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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Cover Love: June Edition

June 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm (Cover Love) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s been a little while since I did one of these, but there have been some FANTASTIC covers recently that I just have to gush over.

This one was just revealed today, and oh my God I’m in love. It’s gorgeous! It’s also thoroughly eerie and creepy, and inviting and intriguing and everything you want a book cover to be. The blues are soft and mysterious, colors of secrets and sadness and somehow also calm and deep, like the bottom of a lake. The key, because it’s bright and a very different color than the rest of the background, stands out, but it’s not just a symbol of secrets- keys are also authority and things that should be kept away, and also things that are about to emerge. Funny thing about keys is that they have a way of getting used. The girl’s face emerges from the smoke and fog of the key, like she’s shrouded in mystery, like her entire life is birthed from the mysteries of that key and everything it can stand for. Behind her stretches walls with what looks like names- which calls to mind the Vietnam Memorial and it’s lists of the dead- but the walls also seem to close in behind her, both protective and claustrophobic. This is a cover I could happily study for hours at a time, and it leads so beautifully into the description. The Archived by Victoria Schwab- can’t wait.

I love Rick Riordan covers. The artwork is fantastic and if I’m honest, I love the fact that he’s the only author I know that can successfully get pre-adolescent and adolescent boys to read books with pink covers. Throne of Fire anyone? And now he’s released the cover for Mark of Athena and I love it like cake (even though I hate the color pink). Obviously the most immediately striking things about the cover is the owl’s face, specifically its eyes. They’re piercing and direct, and being the totem of Athena, and given that Athena isn’t too fond of Percy, it’s hard to tell if that’s meant to be menacing or protective. Then your eye goes down and you notice the two boys on horses apparently about to kill each other. Um…problem? Even there it’s distinct, with different shirts, different hair colors, even different types of magical horses. You really want to hope the boys are actually working together against a common enemy, but…well, the Greeks and Romans don’t really get along, do they? Expect LOTS of conflict in this one, especially as it’s the middle book of the series.

It’s no seccret that I love this book. I can gush about this book for WEEKS. I’m fairly sure all my co-workers are fairly sick of hearing me talk about it. But my God even the cover is fantastic! The background is black- stark, unforgiving, and entirely devoid of comfort. But because of the way the eye travels, at first we only see it as a background for the left image: arms reaching from opposite directions, bound with twine at the wrists, clasping each other. It’s hard to know which piece makes the strong impact. The way they’re holding each other isn’t casual- clasping at the wrist is a rescue hold, a support hold. It offers more strength, does less damage- and is a lot less likely to be pulled apart. They’re holding each other, so the bonds are voluntary. Yet there’s the twine. Twine is an interesting material, coarse and uncomfortable, easy to find but leaves a lasting impact with fabric splinters and rashes and scratches. They’ve chosen to hold each other but external forces also bind them. This may be hard to see in the photo, but there’s actually writing superimposed on the skin. We hold our secrets so close to the surface; scratch the skin and the emerge. It’s a gorgeous cover that draws out the
fiercest elements of the story. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Another recent cover reveal was for Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight, sequel to last year’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It closely parallels the original cover, focusing on the eyes and the space around it. The mask- in this case the patterns painted around them- are striking and draw the attention in on an otherwise grey-scale cover. The first cover was blue- relaxing, bright, reminscent of Karou’s hair and her easy manner- but here the focus has shifted. Here we have flames and blood and the deep menace associated with that color, BUT, if you look through the letters, you can also see just a slight hint of a smile. Not much of one, and not a very nice smile, but it’s there, and it makes you remember that red is also a color of seduction and of passion. They’re exotic markings, and it’s only when comparing it to the first cover (and the first story) that you start to wonder if they’re actually painted on or if they’re somehow more inherent than that.

Any covers that you’re looking forward to?

Until next time~
Cheers

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Cover Love: September Edition

September 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm (General) (, , , , , , , , )

I realized last month that I rather like analyzing the covers, so here we go again!

