Book Review: The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan

October 10, 2012 at 10:25 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Note: this is the third book in the Heroes of Olympus series, the sequel series to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. If you have not read the previous seven books, there will be not only confusion but abundant spoilers below

Percy and Annabeth have been reunited, Percy and Jason have their memories back, and the Greek and Roman demigods seem like they might be able to work out an alliance to face the Great Prophecy and the continuing struggle against Gaea and her children. Great, right? Except…well, Leo’s not sure how it happened, but let’s just say a lot when wrong really fast, and now Leo, Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Hazel, and Frank are on the run on the Argo II with several desperate missions and not a lot of time in which to accomplish them. With trademark humor, sympathy, and action, Riordan takes us on a whirlwind ride.

I make no secret of the fact that I love Riordan’s books. They’re smart, they’re interesting, they’re funny as anything, they’re exciting, and yet we also get an amazing blend of personal obstacles, sorrow, and growth, something that makes them uncommon and wonderful. These stories have a bit of everything, but they’re brought together so neatly that it doesn’t feel overcrowded- quite a feat for a story that started in single-narrator first person and now has an entire stable of narrators in third.

Our narrators for this leg of the journey are Annabeth, Percy, Piper, and Leo, each claiming four chapters at a time. It’s a big book, which make worry some of the younger readers who haven’t hit Harry Potter yet, but the pace snaps so well that you’re pretty far in before you look up to remember there’s a mundane world around you. This is the first time we’ve been inside Annabeth’s head, and though I already really liked her as a character, this time she wins ALL THE LOVE. Well, most of the love; I still have some for the others, too. But Annabeth! We get to see so many different facets of a wonderfully complicated character. We see her as Percy’s Wise Girl, someone intelligent and resourceful, someone willing to dig down and do research, someone ready with the history of a thing to understand how to work with it or beat it down, as the situation calls for. We see her as someone who’s been an important aspect of leadership and influence in Camp Half-Blood since well before Percy got there, a leader in her own right who’s able to make use of widely varying skill sets and personalities- even when two of those personalities are rather used to being the leaders themselves. We see her as a girlfriend, which is painfully sweet and funny (judo flip, anyone?). Perhaps my favorite aspect? We see Annabeth as daughter. She’s loyal, rebellious, proud, aware of faults, frustrated, loving…in short, all the contradictions that perfectly make up most mother-daughter relationships. And I’m sorry, but her wanting to find her mother’s sacred owl and punch it in the face wins her EVERYTHING EVER. She’s an amazing character and I’m so glad we get to see more of the world inside her head.

Another very fun, and compelling, aspect of this book is the fact that both Percy and Jason are accustomed to leadership. We see the struggle of them working together, of having to acknowledge someone as an equal in experience and strength and talents. We also see two cocky teenage boys butting heads, which is hysterical. More than that, though, something we see both of them struggle with again and again, is the helplessness that comes with not being the ones to save the day. They’re not always the ones with the great ideas, they’re not always the ones with the needed talent. Sometimes, they’re the ones that need to be rescued. That’s a humbling and terrifying moment for people like them, and we get to see that, both in the struggles they deal with personally and in what they’re willing to confide to the girls they love. There’s also a rather striking difference between the two in leadership. Jason was expected to be a leader. He’s a son of Jupiter, so great things and leadership skills were always expected of him. He was placed in a position of authority because it was expected that was where he should be. Percy earned his leadership. He wasn’t a driving force within the camp at first, but through years of quests and obstacles, through strong leadership through the war, he earned his place. He doesn’t expect anyone to kowtow to him, but he leads with the steady confidence of someone who’s walked through every level of the ranks. He has a knack for other people’s skills, for how to use other people to the best advantage- even if that means he’s not The Hero. Jason still tends to focus on what he can do.

I love that in this book we get to see more of the reality of the schism between the Greek and Roman Aspects. We’ve been told about, and we see it in bits and pieces through the first two books, but we see it in a serious way here through two gods. The transition from Athena to Minerva is heartbreaking at best, frequently infuriating, and somewhat painfully appropriate for a lot of the struggles going on in our culture today. What makes it agony is the fact that she’s aware, in some sense, of what’s been lost, of what’s been taken from her. She knows she’s not complete and that she’s missing something vital and immense. And then there’s Mister D- or, er, Mister B. Bacchus and Dionysus share many qualities, but like the other gods, they reflect the differences in their cultures, as well as the varying attitudes those cultures espouse. Mister D is all snarl and bark, but the only time we actually see him bite is at the enemy. Mister B, while seeming laid-back, also comes off as a lot more dangerous. While D’s maenads are terrifying, it’s B’s full embrace of the bread-and-circuses way of life that makes your skin crawl.

Although, Coke and Pepsi? Brilliant.

As much as I loved this book, it left me with two worries. Well, one worry and one wish. The worry is that, while it’s great to be aging the kids up, and aging up the things they’re dealing with on an appropriate parallel, this book is very, very couple-centered. There’s Percy and Annabeth and all of their relationship stuff, there’s Jason and Piper and all their relationship stuff, and there’s Hazel and Frank and Leo and any number of obstacles and concerns tying the three of them together. For the older readers, yay! A lot of us really LIKE the couple-y things. I saw an absolutely phenomenal fan-poster that said “Keep Calm and Shut Up, Seaweed Brain”, which is just fantastic. But. A lot of the kids coming to this series are younger readers who are swallowing the first set in a gulp, and may not be ready for all the internal angst that comes with hormones. And there’s a second part to that- I hate the notion of boy books and girl books, hate the fact that there are parents and booksellers and teachers who are actively promoting that kind of label and telling children they can’t read a book because “it’s for the other gender”. Hate it. The fact, however, remains that there are many adults who believe this, and many children whose reading habits are limited by it. For those boys who are told by adults or friends that it’s not okay to read romance books, this may lose some of them for the series. The wish has to do with the narration. My friend Margaret and I were bouncing theories back and forth as to who we’ll see as narrators in the next one, and it made me realize that all four of our narrators in this one were Greek. The first two books were balanced, The Lost Hero with two Greeks and a confused Roman adopted by the Greeks, Son of Neptune with two Romans and a confused Greek adopted by the Romans. Or, as my brother put it, Jason and Percy are the Praetor Traitor Twins (say that three times fast). I would have wished for more of a balance in the narrative duties of this book, that the narrative duties balanced the very real need for balance among the seven demigods on the task. It’s a hard wish, though, because I really did love the narratives we got.

This is a fantastic new installment in the series, keeping the action and adventure and truly-snort-worthy one-liners flying so fast you don’t even notice how many pages you’re turning, but it also gives some fantastic depth to characters we come to love even more and an ending that will make you curse the year’s wait to The House of Hades. Definitely not to be missed. It’s smart with mythology, with history, with the innate struggles that come with the cusp of greatness, and all the trials and triumphs that come with simply being a teenager.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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