Review of the Day: The Titan's Curse
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan. Miramax Books (an imprint of Hyperion Books For Children). $17.95
You know, it still strikes me as odd when I run across a kid who hasn’t read a Percy Jackson book yet. Take, for example, the homeschooler bookgroup I run. These kids aren’t exactly sheltered, but at the same time they don’t feel unnaturally compelled to follow the latest trend due to peer pressure. They hadn’t even heard of Rick Riordan when I proposed to them that we read, “The Lightening Thief”, the other day. Obediently they took the book home and in a week some of them were back, basically begging me for Book #2. Now they’ve found out that I’ve a copy of #3, “The Titan’s Curse,” hidden about my person and if I don’t give it to them soon there will be blood shed. My blood. So while I usually take a long time to process a book before finally getting around to reviewing it, in Mr. Riordan’s case I’m gonna make an exception. The third in the series, in “Titan’s Curse,” Riordan raises the stakes, adds in a couple new gods and monsters, and basically ratchets up the tension while cutting down on the easygoing moments. It's bound to make the fans happy.
Percy’s on a rescue mission. Nothing new there. The fact that he’s getting a ride to the rescue mission with his mom and two of his camp mates is definitely a unique occurrence, though. Percy, Annabeth, and the now re-humanized Thalia (daughter of Zeus) are traveling to a private school where their friend and satyr Grover has made an important discovery. There are two new half-bloods there, a brother and a sister, and it’s up to our heroes to get them to Camp Half-Blood before the resident monster spirits them away. Unfortunately the rescue mission is botched, Annabeth disappears with the enemy, and Percy finds himself facing a whole new bad guy. He’s called The General, and under his command he’s captured the goddess Artemis and is hellbent on destroying the Gods for his master, the Titan Kronos. Now it’s up to Percy and company to rescue the goddess, find Annabeth, and stop The General’s plans before it's too late. Which, I might add, it might already be.
Riordan’s a much cleverer author than anyone gives him credit for. He’s smart enough to know that many of his readers have probably read up on their Greek myths all thanks to his books. Therefore, when someone like Apollo says, “I hate it when pretty girls turn into trees,” you may or may not know what he’s referring to, depending on how well you know your myths. And in retrospect when I look back at the series, it was a really good idea for Riordan not to make Percy the son of Zeus or something like that. It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to make Mr. Jackson a latter-day Hercules and let the story write itself from there. Far more interesting to give him a lesser god as a pop. Still powerful, mind you, but not heir to the big bad father of them all. Extra kudos for his treatment of Artemis and her Hunters in this book. In the story, the girls that join Artemis to hunt with her have, for one reason or another, eschewed the company of men. Annabeth, it soon turns out, was contemplating joining them. This easily could have been played up as an evil choice or one that no right-minded woman should go with. Instead, Riordan prefers to be nuanced. The choice, we learn, may not be for everyone, but for some people it’s a legitimate lifestyle. It would have been too easy to demonize an all-woman group of this sort. He could have made them into nasty man-haters. Instead, they don’t particularly like men but they also don’t act cruelly towards them.
Riordan’s also a big fan of casting mysterious phrases the reader’s way. This is nothing new, of course. He’s always loved to bring up an important sentence, then delay its explanation via a fight or some other distraction. Normally he knows how to keep this instinct under control. In “The Titan’s Curse,” however, he’s gone a little overboard. There are more times in this title where the book will say, “It was a long time ago. Never mind,” or, “I decided not to ask what she meant,” or something to that effect than he can really justify as an author. He also isn’t afraid to throw in a convenient plot twist when the fancy strikes. Like, for example, finding an abandoned truck with a full tank of gas when you really need to drive as fast as you can across America. Or someone just happening to fashion bullets out of celestial bronze and then placing them in a helicopter not long before the moment when evil monsters are nigh. That sort of thing. Even Percy’s dreams are never explained, even though they act as perfect little narrative devices. It's a pity.
Which is not to say that the situation in this book isn't direst it’s ever been. The pace and plotting of this book work together very well here. Possibly better than they’ve ever worked before. Riordan juggles humor and action together fairly well, always taking time to introduce new, interesting characters. I also have a weakness for Riordan’s chapter headings. Titles like “I Learn How To Grow Zombies,” or, “The Gods Vote How To Kill Us,” just reel the child reader in. As for his hero, you always root for Percy. Unlike his magician equivalent, Percy never really stays on top of things. If something bad can happen to this guy, it will. He’s a hero but he’s also kind of a screw-up, so he tends to be interesting to watch since you never know who’ll be putting him down next.
Some series books have a clear cut sense of when they’re going to end. Take Harry Potter as your example here. Harry attends seven years of school (in theory) so therefore he has seven books in his series. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” follows a tragic and unlucky set of characters, therefore their books are the unarguably unlucky number thirteen. The “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” series, however, isn’t so clear cut. We do learn in this book that Percy may have to fulfill a prophecy of some sort around his sixteenth birthday. So at the very least that may mean two more books, always assuming Riordan makes each title exactly one year. However he chooses to wrap the series up, it really doesn’t matter. For the time being, “The Titan’s Curse,” will satisfy its die-hard fans. I don’t know how Riordan managed to find the right child-reader sweet spot, but he definitely managed it. A fine supplement to a fun, fast-paced series.
Notes on the Cover: Nice. Looks like Miramax learned their lesson after that atrocious initial Percy Jackson cover. Now they've employed a Christine Kettner to create the cover design. And this may well be my favorite Riordan cover thus far. The colors alone are magnificent. You've the recognizable New York landmark, Percy (his face in shadow), and some nasty mysterious vines. I love the colors, the angle, and the lighting. It's nice to see a cover that doesn't lean so heavily on photography these days too.
Notable First Lines: "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."
On shelves May 1, 2007.