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We Didn’t Start the Greek Fire

Mandy W. gets her Greek geekery on, with Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (Books 2-5).

We Didn’t Start the Greek Fire

BOOK REPORT for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (Books 2-5) by Rick Riordan

Cover Story: Epic
BFF Charm: Yay to Platinum
Swoonworthy Scale: Steady Climb from 1 to 3, Then Mad Dash to 6
Talky Talk: Straight Up, More or Less
Bonus Factors: Greek Mythology, Battle Scenes, Family, Sneaky Issues, Time Change- Up, The Long Game
Relationship Status: The Boy Next Door

Cover Story: Epic

Now I know that the word 'epic' has been misappropriated in recent times. But there's no better way to describe John Rocco's cover illustrations. Even though they clearly broadcast a little more Y than A, these covers are gorgeous. They all represent scenes from their respective books, and they just make a great-looking set. (Bonus points for the orange Camp Half-Blood shirt on Books 1 and 4!)

The Deal:

This review contains spoilers for Book 1 of this series.

Since last we saw Percy, he recovered Zeus' stolen master bolt, saving Mount Olympus from the brink of war. But he's also discovered that the evil titan lord Kronos is rising from the darkest pits of Tartarus. To exact revenge upon his Olympian children, who imprisoned him in the first place. And Percy's former friend and mentor Luke has been helping Kronos all along. NO BIG DEAL.  

As Kronos and his forces grow stronger, it's up to Percy and his friends to protect the demigod training ground Camp Half-Blood. Along the way, they face daunting challenges from monsters, gods, and everything in between. And it's all leading up to a final showdown against Kronos, with the fate of Olympus resting in Percy's hands.

BFF Charm: Yay to Platinum

Percy's younger than most of my fictional friends, but I'd still consider him a BFF. He's a loyal friend who doesn't hesitate to stand up for someone he cares for -- even before he knew about his demigod abilities. And he's prone to defusing any sitch with humour,* so he'd be a pretty fun hang. Sure, he's not always the brightest, and sometimes he can be pretty dense. But he's aware of his shortcomings and he's not too proud to accept help. Over the course of the series, he becomes a really awesome leader -- and he also gets promoted to the highest BFF honour there is.

*Which I, as someone who was sobbing and then stifling a giggle during a pivotal death scene in Deathly Hallows - Part 2, can appreciate. 

Swoonworthy Scale: Steady Climb from 1 to 3, Then Mad Dash to 6

Percy's barely a teenager when Book 2 starts, so it's not so much tingles as it is that Mrs. Potts knowing wisdom while witnessing the start of his crush on his BFF Annabeth. She's smart, creative, ambitious, and strong-minded; who wouldn't fall in love with her? (Heck, it kind of sounds like I have too!)

Throughout the years, Percy has brief dalliances with other girls,* but it's always been Annabeth. These books are geared towards the younger set, so there's no, like, grab-ass or anything. (Though as he gets older, Percy does get to show off his flirtatious side.) But it's the kind of swoon that makes your heart flutter because OMG he's finally getting it -- she's his lobster!

*But how come Annabeth didn't have anyone else crushing on her!? But then again, this series isn't called Annabeth Chase & the Olympians, so I can forgive her lack of other (known) suitors.

Talky Talk: Straight Up, More or Less

I have mad love for how Rick Riordan handles plot and character development (see: basically everything else in this book report). But I do agree with Jenny's take of The Lightning Thief; sometimes Percy the narrator doesn't quite fit Percy the character. Y'all already know I love Percy, and he's def. capable of depth -- ha, ocean pun! -- but Riordan's style has an eloquence that's much better suited for third person narrative (which OH HAI, that's where we're going next!).

I just have one other peculiar... observation. When I first read marathoned the series via audiobook, I easily picked up on the repetitive usage of "dear", esp. by Percy's mom. This isn't exactly a gripe or a rant; just something I couldn't help but notice. And I can't un-see a pattern,* so I'll have to settle for the next best thing, i.e. inflict the knowledge upon y'all.

*Kind of like A Beautiful Mind, except entirely useless. And Paul Bettany is nowhere to be found, other than in my dreams.

Bonus Factor: Greek Mythology

While the main players are Kronos and the gods of Olympus, tons of other mythological figures and creatures make an appearance in the series. As always, Riordan has his own delightful and often humourous take on their personalities and how they've adapted to the modern world.

