Sunday, June 17, 2007

Book Review: The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3) by Rick Riordan

Warning: Mild spoilers ahead
The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons, and took me to a new boarding school. We picked up my friends Annabeth and Thalia on the way.
Thus begins the third installment in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series and when a book promises so much adventure and a rollicking time in its very first paragraph, there's little to do but accompany Percy and his friends on yet another wacky, exciting, and dangerous adventure.

Enthusiasts who have followed the first two books in the series — The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters — will be familiar with the background of these books featuring the adventures of mortal children (demi-gods with some sort of divine powers determined by the god who sired them) of the ancient Greek gods as they try to keep their quirky and powerful parents and other equally megalomaniac gods happy while simultaneously battling assorted monsters and the evil Titan Kronos (who is plotting to take over Olympus and the world) and his minions and at the same time try to take care of a few other trivialities like manage their dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), their relations with other demi-gods and also somehow try to keep their puny selves alive. [If you want a more detailed primer on the background to the series go here.]

Fans of the series also know after the machinations of the gods and their demi-god offspring wrought the Second World War, the big three of the Olympian pantheon — Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades — swore an oath on the river Styx that they would not beget any more children. Only Hades kept his promise. Percy (Perseus) Jackson is Poseidon's son. Thalia is Zeus' daughter.

Fans would also know, from The Sea of Monsters, that Percy may be the demi-god who will fulfill an ominous prophecy — that the offspring of one of the big three will either cause the destruction of or bring salvation to Olympus when they turn sixteen. In The Titan's Curse Percy is two years away from his sixteenth birthday. But Thalia is almost sixteen. And everyone, including Percy, wonders if she can be trusted? Will she join forces with those of the heroes in Camp Half-Blood or will she join her friend Luke who has thrown his lot with Kronos? The Titan's Curse builds on this prophecy and Percy comes to realize how both the gods and the Titans will try to manipulate, control, or even destroy the ones who are destined to fulfill the prophecy.

Back to the book.

The action in The Titan's Curse begins when Percy's mother drops him, Thalia, and Annabeth (daughter of Athena, Percy's best friend and foil) off at Westover Hall, a boarding school in Maine. The three are on a rescue mission after urgent summons by their friend Grover (a satyr). Grover has identified two children in the school as demi-gods, a brother and a sister and needs the help of these three heroes to battle the resident vice-principal/monster and get the two "finds" safely to Camp Half-Blood. Unfortunately the rescue mission goes wrong. The vice-principal turns out to be a manticore who takes umbrage at the two half-bloods — Nico and Bianca di Angelo — being taken from the school. In the ensuing fight, Annabeth is captured by the enemy despite the arrival and help of Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt and her Hunters.

Artemis, travels only with girls who in return of forsaking "the company of men" and accepting "eternal maidenhood" are granted immortality. She offers Bianca the opportunity to become a Hunter and she accepts much to the bewilderment and anger of her younger brother. Artemis, who suspects that the manticore guarding the boarding school is but a harbinger of more powerful creatures and evils to be unleashed by the Titan Kronos, decides to go after Annabeth herself and to hunt an even more powerful monster, an Ophiotaurus (a sea cow), that is destined to cause the downfall of Olympus. She entrusts the task of safely escorting Percy and his friends to Camp Half-blood to her twin brother Apollo. Her trusted lieutenant Zoe Nightshade assumes the leadership of the hunters in Artemis' absence and the Hunters too travel to Camp Half-Blood.

Once they are back at Camp Half-Blood, the heroes come to know that Artemis too has disappeared, captured by Kronos' new bad guy — The General. The Oracle at the Camp then steps out of her attic to deliver a cryptic prophecy which leads to the formation of a team of five — Zoe Nightshade, Bianca, Phoebe (another hunter) Thalia, and Grover — to go on a quest in search of Artemis. Percy is left out but not for long. Plagued by weird prophetic dreams and concerned about Annabeth, he tails (and eventually joins) the others on the quest.