This one is a recent cover reveal (within the last week, I believe), and the farthest out as far as wait time goes. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth (the sequel to this May’s breakout debut Divergent) comes out May 2012 and holy cow what a cover. Along the bottom, we still have the cityscape of Chicago, where our story takes place, but the background coloration is completely different. The first book was a mottled blue grey, like a cloud drenched sky before a storm. Despite that ominous undertone, though, the colors were fairly soft, which made the brilliant flames of the Dauntless symbol stand out all the more. Here, we see a much more sickly cast, the grey-green, tinged with yellow, of clouds gathering for a tornado. Ever seen those clouds in person before? Once you do, you never forget it. It makes the sky look diseased, and it certainly doesn’t give us hope that our friends are going to have an easy ride. And then, set against all this, is the Amity symbol of a tree. Look at the tree, though. To create that spiral shape, it looks as if a strong wind (tornado, anyone?) is actually bending the branches and tearing the leaves away in a circle. Now look closer, at the coloration- closest to the branches, at the top and slightly to the left of the center, the leaves are brown, like they’re dying, and as you cross the circle, the brown encroaches. What does all this add up to? Tris may find that Amity is not sufficient shelter against the myriad dangers tearing apart her world.

I’ve been waiting for this next one since last year. It’s up all over the place at work, it’s all over the internet, and it’s killing me to wait the whole week and change until it’s released. I’m speaking, of course, of Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, the next installment in the Heroes of Olympus series.

We’ve left behind the rather playful cover of the first book. We don’t have three friends riding bareback on a metal dragon. The stakes are higher and our hero is on his own- both in the story and on the cover. Percy is a creature of water, but somehow we’ve always associated (or maybe this is just me) him with with warmer waters. This may be partly due to the ongoing image of Poseidon as a beach bum in a deep sea fishing swivel chair. Poseidon, I’m thinking, is more than passing fond of Jimmy Buffett. The ice represents a number of things. Obviously, it’s a new setting, someplace completely different, alien to Percy’s experiences (whatever little he may remember of them). It’s cold and harsh, and it’s a strident example of danger. He’s not on a glacier, he’s bursting through a frozen lake. LOTS of dangers available through that. Even the coloration is stark. From the bright teal and gold of the first book, we have very stark gradations of white against a stormy background, deep grey-blues like thunderclouds gathering (unintentional theme, I promise). We know Percy’s older, and we know he’s a fighter, but I think he’s about to prove himself in a completely different arena, one that will require him to take those fighting skills to a whole new level. This one is an SOS for 4 October 2011, so not too long now, however much it may drive me crazy.

I’m normally not a huge fan of the close up model shoots of the face on covers- I personally find them very off putting, like I’m picking up a fashion rag rather than a book- but this is one that actually worked for me.

The colors here are both bright and soft, almost luminous. The girl, clearly lovely, is further softened by (sorry for repeating the word so much) soft focus through the lens. It isn’t so much that she’s blurred as she doesn’t have any sharp edges, like the brightest burst of illumination before the shadows draw crystallized lines. What that light does is draw our eyes to a central point: namely, the butterfly wings that spread across her face like a mask. The colors here are richer- blue and edges of gold instead of the pinks and purples that edge the image. It isn’t just that it’s a mask- intriguing and symbolic of itself- but that it’s a butterfly. Butterflies are extremely rich in symbolism, through many, many cultures, and no matter where you are in the world a butterfly stands for roughly the same ideas. Grace, ephemerality, and reinvention. Or, if you like, reincarnation. The image is a little surreal, the way the wings seem to grow from her rather than simply being placed against her skin, so it gives us the idea that this isn’t quite our world. If we take that assumption, it makes me very curious to know the more literal ways this girl might represent the butterfly she bears. If you’re curious as well, you’ve got a little bit of a wait: Incarnate, by Jodi Meadows, comes out 31 January 2012.

