Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Quest Continues with The Throne of Fire

game of senet

In The Throne of Fire, the quest to bring balance to the world and Ma’at continues, as evil forces gain power and Apophis attempts to break free from his prison so he can destroy the entire world as we know it. No pressure, Kanes! Thus, Sadie and Carter start their recorded narration with no preamble: “Look, we don’t have time for long introductions. I need to tell this story quickly, or we’re all going to die.” With only 5 days to find the lost Book of Ra, bring this senile god back from… wherever he is, and face Apophis as he rises… oh, while also either fighting against or joining forces with the House of Life (who is also currently trying to destroy them), Sadie, Carter, and their recruits are facing an impossible task. But impossible is what these guys (and gals) do best!

There are some new characters joining the Brooklyn House — including Jaz, the healer, and Walt, the charm-maker — who are holding their own under the Kane’s tutelage. But of course, the end of the world waits for no one, thus they must all try their best to fight evil and save the world. Sadie and Carter face some daunting challenges not only against their enemies, but with their own desires, and with each other. Still, Sadie manages to show she can hold her own, and make some odd-looking yet lovable friends (aka Bes). Meanwhile, Carter remains obsessed with finding Zia — but will she recognize him when she awakes? Their main struggle, however, is choosing what will be the best solution to the impending doom that awaits when Apophis rises: Do they go ahead and wake Ra, despite the fact he is old and weak and the gods don’t want him? Do they throw their support behind Horus? Should Carter take charge and rule? These are very difficult choices for teenagers who are barely dealing with the adult responsibilities already thrust upon them — albeit successfully.

In the end, they must simply take a leap of faith. Despite unnerving decisions, selfless sacrifices, and heartbreaking losses, the Kanes move forward. The future of the world is at stake, and so Sadies’ and Carter’s recordings go out into the world for anyone willing to listen and support the Brooklyn House at their most vulnerable time.

In typical Rick Riordan fashion, The Throne of Fire is a whirlwind adventure of constant suspense. We wonder about all kinds of serious questions: Are they making the right decision? Is this a trap? Why would anyone try to ride a double-headed snake? What’s with the zebras and the weasels? Who’d make a better boyfriend, Walt or Anubis?

Despite completing this part of the quest, much more remains to be answered — off to read The Serpent’s Shadow.

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The Red Pyramid and Egyptian Mythology

red pyramid

In an effort to get over the Percy dry spell, I thought I’d give Rick Riordan’s other ventures a try:

The Red Pyramid grabbed my attention from the very first line: “We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.” Since the death of his mother, Carter has been traveling all over the world with his dad, who is an archeologist. His sister Sadie, however, has been living with her grandparents in London, and only sees Carter and her father twice a year. The relationship between Carter and Sadie is rather strained, since they are practically strangers — until their dad decides to blow up the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. Nothing brings a brother and sister together like being possessed by gods and running for their lives. The siblings are on the run from Egyptian gods who want to destroy the world, the House of Life who wants to destroy them, and any other suspicious obstacles they meet along the way.

Throughout the story Rick Riordan brings up some very interesting observations about mixed race families: Carter is dark-skinned like his father, while Sadie is light-skinned like her mother — people look twice when they say they’re related. Carter’s father makes it a point to let him know that as a person of color, he needs to try harder to look and act his best at all times– which just isn’t fair to him. But as Julius say, “Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same… Fairness means everyone gets what they need. And the only way to get what you need is to make it happen yourself.” There’s a lot of pressure on Carter! Meanwhile, Sadie has a more rebellious streak: she has the freedom to dye her hair with different colors, wear combat boots along with her school uniform, and break the rules any time someones say “Don’t…” Still, the siblings find a way to care for each other, join forces for the greater good of the world, and come together as a family.

With humorous chapter titles, slightly deranged and funny-looking gods, as well as some passive aggressive clay statues, The Red Pyramid makes for a really fun read. You just need make sure to keep your accents straight while reading!

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The Blood of Olympus — the Prophecy of Seven is Fulfilled

prophecy of seven

“Never assume you’re safe, and never, ever tempt the Fates by announcing that you think you’re safe.” — Piper

The Blood of Olympus is one hell of a ride. At the end of The House of Hades, we left Percy and Annabeth saying ‘hello’ to the stars… but the journey to save civilization as we know it from Mother Earth before the Feast of Spes is most definitely not all stars and rainbows! While Reyna, Nico, and Coach Hedge take the Athena Parthenos west, in the hopes to make a peace offering and stop the massacre between the two demigod camps at Camp Half-Blood, the rest of the crew make their way east, to Greece, where they will most likely be massacred themselves.

