Book: The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, Book 1)

"The Hidden Oracle"

My father’s voice still rings in my ears. Can you believe Zeus blamed me for the gods’ battle with Gaea? Just because the earth goddess duped one of my progeny–Octavian–into plunging the Greek and Roman demigods into a civil war that nearly destroyed human civilization. I ask you, how was that my fault?

Now I’m cast out of Olympus in the form of a sixteen-year-old mortal boy, acne and all! Sadly, I’ve been punished this way before. I know I will face many trials and hardships, I can only hope that if I suffer through them and prove myself worthy, Father will forgive me and allow me to become a god again.

But this time my situation seems much more dangerous. One of my ancient adversaries knows I am here and is having me followed. The Oracle of Delphi remains dark, unable to issue prophecies. Most embarrassing of all, I am bound to serve a demigod street urchin who defends herself by throwing rotten fruit.

Zeus could not possibly expect me to fix the Oracle problem by myself. Not in my present weak condition. It’s time for me to drop in on Camp Half-Blood, where I might find some talented fodder…er, I mean heroes to help0. No doubt they will welcome me as a celebrity! They will bring me holy offerings, like peeled grapes, Oreos, and–oh, gods–perhaps even bacon!

Mmm. Yes. If I survive this, I really must write an ode to the power of bacon…

I feel like half this blog post has already been taken over by the book’s back synopsis alone. And it’s not like the synopsis does a good job at selling the book. It doesn’t. In fact, I’m glad that this is actually the first time I’m reading this horrible synopsis–while typing it up. Because I very much would not have picked the book up based on the synopsis alone.

Ah, who am I kidding. This is Rick Riordan. And save for the really horrible Mark of Athena, I’ve enjoyed all of his books. Yes, even the ones from The Kane Chronicles. So even with this weird synopsis, I would have picked up the first book off The Trials of Apollo. I just wanted to say that the synopsis is horrible enough times that someone takes notice. And writes a better synopsis for the next book.

Because it really does a great disservice to the The Hidden Oracle, which I feel, is setting out to be a better series than both Percy Jackson and the Olympians, as well as Heroes of Olympus.

Of course, you first have to get over the fact that Apollo as a main character can get tiring pretty fast. And because Rick Riordan has been doing almost the same shtick for more than ten books, you can already see most of the twists coming a chapter away. But what this book has that the others don’t is interesting characters:

Apollo, as annoying as he is, is Riordan’s most flawed character ever–while still remaining a likeable goof. Meg, the aforementioned demigod street urchin, is a strong female character that has interesting non-romantic issues to deal with. And from the get go, we know that there will be no romantic subplot between the two that could wreak another Mark of Athena upon us.

And I love the fact that the book is told completely through Apollo’s perspective. There’s no jumping around between characters that makes cliffhangers annoying instead of page-turning. There is no split focus between characters that stops the main story moving forward.

The storytelling is linear, which I’m very thankful for, as there are no eleventh-hour twists that gets explained away by a new flashback detailing why said twist is supposed to work. And then, when we do get our twist (or rather, lack of twist?), it actually shakes up the relationship dynamics of characters that make readers look forward to the sequel. Because the new story potential doesn’t stem from the twist, but from how that twist affects our main character.

As I put the book down, I could tell that I was already looking forward to what the next book will bring. Especially with the revelations Riordan shares about the loose ends from his previous two demigod series. Now let’s just hope he doesn’t mess it up.

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Book: The Sword of Summer, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book 1

"Magnus Chase 1: The Sword of Summer"

Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down–his Uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzles pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents…

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

And the Riordan magic is back.

Well, sort of.

The first Magnus Chase book, The Sword of Summer, isn’t breaking new grounds. In fact, the premise of a lost weapon isn’t new at all–as it was employed in the very first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief. Fortunately, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Well, that and the fact that Annabeth Chase also plays a part in Magnus’s life. Though, only a very small part for now.

Magnus, although just as plucky as the other Riordan heroes, has a more practical way of viewing the world. He’s also the first Riordan hero we have who isn’t all sunshines-and-rainbows. Which is probably because prior to getting introduced to the readers, he’s already been living in the streets for two years. And I think this is the reason why The Sword of Summer feels different (in a good way) from the other series beginnings from Rick Riordan. It no longer feels like a Percy Jackson retread.

To be fair, neither did The Red Pyramid, the first book from the Kane Chronicles. I had a different problem with the format Riordan employed in telling that story. But that’s a discussion for a different post–one that I actually already wrote about a few years ago.

Going back to Magnus Chase–

The Sword of Summer isn’t actually as engaging as any of the Percy Jackson books… Well, maybe more engaging than The Mark of Athena. Which is maybe because Norse Mythology isn’t as well-known as Greek, Roman, or even Egyptian myths? Or it could also be because we’ve suddenly gotten an influx of Norse-mythology-based material with the Thor movies and the Witches of East End book and television series– Whatever the reason, it doesn’t have that Percy Jackson magic.

What it does have though is chutzpah. Riordan knows he’s written a lot of books based on mythologies. He knows that this is his fourth mythology-driven series, and it shows that he’s trying to veer away from familiar territory. Maybe he realized that his Heroes of Olympus series didn’t start out so well, feeling like a retread of the original Percy Jackson series. And so Magnus Chase immediately sets out to be different. Which I like.

Reading The Sword of Summer, you can see that the series has the potential to be just as good (if not better) than the Percy Jackson series. The Norse Mythology doesn’t feature gods and goddesses who have to be better than the people who worship them. And their tragedies are already foretold. Unlike the Percy Jackson series where you have an idea that the characters you care for will be safe, the first book in the Magnus Chase series is quick to skewer that idea… By killing the protagonist within the first few chapters.

So, sure, liking the book wasn’t as immediate as it was when I picked up the first Percy Jackson book. But the future is looking bright for Magnus Chase. And I, for one, cannot wait to see how Riordan tops his past three mythology-based series.

Book: The Blood of Olympus

"The Blood of Olympus"

Nico had warned them. Going through the House of Hades would stir the demigods’ worst memories. Their ghosts would become restless. Nico may actually become a ghost if he has to shadow-travel with Reyna and Coach Hedge one more time. But that might be better than the alternative: allowing someone else to die, as Hades foretold.

Jason’s ghost is his mother, who abandoned him when he was little. He may not know how he is going to prove himself as a leader, but he does know that he will not break promises like she did. He will complete his line of the prophecy: To storm or fire the world must fall.

Reyna fears the ghosts of her ancestors, who radiate anger. But she can’t allow them to distract her from getting the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood before war breaks out between the Romans and Greeks. Will she have enough strength to succeed, especially with a deadly hunter on her trail?

Leo fears that his plan won’t work, that his friends might interfere. But there is no other way. All of them know that one of the Seven has to die in order to defeat Gaea, the Earth Mother.

Piper must learn to give herself over to fear. Only then will she be able to do her part at the end: utter a single word.

Heroes, gods, and monsters all have a role to play in the climactic fulfillment of the prophecy in The Blood of Olympus, the electrifying finale of the best-selling Heroes of Olympus series.

I had no expectations coming in to this last book off the Heroes of Olympus series. Mostly because I didn’t like the book that preceded it. House of Hades felt cluttered and all over the place. And honestly? I feared the same would happen in the last book with so many loose ends needed to be tied up still.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Rick Riordan manages to give proper spotlight to all the characters without short-changing anyone. Yes, I would have preferred more time for Percy, Annabeth, and especially Grover, but that’s mostly because I came into Heroes of Olympus wanting to catch up with their characters. I’ve grown accustomed to Jason and the new host of characters, and I actually do like some of the new ones as much as I do the old ones. So much so that I wouldn’t mind if author Riordan releases another series featuring the whole gang. Or maybe just a one-off.

Going back to The Blood of Olympus, what I liked most about it was the palpable tension you feel as events unravel. It’s pretty much common knowledge by now that Riordan prefers his chapters to be brimming with action, to the point that a scene of introspection surprises when it pops up. But this last book has a good balance of the action and the introspection, and I feel like Riordan has realized that his readership is growing up. Which is a good thing, because while an action-packed book is thrilling when you read it, it’s character development that keeps you going back. It’s character growth that makes you want to stay with a series.

I mean, look at Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin. The action is repetitive, as a book about the zombie apocalypse is wont to be, but because our characters are growing every chapter, every book, you want to keep moving forward with them. You want to stick with them. And whenever something bad happens, you hope that they survive whatever it is they have to go through. And then there’s James Dashner’s Mortality Doctrine series. Everything is new, but the characters feel like retreads. They don’t grow, they just flow with the plot. And suddenly you’re justifying to yourself why you have to finish the book. And you shouldn’t have to justify when you’re immersed. When you’re involved.

And that’s what Riordan has done in the final book off the Heroes of Olympus series. He makes the readers involved. There is something at stake, and as the characters reach the end of the prophecy they’ve received, you can see them growing up to become better people–you see them making decisions that you know doesn’t come from the author’s desire to make a book action-packed. The decisions come from characters whose previous adventures have molded them to become who they are in the final pages.

That’s what’s makes a book series satisfying. The realization that you have gone somewhere, that you have learned something, and that you did not waste your time.

Rick Riordan, although I still do not like House of Hades, I thank you for not wasting my time.

Book: The House of Hades

"The House of Hades"

The Demigod crew of the Argo II is standing at a crossroads. They could return home with the Athena Parthenos statue and try to stop Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter from going to war. Or they could continue on their quest to find the House of Hades, where they might be able to open the Doors of Death, rescue their friends Percy and Annabeth from Tartarus (if they have survived), and prevent monsters from being reincarnated in the mortal world. Whichever road they decide to take, they have to hurry, because time is running out. Gaea, the bloodthirsty Earth Mother, has set the date of August 1 for her rise to power.

Good.

The best thing about The House of Hades is this: it’s not The Mark of Athena. It feels like a proper adventure book and not an awful attempt at fan service. The story progresses, the characters develop, and the plots weave together into a culminating event that becomes the main concern of the book that will follow: The Blood of Olympus. Now, let’s expound:

What I liked best about The House of Hades is the pace in which the story progresses. It doesn’t feel rushed, and nothing feels like filler. Author Rick Riordan deftly handles the adventure that doesn’t make it look stretched. In fact, parts of it happen so quickly that you don’t realize that it already was a separate adventure.

I also like the fact that Riordan is now tapping into the lesser-known mythologies to challenge our main heroes’ capabilities. Mostly because I don’t second-guess what’s going to happen next as I’m less familiar with these new gods and goddesses and monsters.

The characters are more likeable this time around too. The Mark of Athena made me dislike a lot of the characters. This time, their insecurities and strength are balanced well enough that they just feel real–not overly flawed protagonists trying hard to be relatable.

And I have no complaints about the two story threads we had to follow throughout the book. Both were very compelling, and leaves the right amount of tension every time we would switch perspectives.

I think The House of Hades is the best book so far in the Heroes of Olympus series. But that’s just me.

Let’s see what other people have said about The House of Hades:
What a Nerd Girl Says
Looking for the Panacea
The Islander Girl

Book: The Mark of Athena

"The Mark of Athena"

Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy–after six month of being apart, thanks to Hera–it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon figurehead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn’t appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.

And that’s only one of her worries. In her pocket, Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving command: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find–and close–the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?

Annabeth’s biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he’s now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader–but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.

Wow. I just have to say… Wow.

When I started reading the book, I wasn’t expecting anything. I mean, I knew I was bound to like it–just like I did the previous Percy Jackson books. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t like it. That I would find it tedious. Boring. And completely out of tune with the rest of the series. From my point of view, anyway.

You know how in television shows you get filler episodes? A whole episode where something happens, the main story is pushed towards where it’s supposed to go–but nothing significant actually takes place? That’s how I felt about The Mark of Athena. Filler. And to top it all off, it didn’t feel like I was reading a Percy Jackson book. Because none of the characters were likeable.

I’m trying to understand why exactly that is. I mean, all the characters we interact with in this book are characters that have already appeared before. All of them were likeable before. So what happened?

Could it be that author Rick Riordan took on too many heroes at a time? After all, in all the Percy Jackson books, we’ve only had to deal with three main characters at a time–and suddenly, there’s seven of them. And while he tries to balance that all the heroes get a moment to shine, the experiment falls flat as certain personalities tend to come out in a bad light during the parts where he does this. In fact, the moments when the characters splinter off into smaller groups are more enjoyable to read than the ones where they all appear.

More than that though, the book just doesn’t feel special. I don’t know if Riordan is finally running out of mythologies to twist and modernize, or if he’s finally getting tired of the mythologies… but this book just didn’t have the magic of his previous books. And that’s what it comes down to in the young adult adventure genre, isn’t it? There has to be magic.

No, I don’t mean literal magic. But in a genre that’s currently teeming with so many titles, you want a book that can stand out–that can make spending PhP 699 (or $11.98) worth it. And I just didn’t feel that with The Mark of Athena.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the twist that’s supposed to make you cry–but you won’t. Because you know that it’s a set-up. It’s been spelled out the moment– well, I won’t spoil it for the ones who want to read the book. Just… don’t get your hopes up.

I’m hoping that the next book, The House of Hades, is way better than this. Then again, I’m sure other people liked the book. Why don’t we check out what said people wrote about The Mark of Athena?
Throuthehaze Reads
My Book Musings
Rachel’s Reads
The Girl Who Read and Other Stories
YouTube Review: CassJayTuck

Book: The Serpent’s Shadow

"The Serpent's Shadow"

When young magicians Carter and Sadie Kane learned how to follow the path of the Ancient Egyptian gods, they knew they would have to play an important role in restoring Ma’at–order–to the world. What they didn’t know is how chaotic the world would become. The Chaos snake Apophis is loose and threatening to destroy the earth in three days’ time. The magicians are divided. The gods are disappearing, and those who remain are weak. Walt, one of Carter and Sadie’s most gifted initiates, is doomed and can already feel his life force ebbing. Zia is too busy babysitting the senile sun god Ra to be of much help. What are a couple of teenagers and a handful of young trainees to do?

With hilarious asides, memorable monsters, and an ever-changing crew of friends and foes, the excitement never lets up in The Serpent’s Shadow, a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying conclusion to the Kane Chronicles.

Okay, trying to catch up on my backlog here.

The Serpent’s Shadow is the final book in The Kane Chronicles–the Egyptian mythology series from Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan. Unlike his Percy Jackson series though, and the currently running Heroes of OlympusThe Kane Chronicles isn’t as exciting. Not to say it’s not good, it is. I’m just–

Well, I’ve always found the shifting point-of-view and the asides so very frustrating. Though, admittedly, the shifts in point-of-view in this book works better for me than it did in the first two books. Probably because this book also read faster than the other two. The asides though… Well, let’s just say I’m happy there’s less of them in The Serpent’s Shadow.

On to the story itself, I have to say it’s not as sticky as Riordan’s other efforts. It takes the author a year to release each book in the series, (meaning he releases two books a year, one for The Kane Chronicles, and another one for Heroes of Olympus), and in between those releases it’s not uncommon for people to read other things. Which I do. Unlike with the Heroes of Olympus though where I retain what’s happened in previous books, nothing sticks to me whenever I start reading any of The Kane Chronicles books. On the plus side, it’s like I’m reading a new book every time I crack them open. But it’s frustrating when I can’t get references in the succeeding books–because I barely remember what happened previously.

It could be because I’m not really a big fan of Egyptian mythology. But that shouldn’t matter, right?

Anyhow, the book was entertaining and light. It wasn’t outstanding or anything, but it’s decent. And it does a good job on introducing Egyptian mythology to people who aren’t familiar with them. So it’s not a waste of money.

I just hope that Riordan’s planned Norse mythology series is better than this.

This reaction too negative for you? Here are other, more positive, reviews from other people on the ‘Net:
This Page Intentionally Left Blank
Kevin’s Meandering Mind
Miss Book Mind

Book: The Son of Neptune

"The Son of Neptune" by Rick RiordanPercy is confused. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. Somehow he has managed to make it to a camp for half-bloods, but it doesn’t ring any bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is anotehr name: Annabeth.

Hazel is supposed to be dead. When she lived before, she didn’t do a very good job of it. Now, bercause of a mistake she made back then, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wishes she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.

Frank is a klutz. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes, but he doesn’t see it. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially in front of Hqazel, his closes friend. He trusts her completely–enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.

Beginning at the ‘other’ camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment in the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophecy of Seven.

You know what? It’s a good thing that I bought The Son of Neptune because I highly enjoyed The Lost Hero, and because I’m a fan of the Percy Jackson series. If I had been looking for a book to buy, and I came across the back cover blurb given this book? I wouldn’t have thought twice–I would have just put the book back down on the shelf and forgotten about it. Which is sad. Because as bad as this book blurb is, the story author Rick Riordan weaves for The Son of Neptune is one of his best yet.

The number one rule in reading an Olympus-based novel from Rick Riordan (or any of his young adult fiction novels, actually) is to spend enough disbelief that you can enjoy a roaring good time. None of his books are perfect, and The Son of Neptune is no exception. Some exposition and some explanations are forsaken for the sake of a fast-paced movement of the plot. Which, seeing as this book is a young adult novel in 2011, is a good thing. I guess. Kids nowadays easily lose interest in what they are doing, so I guess it’s good that you have a book that really keeps its readers on their toes.

Now, why am I saying that this is Rick Riordan’s best work yet? Because unlike the books of the Percy Jackson series, the story we get here does not borrow from mythological stories of old. We don’t get retreads and rewrirtes of stories that can be searched in Wikipedia. Of course you can say that The Lost Hero was the same–but there’s still a difference. The first book in the Heroes of Olympus series introduced us to three new characters–and expected us to quickly latch on to them like we did with Percy Jackson. But with an amnesiac protagonist, and two heroes who have yet to learn the ropes, this felt like a stepdown coming from The Last Olympian–which is the final book in the Percy Jackson series.

With The Son of Neptune, we already have Percy Jackson to latch onto. We know him even if he doesn’t know himself. And more importantly, the stories of his co-lead characters in this book have backgrounds that are as rich as his–and they’re also a joy to uncover. Another plus, the fact that both new characters are related to previously established characters. This made getting to know them easier; and because they’re not just adding new information but rather expanding previously known facts, I was more welcome in accepting them. I don’t know about other readers though.

Overall, The Son of Neptune is a very enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to those who like books about adventures, prophecies–and those who are looking to get into mythologies. It’s a good book to discuss with kids too, because it talks about the importance of duty and sacrifice, which is something that hasn’t been dealt with in the previous Percy Jackson books.

That said though, I do fear for the lives of these characters in the coming books. Heroes of Olympus is shaping up to be darker than the Percy Jackson series.

Read what other people has to say about the book:
Islander Girl
Linda McCabe
Book Away