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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Dads and Types + Giveaway!

January 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm (General, Giveaway) (, , , , , , , )

Last week we talked about Moms and Types in YA and MG books; now it’s Daddy’s turn. I will give a warning with this one, though: there are some spoilers. Some of these fathers are far too tied into the story to be able to talk about without giving away some crucial parts of the books. I’ll add a little warning for the ones that seem spoiler, both before and after, so you can avoid ones you don’t want to learn yet. (and don’t forget, down at the bottom there are instructions for how to win an ARC of Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne!)

On with the show!

Daddy Calls the Shots
Also known as Daddy-as-Puppeteer. This is the type of father who so thoroughly controls his children’s lives that the kids have no say in things, may not even realize there’s any other way to live (or may rebel like crazy). Everything is planned out, everything has to go through the father, and there is no greater crime than in suggesting to this man that his children might be rational creatures capable of making their own decisions. I know there are other examples of this, but the one that towers over everything in my mind is Vaughn, from Lauren DeStefano’s Wither. This thoroughly creepy man controls everything in his house, pulls all the strings, and Linden has been raised to be so grateful for this care that he doesn’t even realize it. Vaughn is a man who feels no compunctions about doing horrible things, who fully espouses the motto “The ends justify the means”. Linden has never been taught how to be the man that could stand up to this, so Vaughn continues his reign unabated. Linden might as well be a marionette. Less successfully than Vaughn, there are dads like Mr. Sage, in Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines. Bastard much? His daughters are useful as extensions of his will, not reasonable creatures in their own right, but unlike Linden, Sydney is able to stand up to her father in small ways. Her opinions aren’t useful to him, her desires, her plans, as long as she’s an obedient daughter who will make him look good and serve his ambitions.

Not Now, Dear, The King is Busy
Not always an actual king, this is anyone in a position of authority who is persistently too occupied with affairs of state (city, business, etc) to be an active part of their children’s lives. They’re there, more or less, but there’s a distinct wall and a very strained sense of connection. Sometimes it’s unintentional- he really wants to be there but there’s just so much to do, so much dependent on him. And sometimes there are mitigating circumstances. Mayor Beckett, from Brodi Ashton’s Everneath falls into the first part of that. He wants to be there for Nikki but he isn’t entirely sure how, and being mayor and running for re-election doesn’t give him much time to figure out how to help. The Warden, from Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron, is less accidental; this is a man with secrets, and part of is is trying to protect his daughter from those secrets, but most of his life is wrapped up with the prison, not with Claudia. Then there are the fathers who are using duty as an excuse. After his wife’s death, the king in Heather Dixon’s Entwined uses duty as an escape, a way to run from his grief. To his daughters’ detriment? Yes, but grief can make us selfish and the duties are real. Then there’s the king in Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns.He doesn’t have much time for his ungainly younger daughter and never has, but she’s useful as a political arrangement. He loves his daughter, something we see in small, quickly departed moments, but being king is far more his life than being a father.

I Have a Child…Somehow…
These are fathers who are somewhat baffled by the existence of their children. They know- theoretically- how this came about but they really have no clue what to do with these inexplicable children. It’s not that love isn’t there, it’s just that it’s layered into all the things they don’t understand. Like Mr. D’Angelo from Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Every Other Day. In some respects her shares some traits with the fathers listed above, that concept of always being too busy, but his distance evolves more from a basic incompatibility with his daughter. They might as well be speaking different languages on the rare occasions they interact. Lisa Mantchev’s Scrimshander holds a place on this list as well, too wild and wind-souled to understand the strange creature in front of him. Probably my favorite example, though, is Poseidon, from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The gods (sometimes) recognize their children, but they always seem somewhat perplexed by them, too. So they may or may not point them in the direction of the camp, may or may not grant them something special to help them out on quests, but then they just kind of…leave them there.

