The Titan’s Curse: The humor is the real selling point

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsRick Riordan book review Percy Jackson and the Olympians The Titan's CurseThe Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

To briefly bring you up to date: the five-part Percy Jackson series revolves around updated versions of the Greek gods and their half-blood children. With Olympus currently situated in New York, many of the gods’ children (who often don’t know who their godly parent is, having been raised by their mortal one) attend Camp Half-Blood where they can learn to control their abilities and fend off the monsters that they attract like magnets. Percy’s coming-of-age story involves him undertaking number of dangerous quests to defeat the growing power of Kronos, an ancient Titan who wants to overthrow Olympus.

Percy is now fourteen years old, and about to embark on his next big adventure. If you haven’t read the two previous Percy Jackson books, then there’s no use starting here, you’ll need to backtrack to The Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters, as Rick Riordan makes few concessions for readers who have come to the party late. Along with his friends Thalia (daughter of Zeus) and Annabeth (daughter of Athena) Percy joins Grover, the guardian satyr, in the attempt to recruit two new possible half-bloods at a boarding school.

In the skirmish that follows, Bianca and Nico di Angelo are saved, an unlikely goddess comes to Percy’s rescue, and Annabeth goes missing. Armed with a pesky prophesy from the Oracle and a band of squabbling fellow heroes (including Thalia, Bianca, Grover and Zoe, one of Artemis’s maiden huntresses), Percy goes in search of Annabeth, Artemis, and the monster that many believe will herald the downfall of the Olympian gods.

The Titan’s Curse begins a little shakily, with yet another rescue mission providing the impetus of the plot, the urgency of which is sapped as our heroes simply hang out in Camp Half-Blood, playing capture the flag while they wait for each other to come up with a decent plan to save Annabeth, but once things get cracking the story races along at its usual breakneck pace. As Percy is haunted by dreams, his own power, monsters, and his difficult-to-get-along-with teammates, Riordan manages to gather together a lot of disparate threads and weave them together in an exciting road-trip adventure.

Most rewarding is the way in which Percy, Thalia, Zoe, Bianca and Grover learn to work as a team, relying on each other’s strengths and covering for each other’s weaknesses. Interestingly, Percy gives up the leadership role in favor of Thalia in this installment, and the two have an interesting dynamic going on as they try to figure out whether they’re meant to be friends or rivals. Throughout the story there are plenty of nice quiet moments in which Riordan takes the opportunity to explore the heroes’ softer sides, as well as their dark back-stories.

Sadly, Annabeth is largely MIA this time around, but the di Angelo siblings get a nifty plot-twist (any semblance that Nico may have to Colin Creevey is certainly gone by the end of the book) and Zoe is so much more than the straw-feminist that she first appears to be. Also noteworthy is the fact that Riordan allows for mere mortals to display moments of heroism, whether it be the teenagers’ birth parents, or simple bystanders that help out in small but important ways.

More gods make their first cameo appearances, particularly Apollo (who drives a red convertible) and Aphrodite (who, in a nice touch, appears as whatever her audience finds most attractive; when Percy first sees her, he’s reminded of Annabeth… aww).

As always, it’s the humor that’s the real selling point of the book. With chapter titles like “I Wrestle Santa’s Evil Twin” and “I Go Snowboarding With a Pig,” and pages that are littered with jokes, sarcasm and puns, all presented in Percy’s dry first-person narrative, it’s impossible to suppose that you won’t find something worth laughing over. Though many of the gags may be hit-and-miss, their rapid fire pacing means that the ones that don’t work are easily forgotten by the time the next dozen or so pop up. On one page alone, we get these:

  • Dionysus waved his hand and supplied snacks: Cheez Whiz, crackers and several bottles of red wine. Then Chiron reminded him that wine was under his restrictions and most of us were underage. With a snap of his fingers the wine turned to Diet Coke. Nobody drank that either.
  • Zoe started off the meeting on a positive note: “This is pointless.”
  • “Cheez Whiz!” Grover gasped. He began scooping up crackers and ping pong balls and spraying them with topping.

On a more serious note, there are still some problems with the structure of the story. Although the teens are no longer wandering into situations that have TRAP written all over them, Riordan does cheat a little with his distribution of exposition. He’ll add a little bit of intrigue by having a character allude to a past mishap or a deep dark secret, only for Percy to decide not to enquire further. Had these been resolved in this book it wouldn’t have bothered me as much, but plenty are left dangling for future installments in the series. Likewise, he often relies on quite literal dues ex machina, wherein the teenagers find themselves in dire straights, and simply pray to various deities to help them out. I don’t have a problem with adults coming to their offspring’s rescue, but it does lessen the tension a little, and leads to a bit of logic-fail when one asks why the heroes don’t simply call upon their supernatural parents whenever they get into the least bit of trouble. Despite ending on a rather odd cliffhanger (out of all the plot-threads at work in this story, the whereabouts of the god Pan is probably the least pressing), everything is all set for the stakes to be raised even higher in The Battle of the Labyrinth.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians — (2005-2014) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse — Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends — one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena — Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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