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The Lost Hero

Style: Average

Attitude: Some Care Needed → Fairly Positive

In Brief: Classical gods fathering half-blood children. An enjoyable if slightly disappointing adventure quest. Heroism as friends help friends and people have to work together to save the lives of others.

Cover of The Lost Hero

Author: Rick Riordan

Series: Heroes of Olympus

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 2010

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Contemporary

Genres:  AdventureBoysFantasyFriendshipMythicalRomantic


Characters:

  • Jason realises that his memory has been taken from him and has to cope with rediscovering himself while undergoing an important quest.
  • Tomboy Piper has turned delinquent to attract her famous father's attention. She's shocked to learn that her memories of Jason as a boyfriend are all false. She also has to cope with the discovery that she's the daughter of Aphrodite and has the ability to charm-speak. At the same time, she's helping her friends on a quest while knowing her father has been kidnapped by the enemy.
  • As a child, Leo saw his mother, a gifted mechanic, burn to death in a fire he was tricked into starting. Only now does he learn that he's the son of Hephaestus. Feeling unwanted by Piper & Jason, he finds a sort of friendship in a mechanical dragon he tames. He risks his life to help his friends.

Synopsis:

Jason, Piper & Leo are thrown into the world of half-blood children of gods and embark on a quest to free Hera-Juno from the clutches of a mysterious enemy. Taken to Camp Half-Blood when their group is attacked by Wind Spirits, each discovers his or her godly parent and together they go on a quest starting with the wind spirits who attacked them on the Grand Canyon and who captured their protector, the satyr Gleeson Hedge. They fight their way past one mythological character after another, all the while trying to puzzle out the mystery of Jason's past and his connection with the Roman gods. Finally they end up rescuing the goddess Hera-Juno before returning to Camp Half-Blood to be told of the next stage of their journey.

Read a précis of the entire story (will contain spoilers)

Notes:

The Lost Hero is the first episode in a new series set in the Percy Jackson universe. (By way of contrast, the author’s other new series, The Kane Chronicles deals with Egyptian deities and is unconnected with the world of Camp Half-Blood). It’s the same gods and goddesses, the same sort of characters, the same Oracle and the same challenge of being sent on a Quest. The twist is that we and the demigods discover the existence of the half-blood children of the Roman gods, the same gods as the Greek gods, only in their Roman aspect. The author is forced to retrofit this new set of Gods into the existing canon by some sleight of hand involving the Mist (a supernatural device which can deceive both mortals and demigods) and some creative rewriting of narrative history.

In case you’re not familiar with the earlier books, both series share the same fictional premise: that the classical gods have been the driving force behind civilisation for 3,000 years and are alive and well today; and that they have, over the years, fathered (or mothered) many children, whom they have then abandoned in the hands of their human parent. I don’t believe that there’s any suggestion that the deity in question ever went through any form of marriage with the human parent so, to paint a bleak picture, your starting point is a group of illegitimate children who are the outcome of a one-night stand. Unfortunately this unsavoury background is all too easily taken for granted in the world of young lit and is never really a discussion point here. By way of a contrast, you might want to look at Ali Sparkes’ Shapeshifter series where the same basic idea is present (gifted children from a human a non-human parent) but where the mothers in question actually married and lived with their husbands only to die early on in their children’s life. That series isn’t perfect but it handles this aspect rather better, granted its premise.

Annabeth Chase puts in an appearance early on, which will please existing fans, but disappears quickly in search of Percy Jackson, the eponymous lost hero. And Rachel Dare reprises her role as Oracle. But this series belongs to the new characters: Jason, Piper & Leo. Jason is a son of Jupiter and not just half-brother but true brother to Thalia Grace, daughter of Zeus, she who became one of the Hunters of Artemis in the earlier stories. Piper is a daughter of Venus-Aphrodite and Leo a son of Vulcan-Hephaestus. She’s a natural beauty and a charm-speaker. He, as well as being good with his hands, is a master of fire and tames a mechanical dragon which has defeated all his cabinmates’ efforts. So there’s more of the same and more besides.

There’s more. But is it better? I would say not. The original Percy Jackson series has this going for it: that in the course of its phrenetic plot you are introduced to one after another of the myths and legends of the Greek classics: gods, titans, cyclopes, sirens, Circe, Calypso, the Augean stables and the Garden of the Hesperides. But the encounters are rarely the same. And it's all done with a healthy dash of humour. It's never especially profound but it’s an enjoyable guided tour of the sights of antiquity. The Lost Hero goes through the same motions but there’s little which is truly new, and each encounter is essentially the same: get to the hideout of some mythological ruler; try to get information from this duplicitous being who's somehow being controlled by a shadowy presence; fight your way out; be given information in a dream by your godly parent; da capo al segno. On top of all this the author has to spend a little too much time squaring the new Roman gods with what we knew of their Greek counterparts. The epilogue shows that the Greek-Roman thing will become clearer in the later books but I'm afraid I'm not a fan of a book which is written as the first of the series and which leaves parts out, especially when it's already 550 pages long.

That’s not to say it’s not an mildly entertaining ride especially for fans of the earlier series. The trio (almost inveitable in these post-Potter days) of Jason, Piper & Leo has chemistry and their strengths & weaknesses play off nicely against the opponents they meet. The business of Leo and the dragon Festus is enjoyable and there’s a hidden bunker in the woods, a witch in a department store, a family of cyclopes running a car workshop, and an ice queen somewhere in Canada. A manic (and occasionally heroic) satyr runs interference and provides comic relief while the youngsters work out what it is they’re supposed to be doing. Since the previous saga already pitted half-blood Heroes against god-destroying Titans, this one has to go one up on that and turns to the Earth herself, Gaia, for the villainness and to her son the Titan Porphyrion as the lieutenant-jailer.

Aside from the main three, there are no obviously stand-out characters. There’s an obviously mean-girl cheerleader type who gets her comeuppance plus some obligatory boyfriend-girlfriend mechanics involving Piper, Jason and the mean girl. This sort of thing seems de rigueur in stories featuring teenage Americans. It's a slight come-down from the previous series where the head of the Aphrodite cabin was a level-headed horse-trainer with a guilty secret who died fighting a Drakon. This one seems to have stepped out of a Lindsey Lohan Disney Channel Movie. She almost exists so that Piper, in a late scene, can show her up for the airhead she is.

There’s a promising twist right at the beginning where we meet Jason on a school trip when he’s no idea who he is or who his classmates are. They think he’s kidding, and for a while we don’t know who’s deceiving whom. There’s a brief whirlwind of action and then the rescuers arrive, and we’re back at Camp Half-Blood, and it all gets a little bit more predictable. Entertaining, but missing a certain something.

Thursday 19th January 2012