on their way to safety. The safe haven is Camp Half Blood, a camp hidden from mortals in Long Island Sound that serves as the protection and training grounds for demigods–children of humans and the Greek gods.
At camp, Percy discovers many things, like his best friend is half goat, his Latin teacher is Chiron, and the powerful god Zeus is missing his lightning bolt…and Percy is to blame. Why Percy? Because he is the son of Poseidon, Zeus’s long feuding brother. Together with Hades, they make the Big Three, who pledged to sire no more heroes.
(Or at least, they were supposed to.)
Due to the missing bolt, the gods are threatening war with one another, and Percy is charged with a quest to find the bolt and bring it to Zeus. He travels with Grover and Annabeth, a daughter of Athena. Together they travel to Hades, where they suspect the bolt is hidden, and encounter many Greek monsters and gods along the way. But the quest turns out to be a distraction, because in Tartarus, a greater evil is stirring.
Plot Points That Worked
Modernization of Mythology. Riordan knows his mythology well and he knows how to overlay it with modern day America. One important cover is the Mist, alluded to in the Illiad, which changes reality in the eyes of mortal to make scientific and logical sense. What’s more interesting is when the Mist is not in use, and the reader sees the comparisons between mythological setting and famous landmarks. My favourite example of this is the Lotus Casino, which doesn’t pull you in with food, but with the inexplicable need to stay, simply by being an entertaining and fun place.
Setting up the future story. The Lightning Thief sets up the format of the following books nicely. It’s easy to infer that each book will follow a quest, which follows a prophecy, that will have something to do with Percy. Riordan’s does something interesting by presenting all of the problems at Camp Half Blood (undetermined children, lack of recognition of minor gods) and then diverting the reader’s attention with Percy’s quest. In a way, Luke manages to dupe even the reader because we get so wrapped up in the missing bolt that what’s going on at camp seems almost trivial.
Part of the set up is the great backstory with Grover, Annabeth, Luke and a girl named Thalia, who is a daughter of Zeus. The first book makes sure everyone is relevant to the plot in ways other than love interests or sidekicks.
Plot Points That Failed
It starts off really slow. While setting up the story is great, it takes quite a while for the quest to finally be set up and Percy to leave Camp with his friends. It’s a little slow to start, especially since the blurb hints that Percy is going to go on a quest, and the quest doesn’t really start until over 100 pages in.
And, unfortunately, it starts off a little cliché. Yes, there are a lot of similarities to Harry Potter: strange occurrences with a kid (snake/Fury), kid doesn’t understand (Harry, Percy), the kid turns out to be special (wizard, demigod), the kid ends up somewhere where he is safe and belongs (Hogwarts, Camp Half Blood), the kid has extraordinary power (The Boy Who Lived, child of the Big Three). Oddly, I’m okay with all of that (even is both protagonists had green eyes…). What I’m not okay with is:
Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life. […]
If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on.
Telling me this is true doesn’t make me believe it is true. Showing me it is true, like at the Lotus Casino, is much much better. Not to mention, I don’t believe Percy wouldn’t want to be a half-blood. Despite this opening line, he appears to enjoy his time a Camp. I understand that the constant threat of death sucks, but I think Percy would miss his powers over water.
And finally, but its a nitpick, Gabe. I know he’s supposed to be the human stench that keeps monsters off Percy’s trail, but where did Sally meet this guy? How did she get him to marry her? And why him? Sure he’s disgusting, but couldn’t he also be a little nice? Couldn’t Sally just keep her place like a dump herself? And despite all of the justification, I kind of feel bad that they kill him in the end. (He really did deserve it though…acting abusive towards Sally and Percy like that.)
So that’s my opinion on the plot of The Lightning Thief. If you agree/disagree/feel encouraged by the spirit of Delphi to speak words of confusing prophecy, leave something in the comments below!
You shall goes west, and face the god who has turned.
You shall find what was stolen, and see it safely returned.
You shall be betrayed by one who calls you friend.
And you shall fail to save what matter most, in the end.
-Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief