The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book One
By Rick Riordan
The Lightning Thief is the first book of a YA fantasy series that puts a modern spin on ancient Greek mythology. The plot revolves around the Odyssey-like quest that half-blood Perseus Jackson, son of Poseidon, takes to retrieve Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt. Along the way, he makes new friends and squares off against foes, all with mythical powers.
Some themes at play within the novel: identity, alienation, bullying, familial struggles, learning disabilities, rebellion, parental acceptance, heroism, power and corruption, nature as beauty
Some Thoughts (Spoiler-ish, fair warning):
This series (at least from what I can tell from the first book alone) is an incredibly interesting take on Greek mythology, from the modern-day interpretations of the gods, demigods, and monsters, to the taste of the ambrosia and nectar. I was constantly thinking, “Wow, that’s so creative. Medusa as a curator of a stone lawn sculpture emporium...” The pacing is fast and exciting. Action takes place within all 22 chapters. The chapter titles are clever and hilarious, e.g. I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-algebra Teacher, I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom, I Ruin a Perfectly Good Bus, and A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers.
The book is obviously much, much better than the movie that I saw when it first came out a few years ago. The movie only adapted the basic premise and some of the action scenes and ran with it in the wrong direction.
I couldn’t help but notice some obvious parallels to the Harry Potter series. Names in this book have a lot of power and significance. Similar to the universal agreement about the rules of not talking about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Percy is scolded and the sky darkens whenever he directly criticizes Zeus, or whenever he mentions the Furies, etc. Percy has one goofy but brave male best friend and one wise and quick-witted female best friend. He starts off young in the series, with a troubled home life around people who don’t want him, and unexplained, magical things happen to him. He is only just realizing that he has paranormal powers and that he is a part of a world that humans can’t really see or understand. I suppose that’s just a formula for young adult lit. gold.
I do have one issue with a detail in the book, or lack thereof. The gods fall in love and mate with mortals, and that’s how the half-bloods are born. It is clear that Poseidon fathered Percy, and Percy’s mother birthed and raised him. However, the process is very unclear in AnnaBeth’s case—her father is mortal and her mother is Athena. She claims that as an infant, she was left in a golden cradle on the doorstep of her father’s house. So my question is: did Athena walk around with a big belly knocked up with some human’s baby up in Olympus? Do the female gods have to carry and birth their own half-blood babies, or are they found in the Olympian cabbage patch? According to the book, the gods don’t want or rarely care about or acknowledge their offspring. I mean, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades had to make a pact not to father any half-blood children. So what is it like for the goddesses? Maybe this is something the author didn’t want the reader to think about too deeply, so he glossed over it. But it stuck out for me and bothered me, especially because AnnaBeth makes it a point to tell Percy that he shouldn’t be sexist—of course the female gods like mixing with mortal men just as much as their male counterparts do with mortal women.
A few other minor complaints:
- Percy’s stepfather’s name had me rolling my eyes-- Gabe Ugliano. He is dirty and cruel, but he doesn’t need Ugliano for a last name for the reader to understand he is an ugly character.
- Why did Cerberus, the evil three-headed dog of the Underworld, have to be a Rottweiler? Rottys are always getting a bad rep and the stereotype shouldn’t be reinforced in a children’s book.
- Ares, the god of war, has a very casual and corny way of speaking. Too casual. His colloquialisms annoyed me. For example: “How would you like to get smashed: classic or modern? … That’s cool, dead boy. Classic it is"
Overall, I enjoyed this book, but not enough to continue the series. This book bordered between children’s and young adult literature, and the content made it hard for me to ignore that I’m not really a part of the target audience. I completely understand why the series is so popular, and I recommend it to Harry Potter fans, Greek mythology buffs (who don’t take themselves too seriously) looking for some light reading, and people who want something adventurous and carefree to read on the beach.
“Mrs. Dodds was a sand castle in a power fan. She exploded into yellow powder, vaporized on the spot, leaving nothing but the smell of sulfur and a dying screech and a chill of evil in the air, as if those two glowing red eyes were still watching me” (13).
“My mother was gone. The whole world should be black and cold. Nothing should look beautiful” (59).
“What you call ‘Western Civilization.’ Do you think it’s just an abstract concept? No, it’s a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might say they are the force of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they couldn’t possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated” (72).
“Your mother is a queen among women… I had not met such a mortal woman in a thousand years. Still, I am sorry you were born, child. I have brought you a hero’s fate, and a hero’s fate is never happy. It is never anything but tragic” (346).
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Information about my copy for my own records:
Publication: First Disney, Hyperion paperback edition, 2006
Genre: Children’s/Young Adult, Fantasy, Greek mythology, Adventure