Friday, November 16, 2012

SHAZAM!

The Lightning Thief was much better than it had any right to be.

I'll admit, I checked it out on a whim, having been bombarded at work by advertisements for the new book in the series that follows the series this one starts, but I was impressed.

Having avoided the movie, the hype surrounding the books, etc, I wasn't sure what to expect. One of the first things I noticed was the book was published via Hyperion, a Disney company. While that's usually a a good sign, I still remember the cinematic abortion that was Hercules. (For those who can't tell yet, I'm a Greek mythology nut. Disney's retelling of Hercules [or Heracles if one wants to be CORRECT], was so far off the story that I found myself vowing to never watch a Disney film again. Not that I kept that vow... And the funny part is that I had no issues with Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mind you, trying to make a book with one whole heck of a lot of rapine and a dead heroine at the end into a children's movie must have been one heck of a challenge...)

Then I started reading the book. At first, my mind cynically wrote it off as a Harry Potter knock off. I mean, while Percy's life is not nearly as miserable as Harry's prior to Hogwarts, there is an amount of similarity there. Abusive home life, trouble at school... Things do take a different tack when Percy's math teacher turns out to literally be a harpy and attacks him on a field trip. (I could only wish my field trips were that exciting.)

His Latin teacher throws him a pen that becomes a sword, and all of a sudden, we're off to another world. Sort of. First, we have to go back to Manhattan to meet Percy's loving mother and his horribly abusive step-father. (Unlike Harry, Percy's mother is still alive. His father, however, is notably absent.) His mom ends up taking him out on Long Island to get away from the horrible step father, where in they get attacked by the minotaur. less than 50 pages in and we've already had two fairly major "monsters" from the Greek mythos show up.

Percy manages to defeat the minotaur, barely. In the process, he loses his mother and consciousness. Which is when we enter Camp Half-Blood, sort of a summer camp for demigods. The camp is run by Chiron (who passes for human by sitting in a wheel chair) and Dionysus (on punishment detail for chasing too many nymphs. And very glossed over, since this is Young Adult.)

As the book continues, we find out Poseidon is Percy's father, and that Zeus's Thunderbolt has been stolen. Zeus blames Poseidon, Poseidon thinks it was probably Hades, and Percy ends up going on a quest with Annabelle (daughter of Athena) and Grover (a satyr) to Los Angeles to enter the underworld to get the thunderbolt back.

Along the way, the meet several more monsters, a few gods, and generally try to become heroes who survive their legend.

I've really enjoyed it. About the time they started the quest is about the time I stopped comparing it to Rowling. I did have a few quibbles with the book though.

Chief among them: Athena was chaste, so I can't see her having half-breed children. (Seriously, the book mentions that most of the Olympian females were chaste; I realize having Athena be Annabelle's mother helps the plot along, but still...)

Another part that had me quibbling involves a fight with the Chimera on the St. Louis Arch's observation deck. Percy finds up falling out of the arch and landing in the Mississippi. For anyone who's ever been to the Arch, you understand this goes well beyond improbable in the manner in which the fall is described. Because there's still a lot of park, embankment, road, and levee before you hit water. Also, given Poseidon has dominion over the sea, I can't see him having much influence over polluted fresh water.

I also had a minor umbrage with how Hades was presented at the outset. Riordan made up for this when Percy and his entourage actually hit the underworld. (Mind you, I had similar issues with Hercules on this as well. Yeah, Hades has issues. but he's generally not quite the horrible god he gets portrayed as in modern takes on the mythology. I honestly think modern Western thought hates him because of what he represents.)

Yeah, I'm late getting on the bandwagon. But if The Lightning Thief is any indication, the series should be fun reading and an interesting take on ancient civilization.