Up next, we have perhaps one of the best uses of color I’ve seen in a long time.

Color, especially in stark contrasts, is one of the first things that draws our eye to a book. It’s the automatic response that makes us reach for the bright colors as children and what makes us notice- right away, without any thought or effort, the one person in a room of dark suits wearing a red silk dress. Brenna Yovanoff’s upcoming The Space Between, out 15 November 2011, does this perfectly. The deep red, mottled with even deeper tones that speak of black, is faintly ominous, deeper than blood, like an ember of rage burning far too long. But red is also the color of passion, not just of anger but of love and lust, and under its shadow, we see a girl reclining. Her immediate background, though, is not that red- it’s cold steel, empty and passionless and sterile. It’s formed into elegant, beautiful designs, full of grace and luxury, but for all that beauty, it isn’t welcoming. It feels like a prison, and the way the girl lies across the steel divan, the drape of her arm, her hair over the edge, even the way she slightly tucks her face into that outstretched arm as she looks out at the viewer, reinforces that. This is a girl who is caught between that coldness and that passion- in whatever form it might take- caught very literally in a space between.

My psych prof once told me that the way someone analyzes something reveals as much about the person doing the analysis as it does about the item being analyzed. This next one might bear that out.

I have a thing for falling. Or flying. Maybe floating. Most of all I love that sensation somewhere between where you're not really sure which it is. Right in that moment, caught in that endless potential of a thousand directions, everything seems simultaneously possible and impossible, the perfect paradox. Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey, out 8 December 2011 gives us that paradox, but then it gives us more: where the girl’s dress should continue on, we get a sense of disintegration. As it goes from the bodice to the skirts, the fabric gives away to something organic- leaves or flower petals, I’m not sure- and it’s equally uncertain whether that material is dried or dead. (The difference between a dead flower and a dried flower, after all, is both striking and significant). It’s a haunting image, a lingering one, but not knowing whether she’s floating or falling…it’s the kind of thing that makes you curious. We don’t get any hints from her background, either, a textured and somewhat uneven grey that could be any number of substances. The cover leaves you guessing, but it also gives you enough detail (a little hard to see in the pictures) to draw you in.

Like before, feel free to weigh in with the covers you really like! What draws you in when you’re in a store, or makes you curious to read more? On the flip side- what really irritates you in covers? What turns you off?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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A Bit About Jargon: Pre-Orders

September 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm (Industry, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

You know you want it.

It’s that book you’ve been waiting a whole year for- maybe even two or three years. More if you’re a Jordan or Martin fan. It’s that book you scour the internet for, squealing over a cover reveal, searching for teasers and any words the author might release about it. You look for the contests so you can get it early. You have it marked and circled in really bright colors on your calendar. You’ve requested the release day off of work so you can run out, buy it, and just start reading it then and there.

So have you pre-ordered it yet?

You’d be stunned at how many people would answer no.

The thing is, if you really want the book, you should pre-order it, and here’s why:

You have nothing to lose by putting your name down for one. Now, if you’re looking at e-books or if you’re doing it online, that’s different. Obviously there’s money down for that one, and if you get the first few pages and it sucks, e-books aren’t returnable. But if you’re doing it in a store, there’s no money down. There is absolutely no obligation to buy, so you’re risking nothing by having one set aside for you. What that does is guarantees that there’ll be a copy for you if you want it.

For small- to mid-release titles, not all bookstores are going to receive copies in quantity, or even at all. There’s a finite amount of shelf space at a bookstore, so not every title gets to be represented. Sad, but true. If you don’t have us bring it in, we may not be getting it.

For most new releases, publishers send us between three and eight copies, depending on whether or not it’s got extra displays or promotions. Think about that, though: if there are three to eight people in your area who want that book as badly as you do but don’t have to worry about class or work and can get either get to the bookstore right away or send someone else for them, then you don’t get your copy. *sad face* Then you have to order it anyway, but you don’t get it when you were actually wanting it.

