Thursday, June 06, 2013

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

I've really been meaning to read the Percy Jackson books for years. Two years ago, I actually ended up trying to pass some time in a hotel room while I was on a business trip and the first movie happened to be on.

Now, I really didn't have any expectations for the movie, the reviews of it weren't that good and the people I knew who liked the books weren't particularly thrilled by it either. But there was nothing else on and I was rather bored and homesick, so I watched it and I actually thought it was quite pretty. It was enough to make me more certain I wanted to read the books anyway, but I still didn't get around to it.

Then they recently released the first trailers for the second film, The Sea of Monsters. And it reminded me that I wanted to read the books so I finally got it together to read them. Plus I really wanted something fun, simple, and quick. I expected to only read the first one but I ended up reading all five over one weekend.

I really enjoyed these books, even though it might have been easier to read them if I hadn't seen the first movie at all. Because it's a bit hard to remind yourself that Percy is only 12 in the first book, and not 16 like he is in the movie (I don't know what age he actually is, he looks 16). So some of his actions and behaviors are bit dumb unless you remember that he's 12.

The books take a very modern sensibility towards the mythology they include, and so don't except to get some sort of really good education on Greek myths. But it's understandable, in the story itself, how and why that is. Olympus changes as the world changes, that's part of the point, and the gods and monsters adapt to the world they live in. So I really liked the way things were done, because I enjoy the Greek myths but I feel like not a lot of people want to really take any liberties with them anymore.

But my favorite thing about these books was that all of the characters, both the good guys and the bad guys, had complex motivations. Except perhaps Kronos, even the villains were partially right about what was wrong with the world they reside in, it's just that their choices to deal with those motivations are wrong. And Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are often conflicted and confused, and sometimes they make the right choices for the wrong reasons or the wrong choices for the right reasons. In the end, the war is between two sides that both have very valid points to make and that's the kind of complexity that most young adult books don't bother with.

There are a few things that are very "middle school reader" about them, notably Percy's inability to deal with girls and how that's written into the story. But as much as I might roll my eyes at his obliviousness, he's never really maliciously stupid about anything, he's just young and written that way. Normally I'm the first to say that "he's just a 14-year-old boy" is no excuse for a character being stupid and being badly written, because a main character in any fiction shouldn't be held to the same standards as a real person, otherwise why bother reading about them? I don't forgive some of Harry Potter for this, and I hold Legend of Korra on a much lower level because of the way they handled it. But Percy never crossed over into being poorly written, just being a little bit complicated. I especially thought the way they handled the portion with Calypso was really well done.

I also liked that this was, in a sense, a series about how parents actually aren't always right. Sometimes parents are jerks, and sometimes they mean well but they still do stupid things that aren't good for their children. Sometimes they're just doing the best they can. I can see how some parents would be bothered by the idea, but I think it's good to teach kids that their parents don't always have all the answers, and they're not always right, and sometimes they're still thinking of things in the past instead of the future. But even thought family is complicated, it's family.

Overall, a very good series and I'm looking forward to the new series being finished so I can pick those up.