I Don’t Understand You, But I Love You Anyway
We talk about the generation gap sometimes, that people of different age sets are basically incapable of understand each other. We simply expect that our parents don’t really understand us. Sometimes, that’s even true. For example. Gen’s father in Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series. He and his son? Very little common ground. Gen is his mother’s son through and through. But we never doubt that Gen and his father share a strong bond that survives frustrastions and different interests. It’s there in the wry conversations, the apparently grudging respect, and the true concern that marks their interactions. Then there’s King Georg in Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. He loves his daughters, truly and deeply, but their geis puts a wall between them that he can’t penetrate. He doesn’t understand their silence, their exhaustion, doesn’t understand why they won’t trust him, but he loves them just the same and will continue to support them in the struggle he can’t begin to comprehend. Then there’s Alan’s father in Jaclyn Dolamore’s Between the Sea and Sky. He and his son stare at each other from across a wide gap of misunderstandings and secrets, but when it comes right down to it, he supports his son. Maybe it isn’t easy, maybe it’s even painful with the memories that surface, but the foundation is there and the actions reinforce it.

Fallen Idol
This is a painful type for the children involved, the worshipped father of their childhood rendered merely human in the grand scheme of things. It’s not necessarily that the father is bad- frequently he isn’t- but that he’s not the paragon of perfection that the children thought they were. First on the list? James Potter, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. James initially stands on par with Lily in the martyred perfection, but through the course of the series James gradually breaks down from that ideal to become a real person with flaws and troublesome attributes. It’s painful for Harry to realize his dad was a bit of a prat, especially as it also casts his uncle figures in a not-so-positive light. In Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, we come into the story after the idol has already fallen; Hadley’s father fell in love with another woman, tore apart their family, and- as far as Hadley can see- just expects her to be on board with all this. Hadley can’t balance his selfishness against her mother’s pain. What we actually get to see through the second half of the book is the slow patchwork process of possibly mending the relationship. It’ll never be what it was- the idol is a product of innocence- but it’s lovely to see what happens after the fall. SPOILER FOR LIA HABEL’S DEARLY, DEPARTED: IF YOU DON’T WANT A SPOILER, SCROLL DOWN TO THE NEXT SECTIONIn Dearly, Departed Nora has mourned her father for a year. She remembers standing beside his casket at the funeral, vividly remembers having to move in with her spendthrift, social-climbing, bitter aunt, and all the emotional pain that comes from his death. Then she finds out he’s still alive (sort of) and continuing to work. Bit of a pedestal smasher, that. Then she finds out even more, finds out about his work, about the consequences it had on their family long before his death. Is he a bad man because of it? Not particularly. Is he a bad father because of it? Still not particularly. But he’s not the father Nora remembers, and they’ll have to forge onto unknown, unsteady ground to find a new relationship in light of those revelations.

/spoiler

Daddy’s Trying to Kill Me
Also known as bad. These men are never going to (honestly) hold a World’s Best Dad mug or shirt. These are the dads that put their children into years and years of intense psychotherapy. Or the hospital. Or, in a few unfortunate situations, the morgue. For some of these dads, there may even be a twisted sense of love or duty, a genuine affection that simply doesn’t stand up to the fact that their children are in the way of what they want to do. First dad that sprang to mind? Valentine, from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. “Father” in this case stretches somewhat, given the circumstances, but there’s no denying that he loves Jace, in his dark and twisty and generally soulless kind of way. He actually does care about him. It won’t stop him from killing the boy, of course, because really there’s that whole destroy the Downworld thing he’s got going on, but he does love him. SPOILERS FOR ANDERA CREMER’S NIGHTSHADE SERIES, ESPECIALLY BLOODROSE: TO SKIP SPOILERS, SCROLL DOWN TO NEXT SECTIONRenier Laroche has a few Daddy-issues on both sides of the spectrum, both the better side of that gets explored a little further down. Emile Laroche is a world-class bastard, a savage and a brute who terrorizes anyone weaker than he is. In the final book in the trilogy, it becomes much more direct when Emile and Ren actually face off. It’s a series a choices and hard experiences that brought Ren to the point of being able to do that, to stand against his father to protect others, but eighteen years of father-son ties isn’t going to keep Emile from trying to win that fight, even when it comes to death.

