Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review - Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book Four: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Short review: The labyrinth is everywhere and connects everything and is always changing. Annabeth and Percy have to navigate it while dodging monsters, titans and other demigods. Oh, and some of the gods don't like them too much either. Life is hard, and getting harder.

A worldwide labyrinth
And some angry minor gods
Result: invasion

Full review: After the brief sag in The Titan's Curse (read review), the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series picks up again in its penultimate installment, The Battle of the Labyrinth. The primary reason for this is that Percy and Annabeth spend most of the book serving as foils for one another, and the two character work in such a complementary manner that this, by itself, would make the book flow. However, the book also has an interesting story that highlights that the Gods themselves may be responsible for a substantial chunk of their own troubles. In addition, Annabeth's character, well-drawn through the first three books of the series, is explored in greater detail, fleshing her out even more.

After the seemingly obligatory opening in which Percy gets into trouble with monsters at a new school (and unfortunately, a return to Percy being tracked down an attacked rather than taking the initiative as a proactive character), the plot of the book is, once again, in the form of a quest. However, in this case the quest is engendered when a threat to Camp Half-Blood is discovered inside the camp itself. In this case, the threat is the entrance to Daedalus' famous labyrinth. Luke, having seemingly returned from death, is apparently hunting for Adriadne's Thread, the only thing that can prevent one from becoming lost in the maze. So, with the usual cast of characters in tow, Annabeth and Percy delve into the labyrinth to try to find the mysterious Daedalus and save Camp Half-Blood. The quest has several interesting elements. First, the questing hero is once again, not Percy. Instead, it is Annabeth, daughter of the architecturally inclined Athena that must seek out Daedalus, who in the past had been a special favorite of her mother. The labyrinth itself turns out to be an interesting element too, as it is not merely a place, but more of a concept that both connects all places to one another, and changes form to confuse travelers.

However, the quest mostly serves as a backdrop to resolve some of the long standing plot points of the series, and set up the climatic battles of The Last Olympian (read review). The most important plot point that is resolved is Grover's quest for Pan, which reaches its conclusion in an unexpected, but in retrospect, almost inevitable manner. The most important plot development is reflected in both Daedalus and Nico (who feels spurned at Camp Half-Blood due to the lack of a place for him), who are both angry with the Gods for mostly valid reasons, and who allow their obsessions to take them to dangerous places. One of the themes that emerges from the quest is the idea that the Olympian gods, with their machinations, petty squabbles, arbitrary actions, and general indifference to the concerns of others, have caused a great deal of their own troubles. Among the growing ranks of Kronos' followers are not only the other Titans and an array of mythological monsters, but minor gods and demigods who have turned against the capricious Olympians. And what makes this element of the story so effective is that Riordan can draw from the personalities of the Olympian gods established by mythology with almost no embellishment to make the disaffection of those that turn against them ring true.

As usual, the book is filled with humor and action, as the by now well-established relationships between the characters allow for strong character interaction. The addition of the mortal Rachel Dare to the mix adds a bit of spice to the quest, not only because her unique talents turn out to be necessary, but also because she serves as a rival for Annabeth for Percy's attention, sparking some character development that might otherwise have seemed forced, but is almost necessary to maintain believability in a story in which characters who started the series at age twelve have grown into fifteen year old teenagers. As one might expect, everything builds to a climax in which Kronos threatens to score a major victory and Annabeth, Percy, Grover, and even Nico are called upon the save the day. As this story serves as a run up to the final act of the series, the heroes are more heroic, the villains are more menacing, and the action is more intense, all of which adds up to a strong book that ably sets up the grand finale to come.

Previous book in the series reviewed: The Titan's Curse.
Subsequent book in the series reviewed: The Last Olympian.

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