For larger releases, we generally get a certain number of books above our pre-orders. There’s a whole equation for it tucked away somewhere but the warehouse considers pre-orders to be an accurate indiation of how many people in our area want the book.

Now me? I live in an area where, for some reason or another, people refuse to pre-order. I don’t know what it is, but everyone just assumes that the book will be there if they want it, regardless of what the title is. They want the books, but they won’t pre-order it.

That results in little things like the Breaking Dawn fiasco.

We were required to have a midnight release party for it, and we were told fairly early on that the number of books we received would be strictly dependant upon the number of pre-orders we got. We busted our butts trying to get those pre-orders, but most people didn’t want to put their name down. They said they’d just come and get it that day, despite our warnings that we wouldn’t be getting that many books above our pre-orders. Despite multiple warnings, even. By the night of the release, we had 45 pre-orders. I think the buyer pitied us because he sent us 130 books.

Then we had 97 people show up for the party.

We were completely sold out of the book by four o’clock that afternoon, as was EVERY OTHER PLACE IN TOWN, because we all got quantity based off our pre-orders. We had to struggle to get more books in, but people STILL wouldn’t put their names down, so as soon as we got them in they sold to other people. This went on for WEEKS (to be fair, it was complicated by the fact that this was a buyer-managed title so we had to beg to get quantities above what their equations told us we should get).

October 4th, we’re going to have a crush of parents in to pick up Rick Riordan’s Son of Neptune, and the kids whose parents have to work during the day will come crowding in at night. We’ve got less than 20 pre-orders and one of those is mine. The buyer knows this is a huge title, they’re going to send us quite a bit, but what about two days from now, when Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath comes out?

If we’re slated to get a certain amount (like in the case of Goliath, about 8) and our pre-order numbers don’t break past a certain percentage, they don’t send us any extra, meaning the pre-orders actually come out of those numbers. If we’ve got three pre-orders, there are five left out in the wild.

Really reduces your chances of getting that copy when you want it.

Pre-ordering through a store costs nothing. You do not pay to reserve the title. We take your name and phone number, and when it comes it we set one aside with your name on it. Release day, we give you a call or email as a courtesy reminder that the book is in. Then, you can come get it or not. Found it somewhere else? That’s fine. Got it as a gift? That’s fine too. Come in and read the first chapter and realize the book is going to dash all your hopes and dreams, and you will actually shrivel and die a little inside if you read the rest of it? You don’t have to buy it.

I like to try new authors, and because I read YA, there are a TON of debut authors. It’s a gamble, trying a new author. You don’t know if you’re going to like the style or the characters, and with debuts, a bookstore may or may not be stocking them without a publisher push. It sucks, but there it is; buyers have to manage a finite amount of display space, so they do their best to tailor to what’s known to sell in each store. So I put in a pre-order. When it comes in, I flip through the first chapter or two and see if I’m caught. Do I like the writing? Do the characters interet me? Does the story intrigue me? If the answers are yes, I buy the book. If the answers are no, I simply have the hold cancelled and it goes out on the shelf.

No money changes hands unless I actually decide to buy it.

Don’t miss out on your chance to get a book when you want it because of a pre-order. It costs nothing, and it takes less than a minute to give us your information to hold it for you. You can even pre-order multiple titles at a time, and we’ll let you know as each comes in (I do my orders a month at a time and just flip through them as they arrive, and I can buy or not buy as I choose).

On November 1st, when Ally Condie’s Crossed comes out, or on December 6th when Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince comes out, do you really want to be one of those people without a book because you didn’t put your name down?

Please, please, as a bookseller I am BEGGING you: if you want a book, take the two seconds to put in a pre-order. You literally have nothing to lose.

But you have a lot to gain- specifically, a guarantee of the book on release day or whenever you want to go pick it up.

Just to satisfy a curiosity, what books are you looking forward to in the next few months? (And are you going to pre-order them?)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan

May 4, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Note: This book is the second of the Kane Chronicles, following The Red Pyramid. If you have not yet read the first, there will be spoilers below.