The story is told through the perspectives of Reyna, Nico, Leo, Jason, and Piper — my first reaction, of course, was “Oh no!!” After all of the terrible omens, bad juju, the million oaths they all keep making (while I keep tally to see which one of them is going to break it), and overall sick feeling of “the Fates are awful sadists” — not to mention the many times I was tempted to stick my book in the freezer — I decided to trust Rick Riordan to simply tell the story… whether I ended up suffering through it or not. A hero’s journey is difficult, painful, and full of sacrifices. Reyna’s first sacrifice is her constant companion, Scipio… Nico’s shadow travel west is slowly killing him… even Coach Hedge must endure being away from his wife, Millie, at a most inopportune time. There are casualties among the Hunters of Artemis and the Amazons… (while I’m still mourning Bob and Damaesen!) And most importantly, we know that Gaea’s minions not only need the Blood of Olympus to wake her, but one of the Argo II crew members is destined to die. To say this story is nerve-wrecking is an understatement.

Still, the characters’ bonds grow so much stronger as they travel east battling anything and everything the Earth Mother throws their way. Nothing like a death sentence to make everyone get up close and personal… while eating gelato. Jason becomes much more likable — his perfection becomes as fuzzy as his vision — he becomes part of the crew, instead of the straight-laced leader who can never falter. Percy and Leo are hilarious throughout the entire ordeal, which is a much needed break in between the many near-death and monster-killing parts of every page. And we can’t forget the ladies on this team, who are not only incredibly strong and resilient, but also quite a force to be reckoned with.

In true Rick Riordan fashion, the story has loose threads and is open-ended. For those seeking closure, it seems that’s not his style… and I love it! Because even if there is no 6th Heroes of Olympus book, there is still room left to imagine and dream of this world where mythology is real (except for Atlantis — that’s a “fake myth,” just ask Percy).

For now, the quest is over… the spirit of Delphi is on hiatus… there are no prophecies to tackle… and “they soared into the unknown.”

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The House of Hades — a tale of anguish and unlikely hope

Percy and Annabeth

Love is no game! It is no flowery softness! It is hard work — a quest that never ends. It demands everything from you — especially the truth. Only then does it yield rewards.” — Eros / Cupid

The House of Hades follows up on the awful cliffhanger from The Mark of Athena. Everyone is on survival mode — Percy and Annabeth must survive Tartarus and reach the Doors of Death, as the rest of the team — Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, Leo, Nico, and Coach Hedge — travels on the Argo II to reach the House of Hades. Their trials and tribulations only grow worse with each turn of the page. Frank, despite his unassuming nature, must step up to take a leading role, while Jason continues to practice relying on others so that the weight on the quest is not entirely on his shoulders. Piper must learn to be more than just a persuasive voice. Hazel must learn to control The Mist and build up her confidence, as so much of this quest depends on her knowledge of the Underworld. Nico… well, he’s just a very complex individual. Meanwhile, Coach Hedge tries to conceal certain personal information, and Leo deals with the constant upkeep of their trireme, which is under unrelenting attacks and round-the-clock repairs.

The changing points of view allows the reader to keep up with the simultaneous events — sometimes jumping from one place to another at the most inopportune times, other times giving us just enough breathing room to relax for a millisecond. We follow Percy and Annabeth’s impossible and grueling journey through the most horrible of settings — in a surprising turn of events, there is more than just a horde of evil enemies down there… (a silver light as the end of this dark, dark tunnel?) As the larger group makes its way to Greece, they inevitably must separate — whether by choice or to divide and conquer their smaller errands along the way. Jason is able to get some insight into Nico’s antisocial behavior and inner turmoil. Piper and Hazel are able to bond as the only girls on the Argo II. Leo… experiences a change. As does Frank, who is becoming tougher and more commanding for the sake of his friends — he is such a caring and cuddly guy… until you mess with his crew.

