Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review - Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book Three: The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

Short review: Percy Jackson has to deal with more monsters, more titans, and the petulant servants of a goddess who doesn't trust him. Oh, and he saves the world. Again.

Annabeth captured
Huntresses are suspicious
Carry the world's weight

Full review: In an interesting twist, at the end of The Sea of Monsters (read review), the power of the Golden Fleece served to cure Thalia's Tree to such an extent that Thalia, daughter of Zeus, also came back to life. This complicates matters in The Titan's Curse by adding a second demigod with a parent who is a member of the "Big Three", and muddying the meaning of the prophecy that everyone had previously assumed applied directly to Percy. This, as one might expect, is just the beginning of the problems that confront Percy Jackson and his friends in the third installment of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, as the main story line of the series begins to seriously pick up steam.

The story starts off, as the previous two installments did, with trouble at a private school. The twist this time around is that it is no longer Percy Jackson having trouble come to him, but rather, he, Annabeth, and Thalia are seeking out previously unidentified demigods to bring them to safety at Camp Half-Blood. This is a fairly critical piece of character development, transforming Percy from being a mostly reactive character into a full-fledged protagonist. This also brings to the fore an element that will become increasingly important to the main plot of the series and Annabeth's character development - the dangers inherent in, and the struggles half-bloods face, in trying to win their way to the sanctuary of Camp Half-Blood.

This thematic development is good, but unfortunately, it is one of the the few plot elements the book that is truly new to the series. After Annabeth is captured in the opening sequence and Artemis sets out to rescue her before getting captured herself, the plot becomes fairly ordinary as the rest of the characters set out on a quest cross-country from New York to California, battling monsters all the way, to stop the plans of the evil titan Kronos and his General. This cross-country quest seems very reminiscent of the quest from The Lightning Thief (read review) in which the main characters traveled from New York to California battling monsters along the way. The secondary plot, involving the hunt for a beast so powerful that it could topple Olympus, also reminds one of the quest to recover Zeus' thunderbolt so as to prevent an earth shattering war. The resolution of the secondary quest does have an interesting twist, although as happens so often in the series, one wonders why the various immortals didn't let Percy in on the information that would have prevented the crisis stemming from this plot element to begin with. The newly discovered demigods have unknown heritage, just as Percy did in the beginning of The Lightning Thief, although the clues concerning the true nature of their divine parentage are just as heavy-handed as the clues to Percy's were before Poseidon claimed him, leading the reader to wonder just how dumb Chiron and Dionysus are that they are unable to add two and two together to get four.

This is not to say that The Titan's Curse is a wasted book in the series - although it is probably the weakest of the five. The book introduces and fleshes out both Artemis and Apollo as developed characters, as well as adding Artemis' Huntresses as characters. The most interesting character added is Rachel Dare, a mostly normal human with an extraordinary ability that is important to the plot of the book. The action in the book is just as fast-paced as in the previous books, and there is a fair amount of humor, although with Annabeth "off-screen" for most of the book, one loses much of the banter between her and Percy, with Annabeth's role in the book mostly being taken by the angst ridden Thalia and the somewhat dour Zoe. The book also advances the larger plot relating to Kronos and Luke, revealing a little bit more of Kronos' plans to take on the Olympian gods, and just how dangerous he and his allies are, ramping up the tension just in time for the next book to commence.

Although this book is probably the weakest of the Percy Jackson series, it is still quite a diverting read. The weaknesses of the book seem to stem from the fact that, as the middle book in the series, there is not much new being added to the background of setting or the characters, and the main conflicts of the series have not yet progressed to the point where they are being resolved. As a result, other than some more in-depth character development to flesh out the various actors in the drama, the story is more or less simply filling in the space between The Sea of Monsters and The Battle of the Labyrinth (read review). Even still, Percy Jackson is such a likable protagonist who is called upon to undertake some literally Herculean tasks, and the action and humor are so fun to read, that despite it being less impressive in comparison to the other books in the series, it is still a really good example of young adult fiction, and one that is definitely worth reading.

Previous book in the series reviewed: The Sea of Monsters.
Subsequent book in the series reviewed: The Battle of the Labyrinth.

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