Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse
Attitude: Some Care Needed → Positive
In Brief: Good-hearted and entertaining adventure story with modern takes on classical legends. The ongoing battle between the selfish Titans and the amoral Greek Gods. Instances of bravery, selflessness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Complicated family arrangements where an absent parent is an Olympian.
Series: Percy Jackson
Published in: 2007
Age Range: Young Teens
- Percy (Perseus) Jackson is a half-blood, the otherwise ordinary son of Poseidon the sea god and his own human mother. He has to grow into his own powers and discover how best to help his friends.
- Annabeth is the daughter of Athena and a human father. Very friendly with Percy, she has nonetheless considered joining the maidens of Artemis' Hunt.
- Thalia is the daughter of Zeus and a human mother. Headstrong but loyal to her friends.
Percy Jackson once again finds himself on a quest when his friend Annabeth is captured and used as bait to lure the goddess Artemis in a bid by the Titans to take back the world they lost to the Olympian Gods. Thalia, recently revived from her stint as a sacred tree, joins him along with Zoe and Bianca, immortal maidens from Artemis' Hunt. They're chased by skeletal soldiers grown from dragon's teeth and helped on occasion by several of the gods. They discover the monster whose sacrifice will bring down the Olympians and finally confront all the gods at the top of the Empire State Building. And that's not to mention a manticore, the Erymanthean Boar, the Nemean Lion, an Ophiotaurus, the statues on the Hoover Dam, the Old Man of the Sea, and Atlas who literally carries the world upon his shoulders.
Most reviewers groan inwardly when faced with that get-out clause known as Deus Ex Machina: the apparently divine intervention of a plot device which has more to do with the author's lack of wit or imagination than any act of faith on the part of the protagonists. Well, Rick Riordan is in the enviable position of being able to introduce as many apparently divine interventions as he wants because the lives of the half-blood Percy and his friends are overseen and guided by the Olympian gods. And those gods are able, if not always so willing, to intervene in the quests of their half-blood children.
It's a point I made in the review of the previous episode in this series but one which is perhaps clearer in this story. While the gods do occasionally act on their own initiatives to aid Percy's quest, it's more common for the youngsters to call on them (most often their own celestial parent). And that call for help might well involve a meaningful sacrifice. On one such occasion, Percy calls on his father Poseidon to help his friend Grover. And in sacrifice he throws into the sea the pelt of the Nemean Lion which protects him from bullets and arrows saying that if he isn't a hero yet then a fabulous lionskin won't make him one. It's a characteristic of a series which could easily have been merely a slightly different angle on the superhero genre (cf The New Heroes) but instead manages to combine the expected bravery and comradeship with the idea of asking for help and making an explicit sacrifice.
Interestingly, on two occasions, that sacrifice is not the surrender of a treasured possession, but an act of humility of sorts. Dionysius, who as camp director Mr D is mostly shallow and self-centred, here plays his real role as a God but Percy must swallow his pride and ask for help with a “Please”. And later when Thalia calls on the help of her father Zeus, the statues which come to her rescue also demand that courtesy before they'll help. And how often do you hear that particular reminder in a book for teenagers?
Of course those on the quest don't rely on the gods for everything. In spite of their definite personal differences, and in some cases history of antipathy, they stand firm for each other and accept the others' skills and qualities. The goddess Artemis, in the form of a young teenage girl, takes on an impossible burden to free Annabeth, an act which Percy later repeats without any real hope of success. Likewise Bianca, a young maiden of Artemis, risks everything to disable the bronze giant Talos. While there are many physical battles, on most occasions the youngsters have to use their wit more than their swords an arrows, not least since they're mostly matched against divine or undying foes.
And, as always, you run the gamut of classical legends and references. As well as those mentioned in the plot synopsis above, there's the Garden of the Hesperides, Talon the giant bronze statue, Hercules the original owner of Percy's sword, plus the entire pantheon on top of the Empire State Building. And, for once, Dionysius who usually gets a bad press in these stories has a more sympathetic part to play. His role as Mr D the camp director is usually to despise the half-blood children, affect never to remember their names and never to take any interest in their needs. Here, though, he deliberately helps Percy out twice.
In the background is a slight undercurrent of romance. Those who join Artemis remain eternal maidens, never ageing, and renounce everything to do with men. Both Thalia and Annabeth have been offered this choice. Thalia refused, wanting to be with Luke — who's now helping the Titan Kronos. Annabeth is still considering, but after a few hints Percy realises that this might be because her cheerful insults towards him hide deeper feelings. Fortunately he manages to get in his request for a slow dance in time.
Finally, the question of families and parents is always complex in this series. Half-bloods start out with a usually absent parent. What happens later varies from person to person. Annabeth's father and step-mother are proud enough of her, and her father faces down an immortal army with a Sopwith Camel and bullets of Celestial Bronze. In spite of the mild complications produced by the series' main plot premise, I'm not worried about this aspect of a series which combines valour and virtue in an entertaining package.
- The classical legends
- Sacrificing everything for your friends
- If gods were to appear, would you expect them fit in with everyone else?
The bronze angels stepped in front of us and folded their wings like shields. Bullets pinged off them like rain off a corrugated roof. Both angels slashed outwards and the skeletons went flying across the road.
“Man, it feels good to stand up!” the first angel said. His voice sounded tinny and rusty, like he hadn't had a drink since he'd been built.
“Will ya look at my toes?” the other said. “Holy Zeus, what were those tourists thinking?”
As stunned as I was by the angels, I was more concerned with the skeletons. A few of them were getting up again, reassembling, bony hands groping for their weapons.
“Trouble!” I said.
“Get us out of here!” Thalia yelled.
Both angels looked down at her. “Zeus's kid?”
“Could I get a please, Miss Zeus's Kid?” and angel asked.
The angels looked at each other and shrugged.
“Could use a stretch,” one decided.
And the next thing I knew, one of them grabbed Thalia and me, the other grabbed Zoe and Grover, and we flew straight up, over the dam and the river, the skeleton warriors shrinking to tiny specks below us and the sound of gunfire echoing off the sides of the mountain.
Wednesday 29th August 2007