In The Red Pyramid, siblings Carter and Sadie Kane couldn’t be much more different. Carter, raised by their American father, has traveled the world, dresses like a junior executive, and has been extensively schooled in his father’s subject of interest: Egypt, specifically its mythology and history. Sadie, younger by two years, has been raised in London by their mother’s parents, loves pop culture and hanging with her mates, and making fun of Carter. They’ve been raised separately since the death of their mother, but now- just before Christmas- Dr. Kane has decided it’s time to bring the family together. Unfortunately, the ritual he enacts in their presence kills him and releases the ancient Egyptian gods, two of whom take up residence within the Kane siblings. Their Uncle Amos, their father’s brother, informs them that not only are they descendants of the ancient Pharoahs, but this bloodline makes them magicians. Magicians, of course, have to be trained, always a chancy prospect, especially when the training gets interrupted by little things like the world ending. Hunted by the House of Life, the organization of pharoah-descended magicians with nomes all over the world, Carter and Sadie have to team up with Zia, a House of Life magician with unique abilities; the goddess Bast, who’s been looking after Sadie in the guise of her cat Muffin; and any passing allies they can latch on to in their desperate trek to prevent Set from releasing Apophis.

We pick up with alternating narrators Carter and Sadie a couple of months after the events of their first recording (the story is told as a transcription of an audio recording that was mailed to Rick Riordan). They’ve sent out calling cards across the world and attracted a little under two dozen students who they’ve been training in the mansion in Brooklyn while their uncle Amos recovers from being possessed by the evil god Set. It’s an interesting bunch they’ve attracted, but don’t get too attached- we see almost nothing of their students, something I fervently hope gets remedied in the next book. We get very fleeting references to what could be some awesome characters but the majority of the book leaves the students behind in Brooklyn.

Though they successfully kept Set from releasing Apophis, the threat isn’t over yet. In five days, on the spring equinox when everything is in perfect balance, Apophis will break out of his imprisonment unless the Kanes can get the three scattered pieces of the Book of Ra and summon the ancient king of the gods from his retirement and very long sleep. The thing is, ancient has a bit more meaning when it comes to Ra- broken in mind and body, and thoroughly senile, Ra isn’t exactly the strong presence and king they need him to be, especially when the other gods are in conflict as to the proper course. Horus and Isis, especially, don’t want to see Ra take his former place on his throne of fire if it means they have to step back, and they’re not too thrilled with Sadie and Carter for forging ahead in their quest.

We cover a lot of miles in this one: from Brooklyn to London to Russia to Egypt to deep in the Duat and back to Brooklyn again. In the space of five days. Portals are our friends, but it’s nice to see that there are limits to it. A portal has to cool down before it can be recharged again, which leads to some improvisation. That sense of limitations extends into everything. Sadie, especially, is very aware of these limits as pertains to her magic. She can do some AMAZING things, but the more she did, the bigger the oomph, the more it takes out of her. She doesn’t have the seemingly endless resources of Isis in her anymore, and when it comes right down to it, despite her dual-pharoah bloodline, she’s still a twelve (thirteen!) year old with barely two months of training.

I’ll admit, the age thing trips me up occasionally. Sadie is supposed to be twelve turning thirteen, and Carter fourteen in a couple of months to be fifteen, but they don’t feel like it. They feel like they’re both around sixteen or so, not just in the way they talk and the way they look at things, but also in the way other people treat them and even just in the physical activity. Sadie’s an hysterical narrator, but she doesn’t sound like a tween. Well, excepts perhaps in the sometimes appalling insensitivy. I hurt myself laughing when it came to the camels, but I also felt absolutely horrible for laughing.

You’ll see what I mean when you get there.