Bonus Factor: Battle Scenes

The battle scenes in The Last Olympian alone would have earned this bonus factor.* Remember what I said about epic? Yeah, these battles qualify.

*Hell, that book itself probably deserves a standalone book report. But you guys -- I only have four months to catch up on EIGHT books.

Bonus Factor: Sneaky Issues

While this series is full of fun and adventure, Riordan also slips in an unexpected amount of depth. Just like the myths and legends that served as inspiration, these books offer morals in a manner that isn't really preachy. Topics like exclusion, kindness, environmentalism, and even religion are seamlessly weaved into the story. Sometimes it's only a few simple lines, but that's more than enough to profoundly resonate with the reader.

Bonus Factor: Family

Speaking of themes, one of the main ones in this series is family. (Obvi. I mean, just look at this family tree. The Greek gods are the First Family of EFFED UP.)

Since the gods are a living Beach Boys song (i.e. "I Get Around") and they've got all sorts of deity duties to attend to, their relationships with their demigod offspring are generally estranged. Factoring in all the different personalities involved, the resultant family dynamics vary wildly -- and yet this series still manages to explore a lot of these relationships.

And cheesiness alert: I'm a huge subscriber of how families are connected by love, not blood. So MAJOR FIST PUMPS for positive portrayals of blended families. Slight spoiler, but I get warm fuzzies when Percy refers to his mother and her new husband as "my parents". Percy's relationship with his stepdad doesn't diminish from the one he has with his biological father; it's just more love, and how could that ever be a bad thing?

Bonus Factor: Time Change-Up

Given the summer camp nature of Camp Half-Blood, I had wondered if each book was going to correspond with a different summer. But instead of making Luke and Kronos the most vacay-considerate villains EVAR, Riordan mixes up the time of year a bit from book to book. (Though I could have figured this out sooner by, y'know, doing basic math.)

Bonus Factor: The Long Game

The best thing about re-reading this series was recognizing all the little breadcrumbs about subsequent books. I'm not sure when the second Camp Half-Blood series was planned -- and maybe I'm just giving Riordan too much credit (though he could just redistribute that elsewhere, since he writes SO MANY GOOD THINGS) -- but I found inklings of The Heroes of Olympus as early as The Battle of the Labyrinth.

And then there are the more overt details that contribute to overall continuity. Character traits and motivations that gain complexity as the story unfolds. Friendships and relationships, developed over the course of the series, that resurface or change. These books are a collective feat of planning and forethought. And I like to pretend that Riordan has a conspiracy wall to keep track of all these deets.

Casting Call:

I've already voiced my v. strong opinions re: the actual casting. But for a do-over with Logan Lerman as the focal point, age-wise:

Allie Grant as Annabeth Chase

Charlie Bewley, exactly as he is at the time of this photo, as Luke Castellan

Young Angelina Jolie as Thalia Grace (spoiler)

I honestly couldn't think of a badassed young actress. Maybe Chloe Moretz or Stefania Owen, but they're both a bit too young. (Well, not if the movies followed the ages of the books, but whatevs.)

Molly Tarlov as Clarisse La Rue

Uh, Sadie as the daughter of the war god? You're welcome.

Field Cates as Nico di Angelo

And Young Piemaker is also apropos for this role.

Jillian Rose Reed as Rachel Elizabeth Dare

Tyson is such a sweetheart, but I couldn't cast him since the descriptions of his physical appearance are... not so flattering. ("Misshapen" and "brutal-looking" are used. Though the actor that's been cast is kind of cute, and also EPHRAM BROWN'S BROTHER.)

And here's where my casting choices get weird. I guess I'm a species-ist, since I didn't really picture real people for these two.

A Less Pathetic Milhouse Van Houten with a Sprig of Pan as Grover

Firenze from Harry Potter as Chiron (from the book but not the movie, because that CGI looks hella creepy)

Relationship Status: The Boy Next Door

I've known this series for what feels like my entire (grownup YA-reading) life. I really enjoyed hanging out with it the first time around, so we met up again for the second book. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. By the time my heart stopped racing at the end of the last book, I realized that I love this series! I'm not exactly sure when I fell in love with it -- or if it could even be pinpointed to one specific moment -- but my feelings only grew and deepened from book to book. And now I find myself rushing over to this series' house to profess my undying love. I'm really looking forward to our future together.

FTC Full Disclosure: I actually paid money to adorn my bookshelf with a boxed set of this series. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is available now.

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.