I think Percy’s thoughts really sum it up quite well: “When he started looking back on the war with Kronos as the good old days — that was sad. […] Their lives just got more and more dangerous, as if the Three Fates were up there spinning their futures with barbed wire instead of thread just to see how much two demigods could tolerate.” The real question is, how much can I tolerate? I feel very much like the heroes of this quest: on edge, unreasonably hopeful, yet awaiting the moment when it all falls apart…

… I guess I need to keep reading.

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The Mark of Athena… and my shaky nerves.

Wisdom's daughter

“True success requires sacrifice.” Words spoken by the goddess Nemesis — surely, this is a bad sign!

The Mark of Athena demonstrates Rick Riordan’s increasingly suspenseful and exhilarating story-telling for the Heroes of Olympus… although I also keep wondering how much longer it’ll be until one of them bites the dust. There are just so many bad omens, foreshadowing of terrible things to come, and the ever-present “nothing ever goes well for a demigod” mentality.

Nonetheless, it is so wonderful to see Percy and Annabeth together at last. (I am finally able to officially join Team Percabeth!) From the moment the Argo II reaches Camp Jupiter, to the last excruciating moments of the story, my heart aches for them both. Yet, the development of each character’s personality, as well as the relationships between them, blossom throughout their quest. Cooperation between the seven chosen demigods is not only essential to their survival, but truly what helps them maintain the urgency of the quest — and prevents any of them from abandoning ship (which is often very, very tempting). As they try to escape the Roman legions of Camp Jupiter, aim to get rid of creepy eidolons, battle against Phorcys and Kato, try to avoid the various traps set for them, and search for clues to follow the Mark of Athena before setting sail for Rome (where things will only get exponentially worse!), the heroes need to rely on each other and learn that they are not only trustworthy, but valuable members of this quest.

Granted, it can’t be easy to carry so much power on one ship, no matter how grandiose the Argo II is. Percy and Jason constantly clash as leaders, since boys will be boys, and they want to out-macho each other. Frank fears Hazel’s interest in Leo, his short life-expentancy, and overall awkwardness. Hazel simply wants to feel useful due to this being her second shot of a meaningful life. Leo wants to desperately prove himself while keeping the trireme together, and trying to fit in with the group… he is quite uneasy about being the odd man out. Piper is cursed with that blade of bad news, Katoptris, so her nerves are always on edge. Annabeth is stretched so thin between ensuring the group holds together, and worrying about her own solo quest… the one no child of Athena has ever completed, and the one she must suffer alone. However, Coach Hedge is having a fantastic time… screaming out “Die!” every chance he gets. He is the much needed comic relief.

As I read my way through this group’s most difficult quest to date — riding along with Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, Leo, and Coach Hedge — I appreciated the references to prior adventures and previous books. These characters all have so much history — some more than others, but even the newest of crew members are invaluable at this point. Remember when Percy first awoke to hearing Annabeth say “you drool in your sleep”?… or how they took turns unwillingly holding up the sky?… or how Percy gave up the chance at immortality to be with Annabeth?

(… and where is Grover?!)

Of course, this all brings me back to the overwhelming amount of bad omens, and the many promises made that will no doubt be broken in the near future. I fear it can really go either way for our beloved heroes: perhaps a hero’s path is never easy, but after so much struggle and heartache, are they not deserving of some rewards at the end? …. or perhaps it’s all just horror after horror, and there’s a good reason why the Greeks invented tragedies.

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Percy’s Back!! … as The Son of Neptune

poseidon's trident

I am really liking this whole Roman aspect of the gods… but mostly, I love that Percy’s back! I missed him. Another thing I loved: his entire memory is wiped, but he remembers Annabeth’s name… and that is enough. Rick Riordan knows how to show some appreciation for Percy’s adoring fans.

Percy is at his most impressive in The Son of Neptune. The story begins as he battles two comical gorgons in Bargain Mart greeter vests, who carry some poisonous discount snacks — I must admit, I developed a soft spot for Stheno. He carries “old hippy-lady / Juno” across a highway — where he meets my new favorite demigods, Hazel Levesque (daughter of Hades) and Frank Zhang (… with quite the extraordinary heritage, even for a demigod) — across the Tiber River, and into Camp Jupiter. Here he is able to show off his vast power over water, crushing the gorgons, and saving Frank’s life. Finally, Juno reveals that horrible things are about to happen, and so they will need Percy. During the camp’s version of capture-the-flag, the 5th cohort (Percy’s new group and laughingstock of the camp) pulls off a tremendous win, causing Ares — I mean, Mars — to show himself and present the plucky trio with a prophecy and a quest. Granted, his prophesy is not as mysterious and rhyme-y as we are accustomed, but it gets the job done: “Go to Alaska. Find Thanatos. Come back by sundown on June twenty-fourth or die.” Did I mention Thanatos/Death has been captured… thus, the bad guys just won’t die?

