Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

My request for the second book in Rick Riordan's The Kane Chronicles series showed up this week, so I just finished reading The Throne of Fire.  Just as with the first book in the series, The Red Pyramid, I had some issues with this book (as I do with all of the Riordan books I have read, I have to admit).  But I will say that I liked this book better than the inaugural book in the series.

In case you've been in a coma for the past decade and don't know who Rick Riordan is, he is the highly successful author of the "Percy Jackson and the Olympian" series, which posits that the ancient Greek gods and goddesses are still around and have, in fact, relocated to New York City, where they are still doing that old Greek god thing of siring children with mortal females, thus creating a bunch of modern demigods (including Percy Jackson) who are called upon to save the world.  His follow-up series is The Kane Chronicles, in which the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses are trying to make a comeback, assisted by the descendants of the old pharaoh lines, including siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, who are called upon to save the world.

Now, I love what Riordan is trying to do, which is to use the modern middle schooler's predeliction for fantasy and action literature, and to try to throw in some true information about classical mythology.  And I am sure that he has done a lot to raise the knowledge level of this generation on these topics.  My concern is that I, an adult with a masters degree and a pretty substantial background in Greek mythology, and at least above average familiarity with Egyptian mythology, have a hard time linking up the non-stop action with the content of the myths.  The kids in these stories tend to be under attack from one god, monster, demon, or other mythological forces after another, and they pass through so quickly and with so little context that I worry that none of it is really going to stick in the adolescent mind.  As Bruce Handy writes in The New York Times in his review of The Red Pyramid, "Riordan writes the way Michael Bay directs, or would direct if Bay had ADHD, with eruptions of mayhem every few pages and exposition falling like hail."

So, as I said in my review of Riordan's second Greek-based "Heroes of Olympus"series first book, The Lost Hero,  I actually liked that better than The Lightening Thief series because it made more sense to me.  I would say the same thing about The Throne of Fire.  This time, instead of having to investigate the entire world of Egyptian mythology and who is good and who is bad, the plot is focused on an attempt to resurrect the ancient Sun god, Ra.  To me, it contains more consistent information about a specific--and fascinating--part of Egyptian mythology, so the plot developments seem much less random.  Plus, this book introduces some other characters besides the Kane siblings with some unsolved mysteries that make things a little more interesting (all Riordan's main protagonists seem a bit too much "wisecracking" and a little less deep than some of the secondary characters, at least in my opinion).

The bottom line is that readers in the early adolescent age range tend to love these books, hyperactive plots and shallow characters or not.  But I think this one may do a better job of conveying a piece of Egyptian mythology in a way they can understand and remember.

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