Classic Review: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

Things are a little busy around here for NaNoWriMo right now…so I’m opening up my archives and sharing another Classic Review.

Right now I have kind of a thing for fairy tales.  When I was younger, though, I had a mythology thing.  Some interests never quite go away, and so I’ve been enjoying Rick Riordan’s mythology-based novels immensely.  I’ve read all of his Percy Jackson books and the Kane Chronicles, and can recommend them all.  Today, here’s a look back at the first Percy Jackson book.


I wish Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan had been around when I was twelve.  I went through a period when I was obsessed with Greek mythology, and I think I would have LOVED these books.  Or else I would have had fits over every tiny detail that was inaccurate–it could have tipped either way.  But since my adult self didn’t actually notice any inaccuracies, I’m guessing my 12-year-old self would have been a big fan.

I read The Lightning Thief, the first book in the series, and while I don’t think I’m going to develop a raging obsession now, I did enjoy the book quite a bit.  The basic premise is that all the characters from Greek and Roman mythology have carried on into the modern world, still essentially doing what they’ve always done.  One of the things they’ve always done is to have children with mortals, which means there are still a lot of half-god children running around.  Percy Jackson finds out his absentee father is actually the water god Poseidon, just in time to get tangled up in a quest for Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt.  Its theft is perilously close to bringing on a war between the gods that could destroy the world as we know it.

I love the concept of these books.  I love the Greek gods brought into the modern day, and I’d really love to see more of how they’re fitting in with modernity.  Hermes has sneakers with wings and Ares rides a really tough motorcycle, for example.  I think it would be fantastic to find out, say, that Apollo (god of music) is completely obsessed with iTunes and thinks Rock Band is pretty awesome, or that Aphrodite (goddess of love) is actually running eHarmony.  How fun would that be?

Percy is good as a character; I can’t say he made a huge impression on me.  Maybe there’s too many slightly-screw-up characters who find themselves as heroes.  I’m not criticizing him as a character…but the one who I feel fonder towards is Grover, his satyr (half-goat) friend.  I think he’s more unique, as an environmentally-conscious satyr who really likes food, especially burritos and aluminum cans.  I also rather cherish the mental image of Grover careening through the air wearing Hermes’ out-of-control sneakers.

One criticism I do have of the book is that the quest felt a bit random.  Percy, Grover and their friend Annabeth set out, and along the way encounter several adventures, but they seem to just sort of bump into these adventures.  I would have liked to feel that there was a reason they were encountering the villains they were meeting, or going to the places they were reaching.  One caveat–I saw the movie first, and maybe I’m not the only one who felt this, because in the movie they definitely did have certain places to go and then set about going there.  This in turn may be why I felt particularly that they were a little aimless when I then read the book.

I actually haven’t heard Percy Jackson referred to as the next Harry Potter, the way everyone kept saying when Twilight became popular, even though it’s certainly closer in terms of themes and target audience.  I also think all three series have something in common, which may be a clue to why all three are popular.  It’s something Cleolinda Jones zeroed in on with her Twilight analysis, and that’s this element of suddenly finding your place.

You know you’ve been out of place and unpopular and kind of a screw-up your whole life?  That’s okay, you’re not really unworthy, you’re special!  And now you’re being transported to a new place where everyone realizes that what seemed like flaws are really gifts, and now you’re going to make new friends and be good at things and succeed like never before.  In some ways, Percy Jackson is even more transparent about this than Harry or Twilight (or Cinderella, for that matter).  Percy’s dyslexia is because his brain is wired for ancient Greek, and his ADD is to help him stay alive in battle.  When he goes to Camp Half-Blood, the training place for half-gods, he doesn’t become immediately popular (neither does Harry at Hogwarts, although Bella does in Forks), but he does become the prodigy of Chiron (trainer of Hercules, among others), and altogether begins to fit in.  And while I may poke at the idea a little bit as being a formula…it’s one that works very, very well.

A knowledge of Greek mythology would be helpful here, but I doubt it’s essential.  But you do need an interest, because by the time you’re done, you’ll have at least a little knowledge.  The Lightning Thief is a fun book and an exciting one, even if I don’t love it the way I might have at twelve!

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