Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena
© 2012 Rick Riordan
608 pages

In The Son of Neptune, Percy Jackson -- a demigod, the son of a human mother and Poseidon -- discovered another population of half-blood like himself, a veritable city called New Rome. The Romans are hostile to Percy and his Greek brethren, but the two sides must unite against Gaea and her plans to destroy life and create it anew -- which is unfortunate, because Percy's plans for an alliance soon crumble into war. The Lost Hero  introduced Jason Grace, the leader of the Romans, and in The Mark of Athena he and Percy (joined by five other demigods drawn from both of the camps) have to score a victory against Gaea before the Romans reach Camp Half-Blood and destroy it.  Their quest takes them to the old world where Annabeth Chase must descend into the bowels of Rome on a private mission from Athena, one that offers the hope of achieving peace between the demigods and preventing the real city of Rome from being toasted by two campy giants.

Riordan's novels tend toward the episodic, with a monster milestone threatening to destroy life next week if the kids can't scamper across the continent (or the world, in this case) in two days and win out, but Heroes of Olympus has already established itself as a different beast altogether from Riordan's previous Greek and Egyptian series.  The first two novels read very similarly to the previous series: there were three characters, each trio had a private romance, and the group had to accomplish ludicrously  big things alone. But Heroes of Olympus is developing into a more mature series. Now there are seven characters, each with a fascinating story to tell, and tension between them is rife. Jason and Percy are accustomed to leadership, for instance, and subtly vie for the role of alpha male. While a monster-killing mission usually drives these novels, here it's incidental, just a very small part in the larger scheme of things, and marginalized by Annabeth's solo mission. There are of course lots of monsters;  the book writhes with urgent fight scenes against all manner of unpleasant beasts,  from giants with snakes for legs to American tourists. Happily, not every fight is resolved with strength; sometimes clever escape is the best option, and the book ends by depriving two heroes even that, giving readers something of a somber cliffhanger.

Heroes of Olympus continues to delight.

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