Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Review: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

This book is the second in the Riordan series, Heroes of Olympus, the follow-up to his wildly-popular Percy Jackson and the Olympian series. This series makes sense (on more than a just-cashing-in-on-a-popular-character basis) because it explores the way the Romans took the Greek gods and altered them, as well as contrasting the Greek and Roman cultures in general.

This is good, not only because it is educational, and not only because that is an interesting topic to explore. I like this series better than the last because it gives the gods and goddesses more nuanced characters, particularly as they appear in either their Greek or Roman forms; I felt they were rather simplified into larger-than-life caricatures, and too often presented for comic effect.

I would extend the same praise to the new characters introduced in this series. While the story still incorporates Percy Jackson and some of the most important demigods (the offspring of the gods/goddesses with their human partners) from the former series, the new ones tend to be more well-developed personalities with more interesting abilities, quirks, and/or backstories. In this book, we meet Hazel, who harbors a secret skill and a ton of guilt about how that skill was used to bad ends in her history, and Frank, who has an unknown family legacy and a life-and-death secret that may be the key to saving the world.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was towards the beginning, which is largely set in Camp Jupiter, the Roman alternative to the Greek demigod training facility, Camp Half-Blood, that was home base in the original series. I really enjoyed how Riordan demonstrated some of the big differences in the Roman culture by the ways Camp Jupiter contrasted with Camp Half-Blood (although you had to have read and remembered the other books, because there is no description of Camp Half-Blood in this book).

I haven’t mentioned much about the plot because it is typical Rick Riordan fare. That is, it largely consists of the underdog heroes having to get somewhere (usually far away and in very little time without any obvious means of transportation) in order to follow a quest/rescue someone/get a vital clue or piece of information/retrieve some necessary item from some mythical creature. Of course, either on the way or once there (sometimes both), the heroes have to defeat some monstrous force from Greek or Roman mythology against which it would seem they would have no chance, but somehow miraculously prevail. Repeat multiple times through the course of, in the case of this book, 513 pages.

So the nonstop battles to save the world aren’t my cup of tea, but, then, Riordan isn’t really writing for me. His stuff is very popular among the upper elementary and middle school crowd, and it appropriate for them to be reading such heroic tales. But I will say that I like the heroes, particularly Frank, better than the ones in past books, which makes all the violent (but not gross or nightmare-provoking) encounters more palatable for me.

And, as I’ve said in previous reviews, given that kids of this age like reading this kind of action book, it’s great that Riordan packs in a lot of great mythological and historical content in among the mayhem.

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