The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

sTitleThe Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #2)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Children’s fiction, fantasy
Rating4/5

A new year, a new school to get expelled from. Sea of Monsters begins with Percy at his latest school, a feel-good new age school, and he’s managed to make it almost a whole year. He has a new friend- a giant, childish outcast named Tyson- and of course a new set of bullies bent on making his life hard. When the bullies gang up on Percy and Tyson during a dodge ball match with a group of visiting students who happen to be inhumanly strong cannibals, well, long story short the gym goes up in flames and Percy’s on the run all over again.

With the help of his friend Annabeth, Percy and Tyson escape to Camp Half-Blood, which Percy not only has to face the fact that his new buddy is a cyclops but is also Percy’s half-brother. Percy doesn’t have much time to process everything, though, because his best friend Grover is missing, he’s having dreams where Grover is trapped in a cave sewing a wedding dress, and the magical tree that has been protecting Camp Half-Blood has been poisoned, more than likely by their old friend-turned-enemy, Luke. A quest is in the air, and thanks to their new activities director, Tantalus, it’s bestowed upon… Clarisse, the bullying daughter of Ares who, by the way, wants to murder Percy. Surprise, surprise, Percy and his friends sneak off in the middle of the night to (hopefully) save the day.

To answer the question I posed in my review of The Lightning Thief: did Sea of Monsters maintain the momentum and keep me interested? Absolutely! The fast pace of the plot keeps the story from dragging. A lot of the themes remain the same and the stories are predictable, but the characters and adventures are so much for that you hardly notice. I like that Riordan brings in new characters on both sides to keep the pool fresh while continuing to develop his main characters. Tyson was a surprising and endearing new character who allowed for Percy to recognize some of his faults and become a better protagonist. Riordan also ends the story with one hell of a cliffhanger, which makes it impossible not to immediately continue to the third book.

One of the prevalent themes in this series is the questioning of authority. I like that Riordan encourages kids not to follow their elders and superiors blindly, and to stick up for themselves and their friends. Riordan is careful to also include moments where Percy wants to rebel really badly, but he recognizes that he needs to respect that particular symbol of authority. A good example of this is the camp director Dionysus, or Mr. D. Mr. D appears blase and indifferent to the fates of his campers, and Percy is constantly questioning whether Mr. D has their best interests in mind. However, Mr. D is a god, in a position of power, and Percy doesn’t really know Mr. D’s intentions yet, so he holds back around him.

I became much more emotionally invested in Percy as a character through this book, and I look forward to seeing how he grows up and develops throughout the series.

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The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

lTitleThe Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #1)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Children’s fiction, fantasy
Rating4/5

After reading nothing but full-length novels and short story anthologies the past month or so, I was more than read to sit back and get lost in a fun series. The first installment of Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series definitely did the trick, as I’m almost done with the third book after starting the series five days ago. I chose this series because I’ve been interested in Greek/Roman mythology since I was a kid and because a number of friends recommended it to me. I’m so glad it lived up to my expectations!

Percy Jackson is a twelve year old with ADHD, dyslexia and a serious knack for getting expelled from schools. When his math teachers spontaneously sprouts wings and tries to murder him during a field trip, he starts to realize that his life isn’t going to get any easier. After being pursued by monsters and losing his mother, Percy ends up at Camp Half-Blood, a summer training camp for the children of the gods, or demigods. It turns out Percy is the son of Poseidon, the sea god, Zeus believes he’s stolen a lightning bolt more powerful than all of the world’s nuclear weapons, and technically he’s not even supposed to exist. He begins his first quest to bring back the bolt and clear his name, and try to find his mom along the way.

What I liked most was Percy’s distinctive voice as he narrated the story. A big problem I have with a lot of children’s and young adult fiction is voice. These genres more often than not nowadays use first person, which is only an effective tool, in my opinion, if you can create an interesting and engaging narrative voice. Nothing is more boring than bland first person POV. Percy’s voice is anything but, and we see his world through a very believable set of twelve year old boy’s eyes. The narrative is hilarious and fun to read, and Percy is both a likable and sympathetic main character.

Considering this is a book for children, and I come from a teaching/education background, I do look at series like this a little critically. I like that this series has a number of strong female characters and that their strength isn’t questioned or made fun of by the male characters. I do wish the story wasn’t so dominated by male characters, but I’m hoping that improves as the series progresses. I also like how Riordan found a way to put a positive spin on ADHD and dyslexia, which still have such a stigma in schools.

If you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted series to lose yourself in, I definitely recommend Percy Jackson & The Olympians. I will continue to review the books as I finish them to see if the series can maintain the momentum of the first.