This is one of the best adventures for Percy so far! There is humor, heart, action, all kinds of monsters, Roman myths, and suspense through the entire quest. Each character has such a rich backstory — it’s great to see some characters resurfacing, like Hylla as Queen of the Amazons. As a reader, I felt so invested in Hazel and Frank’s need to prove themselves, to help the camp, to defeat and conquer all challenges thrown their way because of their inner turmoil, troubled history, as well as sense of integrity and loyalty toward their friends — after all, these friends are the only family they have left. Even the most dislikable gods seem more reasonable and personable throughout this quest. I think we can all agree that Hera is truly the unfriendliest deity when it comes to demigods — as the goddess of marriage, I suppose we can understand why she loathes the mortal children of the gods… but it’s not like it’s their fault! Yet, as Juno, she is the only Olympian making a real effort to ensure the safety and longevity of her family: gods and demigods alike. I remember Ares quite vividly in The Lightning Thief… and I can understand why Percy hated him so much. Yet as Mars, he has much more depth — he reads The Art of War, he has a sense of duty, he foretells succinct prophecies, he doesn’t believe in senseless wars — he may not be my favorite Olympian, but I wouldn’t call him the worst either.

After seeing Percy demonstrate his daunting battle skills, reliving Hazel’s past in New Orleans and Alaska, and experiencing Frank’s doubts about being able to pull his own weight as a member of this monumental expedition, I couldn’t keep my hopes from going beyond the completion of the quest and wishing for the best possible outcome for all heroes involved. But prophecies never end well… I have so many questions, concerns, and suspicions: I don’t trust Octavian… I worry he’s so much more than a lame augur who enjoys disemboweling  teddy bears and beanie babies. I wonder about Reyna and Jason… and Piper. I fear whatever it is Juno hints at about Annabeth…

It’s enough to keep me reading for a good while longer.

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The Lost Hero …and brushing up on Roman Mythology

Festus and Prophecy

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan continues the story of teenage demigods who battle mythological forces to save the world from complete annihilation. I loved and devoured the Percy Jackson quintet:

1) The Lightning Thief

2) The Sea of Monsters

3) The Titan’s Curse

4) The Battle of the Labyrinth

5) The Last Olympian

.. and they were all wonderfully entertaining! I really enjoyed recalling my Greek mythology, and cheering for Percy as his journey transformed the troubled kid in Yancey Academy to the awesome hero of Camp Half Blood (and all of Western Civilization, really). Thus my surprise when The Lost Hero, which should continue the epic adventures of this magnificent band of demigods has… well, no Percy! Nonetheless, I understand that this is meant to start a whole new quest with different characters, and the story is told from a different angle. My Roman mythology background is not as sharp as my understanding of the Greeks, hence, I need to brush up on a couple of myths.

The story begins with confusion: Jason doesn’t know who he is, he’s not sure where he is, he doesn’t know who his friends are, and he’s calling everything by its Roman name… oh, and he’s supposed to be dead. But he has some great friends: Piper, daughter of Aphrodite, and Leo, son of Hephaestus — despite the fact that they don’t actually know him, and have trouble fitting into their own lives, they band together to save Hera… the unfriendliest of the gods. Of course, trouble ensues, secrets are discovered, the world is in danger all over again… but I still enjoyed watching the relationships develop, and having each character achieve a certain level of success and self-confidence. Who doesn’t root for the underdog?

I like that although the mythological universe of The Lost Hero is a familiar one, the story is somewhat different. I’m not sure how I feel about Jason… he’s great, he’s a born leader, he’s tough and strong, and despite some self-doubt, he’s just so perfect… but he’s no Percy Jackson.

So I’m looking forward to reading The Son of Neptune… I am very concerned for how things will fare for Percy without his memories to keep him out of trouble!

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Hollow City: The Peculiar Tale Continues…

London

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs is the second novel in the tale of Ms. Peregrine’s time traveling troupe of peculiarly gifted children.