Riordan does a very good job of weaving the backstory from previous books into this one (including private jokes from one series to another- cameo of Blackjack, anyone?). It’s gradual, so if you haven’t read the first book since it came out a year ago you may be a little overwhelmed at first as it starts right into a daring museum raid, but it weaves through the first several chapters so you don’t get an info-dump. We get the reminders about meeting Zia, about the last Chief Lector Iskandar, about Set (who, by the way, is ridiculously funny- kind of reminds me of DiNozzo from NCIS, only in better suits), and about Michel Desjardins, the new Chief Lector, and not particularly a friend of the Kanes. Though he allied himself with them to derail Set’s plans at the Red Pyramid, he still believes that their status as former god-hosts and their way of barreling into things without too much forethought make them dangerous enemies to the House of Life, even if they have no specific designs against it.

Desjardins, though, has other problems. He’s become Chief Lector in time to see the dawn of a new age, an age marked in the hall of time by two men struggling against each other. He’s aging extremely rapidly (malevolent influences, anyone?) and at times he appears nearly as senile as Ra is reputed to be, his thoughts muddled and confused as he sorts through what he’s trying to think from what he’s being told. His…what’s the word here? Assistant? Toady? Stooge? At any rate, Vlad Menshikov, leader of the nome in Russia, is a seriously twisted dude, grandson of the infamous Prince Menshikov who was a close friend, and then reviled enemy, of Tsar Peter the Great of Russia. Menshikov may hear the orders from Desjardins, but he’s got his own agenda.

The two things that really mark any of Rick Riordan’s books are mythology and humor. Egyptian mythology is confusing at the best of times, but Riordan really lays it out in ways that make it easy to understand. He literally brings the gods to life. Bast is mostly occupied on a solo mission through this book, but she and her Fancy Feast are still around on the fringes, and Bes, the dwarf god, is absofrickinlutely amazing. He was responsible for some of the reminders that I should look away from the page before taking a drink- laughing and swallowing do not mix. Horus is drawn in an extremely compelling mixture of heroism and petulance. There’s a lot of good to Horus, but there’s also a great deal of ambition, greed, and the determination to keep what he has. Carter has to learn how to separate himself from Horus mentally, to separate out what he genuinely thinks is best from what Horus wants him to believe. No easy task.

And, of course, the humor. Riordan’s heroes definitely have that element in common, but it’s one of the things that make his books so compulsively readable. The way they phrase their observations, the teasing they give each other, even just the names they give things, are priceless. Take, for instance, this sampling of chapter titles:
-Fun With Spontaneous Combustion
-The Ice Cream Man Plots Our Death
-Carter Does Something Incredibly Stupid (and No One Is Surprised)
-Menshikov Hires a Happy Death Squad
-Major Delays at Waterloo Station (We Apologize for the Giant Baboon)
My most favoritest (used only for the most wonderful times) part? WEASEL COOKIES! Whereupon I remembered what it feels like to choke on popcorn and soda. For several minutes. Because I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to stop choking. There are certainly some heavy parts to the book- there are oh crap moments, and sad moments, and moments of incredible courage- but the humor brings us through it all.

No joke, Rick Riordan is one of my all time heroes. It isn’t just because I love his books- though I do- but because they get people SO excited about reading. They race through his books and love them and they come to the stores wanting more, wanting to know what’s next, and if the next book isn’t out, they want you to point them to something else to read while they wait. As a reader, as a writer, as a bookseller, there’s nothing more amazing than seeing a kid that excited about a book. Teachers are able to use these books in their classrooms to get kids excited about lessons, to get them actually involved and doing things. It sneaks out from the books into the actual mythology, but then it goes into history and architecture and language and so many other things. Parents may complain- usually joking, but not always- about how much books cost, but most of them are so happy to see their kids wanting to read that it’s only a passing complaint. His books turn kids into readers. I still remember the book that made me a reader, and that’s a moment that never, ever goes away. The passion he creates in his readers changes lives.

Throne of Fire, the second book in the Kane Chronicles, out in stores now! Clear an evening or afternoon for this one, because you’re not going to want to put it down.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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