/spoiler

More Than Average Flaws
Dads screw up. That’s a fact of life. Dads screw up, moms screw up, kids screw up, everybody screws up sometimes. Some dads just screw up to a greater degree than others. Faye’s father, in fact several of the fathers, in Sara Wilson Etienne’s Harbinger simply turn their back on their children. They give up, they let tham get carted off (or ever drop them off unawares) to the sadistic Holbrook Academy to let them be savaged by so-called caretakers. By so-doing, they actively contribute to the harm being done to their children. SPOILERS FOR JOHN GREEN’S THE FAULT IN OUR STARS AND VERONICA ROTH’S DIVERGENT: IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THE SPOILERS, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO THE NEXT SECTION In The Fault in Our Stars, there are several times when we’re led to ponder the identity of a parent who has lost his or her only child. Are they still a parent? Can they still say they’re so and so’s parent? The answer varies by parent, really, but we do get to see a parent who has entirely crumbled in the wake of his child’s death. All identity has been lost, the very core of what he was has been stripped away, and only a vaccuum continues to suck in all the mean-spiritedness a body can hold, a poison he shares liberally. His child is dead, but he’s the husk that died in a living body. Then there’s Marcus, from Divergent, a man who presents one face to the world and another entirely to his son. It isn’t just the emotional abuse, there’s also physical abuse, the kind that batters the soul long after the visible scars have healed. A second example of those specific traits can be found in the memory of Peregrine’s father, from Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky

/spoiler

Mischief Makers Together
This is a fun group, one tied rather closely to the next group. These are the fathers that are- often but not always- friends as much as fathers to their children. Their positive influences may be debatable but the lessons they teach are important nonetheless. This kind of relationship exists where there’s a lot of common ground, where the basic personalities of those involved are similar. For example, George from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster pair. He’s supportive, mischievous, frankly devious, all things he’s taught Aly, but there’s a line between father and friend and he isn’t afraid to both draw it and stand by it. The skills they share between them used to be a game to learn, a fun father-daughter exercise, and that shows in the true enjoyment Aly has for utlizing those skills. Very similar in nature and result, though somewhat less firm on the line of distinction, is Bobby Bishop, from Ally Carter’s Heist Society series. A thief from a family of thieves, he continued the tradition with his daughter. While other fathers and daughters still at the kitchen table and talk report cards and extracurriculars, Bobby and Kat scope out a museum and talk manuevers. It’s not the most orthodox of relationships but it is a real one, built off of love and affection and concern for the other’s well-being, something we see clearly in their interactions in Paris.

Legacy Bound
The Mischief Makers are the lighter side of this same coin; where Aly and Kat continue their fathers’ businesses out of a sense of enjoyment and passion and skill (and in Kat’s case, a fair amount of family expectation/bullying), there are others tied to their father’s legacies by a bit more. For Cas, from Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood, he’s out for revenge, pursuing his father’s work for a chance to get at the ghost who killed his father. He’s good at his father’s work, no doubt, but he’s in for his father’s memory. Sean Kendrick, from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races also follows this pattern. Not for vengeance, but to continue the work, to honor the memory.

The World and My Life
This is the type of father who will do anything for their children, even when it’s hard and the child doesn’t always understand the purpose of it. These are the fathers who sacrifice, who care more for the fate and well-being of their children than anything else. Like Arthur Weasley, from Rowling’s Harry Potter series. This is a man with seven children who has scrimped and saved and cut corners to give them the things they need, who exhausts himself trying to win a better world for them. This is a man who loves them beyond reason, even when they’re turned their backs on him, and will always be waiting to welcome them home again. Another example is Monroe, from Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade series. He will do everything he can to keep his daughter safe, as well as reclaim the child that was lost and try to ease the brutality that child has grown up in.

As before, there are definitely other examples that fit these types, as well as other types. So share one with me below! Tell me how a father from YA or MG fiction fits into one of these types, or give me an example of a type I didn’t mention. That enters you for a chance to win an ARC of Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne. Want another entry? Head back to the types of moms (shortlink at head of post) and comment there to answer the same question about mothers, and you’ll be entered twice. Giveaway will run through Saturday, 4 February!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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