The quest takes the Heroes and the Hunters from the New York to San Francisco (which is supposed to be worst place for a demi-god to be in). And like a typical quest this one too is littered with dangerous monsters and adventures. Skeletal warriors (reminiscent of the soldier mummies from the movies - The Mummy and The Mummy Returns) stalk them, especially Percy. Two of the party are killed. The goddess Aphrodite suddenly appears and has a word with Percy — a talk which churns him up and his life even more. They trick and fight the dragon that guards the golden apples of immortality in the garden of Hesperides. Percy also holds up the weight of the sky on his shoulders, battles the evil General, comes to know Zoe Nightshade better and eventually at the end of it all fetches up in Olympus only to find the Gods voting on how to kill the survivors of the quest.

Like the earlier two books, The Titan's Curse, is big on action and thrills. Events and adventures come thick and fast. If there's a crucial difference between the earlier two books and this one, it is in the humor department. The goofy humor that marked the earlier two books is present but Riordan this time limits the hilarious interludes. A reason for this could be that Annabeth (because she is captured) and Percy hardly interact in this novel. Much of the humor in the earlier books was born out of the banter between the two. But whatever little humor he serves is excellent. Consider this excerpt from the exchange when Artemis summons Apollo to escort Percy, the other heroes, and the Hunters to Camp Half-blood:
[. . .] he raised his hands in a stop everything gesture. 'I feel a haiku coming on.'

The Hunters all groaned. Apparently they'd met Apollo before.

He cleared his throat and held up one hand dramatically.

Green grass breaks through snow.
Artemis pleads for my help.
I am so cool.

He grinned at us, waiting for applause.

'That last line was only four syllables,' Artemis said.

Apollo frowned. 'Was it?'

'Yes. What about I am so big-headed?'

'No, no, that's six syllables. Hmm.' He started muttering to himself.

Zoe Nightshade turned to us. 'Lord Apollo has been going through this haiku phase ever since he visited Japan. 'Tis not as bad as the time he visited Limerick. If I'd had to hear one more poem that started with, There once was a goddess from Sparta--'

'I've got it!' Apollo announced. 'I am so awesome. That's five syllables!'
[. . .]
The Titan's curse, like the earlier two books, also stays true and at the same time creatively reinvents Greek mythology and its characters. Apollo as one would expect is extremely handsome and "hot" but he is also full of himself, hits on all women around, and is a "flashy" driver.

Riordan is also a very clever author who will often make an observation in passing or have a character say something that will bring a smile to all those who are familiar with Greek mythology. Apollo, for instance, casually remarks, "I hate it when pretty girls turn into trees." Readers who don't know their Greek mythology know that they have lost an "inside joke" and will make a the effort to read all the original Greek myths.

I love Riordan's chapter titles. Sample these: "The Vice-principal gets a missile launcher,""Everybody hates me but the horse," "I go snowboarding with a pig," "I have a dam problem," and "We meet the dragon of eternal bad breath." If you, like me, love to read the titles from the contents page and then linger on each wondering what it is exactly that the corresponding chapter will reveal, such titles only serve to invite and dig into the story straight away.

A reason I find the Percy Jackson series so readable is due to the characterization of its lead — Percy. Riordan (I feel very cleverly) makes Percy a hero who is rarely in control and who if provided an opportunity, however small, to botch up things, will grab it with two hands. So it's kind of fun to see how deeply in trouble he can get and how still manage to wriggle out of it eventually but not before he has suffered a scratch or something more serious. Percy is rarely on top of things but that makes him all the more interesting. Also, and this is something that I had wondered about when I had read the first two books, crucially Riordan doesn't make Percy the son of Zeus. I wondered all this while why wouldn't an author make his character "all powerful"? Wouldn't it be easier for the author and for the story to have a potent and mighty hero who sweeps aside all hurdles? But I now think it was a stroke of genius to give Percy, Poseidon as his father — a powerful god, but still a less powerful one compared to Zeus. His son in turn reflects that and we love Percy and root for him knowing that he is not the best or the most powerful hero out there.