Here are a couple of terms and notes that I found to be rather useful in making sense of this rather odd tale while reading:

Ymbryne: female keepers of the loops and caretakers of peculiar children.

Wights: bad guys with no pupils who feed peculiar children to the hollows.

Hollows: invisible tentacled monsters who devour peculiar children… and anything else that allows itself to be eaten, really.

Loop: a place hidden within a time warp that repeats the same day over and over again.

Also, it helps to keep track of the children and their peculiar abilities:

Jacob: he can see and sense hollows.

Emma: she can create fire from her hands without getting burned.

Hugh: he can communicate with bees, and keeps them safe inside his stomach.

Claire: she has two mouths…

Olive: she floats; needs special weighted shoes to keep her on the ground.

Bronwyn: she is incredibly strong.

Horace: he is able to dream of the future (as in bad omens and such).

Millard: he’s invisible.

Enoch: he can bring inanimate objects (and in some cases, dead people) back to life.

Fiona: she grows things… very quickly.

Hollow City picks up right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children leaves off: on a couple of precarious boats crossing from the island of Cairnholm to the mainland of Wales. The survivors — Jacob, Emma, Hugh, Claire, Olive, Bronwyn, Horace, Millard, Enoch, and Fiona… oh, and the bird — of the wights’ and hollows’ vicious attack on their loop, set out to find another ymbryne who can help get Ms. Peregrine back into her human form. The children miraculously make it through a storm and onto the mainland, only to be are chased by wights. As they run through the forest and read peculiar fairytales (because how else are they to keep calm at this chaotic time?!), they discover that the hollows have found a way to enter loops — they couldn’t do that before… that’s why loops are supposed to be a form of safe haven for peculiars. But now that wights and hollows have captured the ymbrynes, discovered how to get into these hidden loops, and have a master plan for world domination, how are a bunch of kids and a bird to survive?

…and then things get weird.

They meet some strange animals within Ms. Wren’s loop. It’s a menagerie with an emu-raffe, a talking dog, a odd monkey-man, and chickens who lay exploding eggs (among other creatures). They’re equipped with all kinds of items and head off for 1940s London. But not before meeting some gypsies — contact with the peculiar children does not bode well for the gypsies once they are questioned by the wights. So basically, it’s bad upon bad — then they meet some new peculiars — more bad things happen — and then they meet some carny folk — and then it gets worse… but through a streak of sheer luck and happenstance, they make it to a frozen building where they realize that things are even worse than they imagine in a world-wide scale across time. I hope I’m painting an appropriately grim picture without giving anything away…

“Strange, I thought, how you can be living your dreams and your nightmares are the very same time.”

The story just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser — but you keep reading because you simply need to know what oddity will happen next. However, as with any good story, there are emotions, true bonds, and thought-provoking questions at its core. These children have been through so much; most of them have been abused, abandoned, and mistreated for being freaks of nature. It’s no wonder they would go through hell and back for Ms. Peregrine, risking their lives in the process. Yet, for Jacob it’s a different driving force altogether — he sought out Ms. Peregrine to learn about his grandfather, but leaving a loving family and life behind is much more than he could possibly owe any one of his companions. He goes along with them because of his sense of duty, feelings of camaraderie, and love for Emma.

From the very beginning of the story, the children have a mission: to save Ms. Peregrine. But as the story goes on, as they being to realize that there’s a bigger problem, one must wonder: what happens next? Whether they can save Ms. Peregrine or not, the truth of the matter is that the ymbrynes have been captured, peculiars are being hunted, everyone’s courage is being tested — so, who’s going to help? Who takes a stand to protect those being persecuted? Who’s going to save the peculiar world? It’s particularly poignant that a large part of this take takes place during World War II. Considering the chaos of the world at this point in history, and how so many people were senselessly killed because they were… different, we can see how Ransom Riggs develops the idea that someone needs to step up. But saving the world is too much for such a rag-tag group of misfits to take on — which begs the question: if not them, then who? It’s a difficult decision, but one that must be made. And considering that Jacob is the only one who can see and sense the hollows, how far will he go for his new friends? How much can he sacrifice for them?

The events at the end of Hollow City are… exciting, to say the least. It is clear that there is so much more to this story — the mythology of peculiars is just getting started, and things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better.

“At the heart of nature’s mystery lies another mystery.”

… this is one mystery I look forward to reading more about.

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