By: Arik Shams
Greek gods, titans, mythical heroes, gorgons and man-goats. And all that artfully fitted inside a familiar modern world. Such is the imagination of Rick Riordan, author of The Lightning Thief, Book One of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. As an avid fan of Greek mythology and fantasy, I felt I had found my perfect medley. The story follows the life of Perseus “Percy” Jackson, high-school misfit and teenage underdog. Living with his single mother in New York City, Percy struggles to cope with the pressures of switching schools and being a prime target for all forms of teenage torture. That’s when the fun starts.
On a regular summer trip to a beach house, Percy discovers that he is – surprise – not entirely normal. He is a demigod: half Greek god, half human. His father is Poseidon, God of the Seas, and only when he comes of age does he realize his powers. Yes, powers. And we all know what comes with great power–demons and monsters and evil masterminds out to conquer the world. Turns out those Greek gods of old aren’t all that dead. In fact, as human civilization moves from one sphere of dominance to another, so does Mount Olympus. So what better place for the home of the gods than the top of the Empire State Building, New York City?
Percy, along with his satyr friend Grover, seeks refuge and demigod training in Camp Half-Blood, along with other demigods of dubious (but significantly powerful) parenthood. Except Percy is not only an ordinary human, he’s not an ordinary demigod either. Enter the Oracle. The legendary Oracle of Delphi makes a prophecy that Percy must embark on a quest to fulfill. Accompanying him is best friend Grover the satyr, and Annabeth, a daughter of Athena. Such begins the epic journey of Perseus Jackson. As for what happens next, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
The similarity of the plot with Harry Potter is glaringly obvious. Awkward teenager discovers special abilities and a world within another world, attends school/camp for other likewise extraordinary children, befriends girl and boy, has his destiny dictated by a cryptic prophecy, and of course, sets out on a quest to foil the plans of an evil villain returning from the dead. Nevertheless, it is not the plot that makes The Lightning Thief such a great read. Rather, it’s the extremely natural feel of merging both mythological and modern worlds. That in itself is one of the most original concepts I have experienced in a long time. The tone is at times sardonic and sometimes side-splitting. One of Riordan’s best skills seems to be expressing the character and nature of Percy, the main character. We are able to see inside his mind and share in his troubles as well as triumphs. The narration is from Percy’s point-of-view, and is quite fluid and easy to follow. The pace is fast and the story adapts neatly to fit the constantly changing circumstances (or as neatly as possible inside a pubescent boy’s mind). There are interesting twists and turns in the story, complicated and subtle enough to make you read just one more page before closing the book.
A word of caution: don’t judge a book by its movie. The recently released screenplay of The Lightning Thief by Chris Columbus reportedly follows a slightly different storyline, and is a novelty in itself. My advice is to always read the book first, if you can find it. And hold on to your pegasi, because this is just the beginning of the legend of Percy Jackson. The next book in the series is The Sea of Monsters, an equally – if not more – exciting read.