Having said that, Percy has definitely grown up and matured in this series. In The Titan's Curse he is low on angst and is more sure of himself. And in the end when he takes a crucial decision, we can see that while he may to muck up whenever he can, now he is ready to accept and make his own destiny.

All this praise does not mean that The Titan's Curse is not without the occasional glitch or a flaw. For me the biggest letdown of this book was the minimal interaction between Annabeth and Percy, arguably the most interesting pairing in the earlier two novels. Thalia is of course there, but she is more of a rebel, angsty teen who is still trying to come to grips with her past. She is crucial to the plot (and despite the twist given to her character in the end I think she will have a role to play in the coming two books) but it is because she is Zeus' daughter. Apart from that there is nothing compelling about her.

There are also too many convenient "short-cuts" or plot twists in The Titan's Curse for my liking. Percy gets prophetic dreams about Annabeth and Artemis which drive him to follow the others on the quest. But it is never explained why and how he gets those crucial "visions." When they are stuck in the middle of nowhere, the heroes and the hunters conveniently find an abandoned truck with full tank. And in the end, a mortal just happens to make bullets out of celestial bronze and then turn up at the exact crucial time to help the heroes fight the monsters. These smack a bit of laziness on the part of the author and mar an otherwise perfectly narrated story.

The Titan's Curse may not be as neat and as complete a package as the earlier two books but I doubt if that will matter much to the fans. Despite its shortcomings (in comparison with the first two books) there is so much in the fast-paced story to enjoy that very few readers will pick any nits. The Titan's Curse cleverly leaves the readers hanging with more questions rather than answers. Will Percy make the prophecy his own? What about the Thalia plot-line? How crucial is the Ophiotaurus going to be in the coming books? Will Nico di Angelo throw an almighty spanner in the planning and calculations made by the gods and the titans?

This novel, like the previous one, neatly sets up the pieces so interestingly for the book to follow that die-hard fans, even before digesting all that has happened, will already start clamoring for the next sequel.

The Percy Jackson books with their unique premise and smart and brilliant execution are hugely addictive and enchanting. I am already counting the days to the next novel of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Even if it is half as clever and exciting as this one, it would still be a good read.

13 comments:

mitch said...

This was a very well written review, and I thank you for that. Most of the other reviews out there just give a basic synopsis of the book, and devote maybe a senance or two to actually reviewing the book.

I also completely agree with you about the flaws. But still, I can't wait for the next book, The Labirynth , which is scheduled to be released in May of '08. =)

Anonymous said...

I love this series sooo much! You have amazing book reviews for them too. You should write these more often...it makes people really want to read the next book :].

J V said...

this is a well written review.
It helped me a lot a report

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite book so far and I Agree that the chapter names were funny.

My favorite chapter was the dam Chapter. by the way,"I need some dam french fries and a dam burger and a dam milk shake. And where is the dam restroom." See very funny

Anonymous said...

hi what is the next book name plz lol i really want to know

mandar talvekar said...

Hi Anon, the 4th book in the series is called The Battle of the Labyrinth.
It will be available in bookstores from May 6, 2008.

Anonymous said...

This was a really good report and i agree with the chapter names: I Put on A Few Extra million Pounds.Thanks

Anonymous said...

a very nice review.
cant wait 4 the last book!

Anonymous said...

Is there a fifth book? If there is let me know.

Joey said...

actually, i thought this book was lacking something... just like how my brain is lacking everyhting!!!!!!!!!!!1111

Anonymous said...

This was an okay book report, and I really like how you explained more on the story and the criticism was nice because it was true. Your grammar wasn't great, but who truly cares? Not me.
I'm glad that you explained more on the whole series and you didn't just say:
"Good book. I like it."
And then you didn't say any more.
It was nice that you put your own opinion. Yes i do agree that it was a good book, and yes there were some hilarious titles in there.
I can't wait for the fifth book.

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