Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief / By Rick Riordan

First Published in Daily Times / Saturday, September 04, 2010

Reposted at Liberty Books Blog

Published under the title: Of gods and men
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Olympian gods and goddesses are not the best role models; their moral compass is frequently out of order and no one dares suggest they get it fixed. The (stormy) age of the gods was great while it lasted but it is over. Rick Riordan reawakens the gods, gives them another shot at (eternal) life with a brand new home, creating a new legion of heroes and heroines in the process. He then combines all these elements to launch his fantasy series making mythology the centrepiece and family values the essential pillars of his newly redesigned universe.

How do these extinct entities fare in a (literary) world already overrun with vampires, witches, werewolves and wizards? Set in the present day, Riordan’s young adult fantasy novel tries to survive the onslaught of other supernatural beings by giving neglected Greek gods a clever makeover. The original Mount Olympus is still in Greece. Olympus, however, has been relocated. Their gods and goddesses currently reside above the modern day US while their half-human, half-god offspring live below — most of them in blissful oblivion of their divine origins or hero status.

Demigods running around in Manhattan saying, “Oh my gods”, being stalked by monsters and going on dangerous expeditions just like their predecessor Hercules is an intriguing premise. Except that readers coming off J K Rowling will be immediately struck by young Percy’s resemblance to his British counterpart.

If Percy Jackson feels like an extension of planet Rowling, it is probably because the major threads holding the plot together appear to have fallen straight out of her wizarding world: a regular child, special abilities, a training camp for half-bloods, a destiny. The similarity is strongest in The Lightning Thief, and subsequent books might touch upon Garth Nix’s Abhorsen accidentally before falling back on Greek legends, but they try very hard not to encroach too obviously upon Rowling territory. They do not always succeed but they do try.

Percy is the American narrator with a droll sense of humour who follows the traditional path of a Greek hero. He is a special case, not just because he has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia but also because he suffers from a “divine” condition. One of his parents happens to be a god and he is not the only demigod in the neighbourhood. (The term ‘exclusive relationship’ seems to be missing from the god dictionary; ergo the rising demigod population. Now if one has ADHD and dyslexia combined, they may or may not have descended from the gods but all descendants of Olympians share this problem.

The gods, on the other hand, have exchanged their togas for pinstriped suits but they are the same immortal, (if a little careless) vengeful beings. As the title suggests, Zeus, King of the gods, is missing a lightning bolt — the one he used to pose with (see old pictures). And unless it is returned, he and Poseidon will go to war and that would be a pity, especially since the divine headquarter is now in New York City, atop the Empire State Building.

Why New York one might ask? As Chiron, the centaur (former trainer to Hercules), helpfully explains, the heart of fire or Western civilization has never been stationary and now rests comfortably in the land of the free.


The book is about Percy’s thrilling escapades, at camp and in the real world and monsters from ancient Greece drop by occasionally to prevent things from becoming too boring. This particular demigod will get a quest, discover his true lineage, embrace his destiny, etc, etc. But, as a mortal, he speaks like any disaffected teen, goes to a private academy for troubled children in upstate New York, and tries to deal with parental issues. The quests become more serious with each passing year and usually the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

This is a who’s who of Greek mythological creatures from the highly acclaimed Medusa, Chimera and Cyclops to less well-known Empousa (vampire demon) and the Kampe. Now, many of them had already been vanquished by Greek heroes of yore but they have (considerately) returned for an encore performance, because monsters never truly die.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is the first of five books. It was a New York Times Notable Book for 2005 and won the Red House Children’s Book Award. The series leans heavily on action, is fast paced but not very lengthy. The movie version that had a slightly longer title (Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief), took liberties with the plot, casting an older boy, editing out major characters and basically rewriting the entire ending.

Percy Jackson’s adventures conclude in Book Five and Rick Riordan has already moved on to Egyptian mythology. The demigods are not quite ready to leave and Olympian adventures will continue in a spin-off called The Lost Hero, out by October 2010.


Penguin; Pp 400; Rs 425
Available at Liberty Books

Images Courtesy of: http://www.smashinglists.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Percy-Jackson-and-Olympics-The-Lightning-Thief.jpg

http://uberduzi.com/files/movie_PercyJacksonTheOlympians.png

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: How It Happened

Published in Daily Times / Sat 9 Feb 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Shazaf Fatima Haider

Thanks to Liberty Books for the (temp) review copy

Gwendolen: I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

Lady Bracknell: Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . .”
-
The Importance of being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)


Characters chasing ‘happily ever after’s’ are often pulled aside by enterprising elders who try to flag all but the most traditional road to the altar. A fiendishly funny narrative pounces on the retreating figure of Cupid and explores his cultural relevance in the sport they call match-making.

The saga of the Bandian clan comes with a perpetually scandalized, formidable old lady fiercely protective…

Analysis: Survival in the Age of Information Warfare

Published in Global Village Space / Nov 2017?

Pakistani troops recently rescued a US - Canadian family that had been captured in Afghanistan in 2012 and held hostage for 5 years. International media headlines however were not all laudatory; they editorialized, and dabbled in innuendos undermining a successful mission and the men who risked their lives to bring the captives home. This is not the first time the West glossed over an ally’s achievements. And it will not be the last, since negative spin is invaluable for propping up pre-prepared narratives, advancing agendas; shaping perceptions, reinforcing stereotypes, driving ratings and controlling the message.

Because dictatorships do not have monopoly over information warfare – everyone has a dog in the race and the fake news juggernaut appears unstoppable in the age of social media and instant messaging. And while traditional methods remain relevant in the game of deception, the advent of social media has only expanded their reac…

Analysis: Pakistan’s Contributions for the Uplift of Afghan People

Published in Global Village Space / Nov 2017?

Pakistan and Afghanistan have history. And it is not all good. They have a shared border – though its legality has been contested. They also managed to forge a united front against the Soviets and achieved the impossible. It is a rare moment of solidarity and teamwork.

The final round of the Cold War fought in the badlands of Afghanistan altered the timeline since then and as the Afghan state veered off course – the impact was felt on neighboring nations. It led to an influx of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the emergence of Taliban, the fracturing of the Afghan socio-political structure and opened a breach in the global security.

All this is in the past.

Pakistan and Afghanistan may have been brothers in arms with shared borders and traditions and historical ties, but despite their time spent in the trenches, Pakistan’s economic value as a trade portal for a landlocked region or its place as host to millions of refugees and the biggest s…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

Analysis: Afghanistan – An Actual Safe Haven – Part I

Published Global Affairs / Dec 2017?

The longest war is going according to plan; but whose plan exactly?
Not Washington - bogged down in a never-ending nightmare. Or Kabul - besieged and battered, barely holding its head above water. Not Pakistan, a frontline state suffering blowback and living under the weight of America’s expectations - and uncalled for accusations. The dramatic shifts in the geostrategic dynamics are not reflected in Washington’s stance towards Islamabad nor are they inclined towards the multiplayer great game unfolding in the backdrop with Russians, Iranians, Taliban, Indians, Chinese, ISIS and its Coalition forces.

Mission Rebuild Afghanistan

In the backdrop are nations used as pawns to keep Cold War allies or emergent threats in check. On the side are non-state actors wielded as weapons to thwart ambitions and counter bigger threats like ISIS. And at the centre is a strategy that offers a patchwork quilt of something old, something new, something borrowed to s…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…