Just as every Harry Potter book began with the requisite tormenting of the Dursley family, every Percy Jackson book begins with the destruction of a school, a trend that continues in the fourth book starring the young demi-god son of Poseidon. Unless you’re familiar with the three previous books, you’ll probably find yourself lost with what’s going on here. About to celebrate his fifteenth birthday party, Percy is still up to his neck in problems, ranging from his mother’s new boyfriend to the Greek monsters that keep trying to kill him. Luckily he has his friends to help him out: the satyr Grover, who is on a quest for the missing god Pan, his half-brother Tyson, a Cyclops, and Annabeth, the daughter of Athena — except lately Annabeth has been acting a little strangely…
After rejoining his friends at Camp Half-Blood, the summer camp for teenagers who have one divine and one mortal parent, Percy learns of the latest activities of Olympus’s enemies. Led by ex-camp member Luke Castellan, with the goal of resurrecting the evil Titan Kronos, a range of monsters are attempting to invade the camp and eradicate the half-bloods. Their idea is to use the legendary Labyrinth as their way in. The Labyrinth was designed by the famous inventor Daedalus, and though it was originally located on the island of Crete, it has since grown and evolved to encompass the entire earth — it’s the perfect underground traveling system, if one can navigate it properly.
Percy’s only option is to go down himself, find Daedalus’s workshop in the centre of the maze, and beg him not to help Luke find his way out. This is not as simple as it sounds considering the monsters that dwell there, the ever-changing tunnels and passages, and the fact that it can drive people crazy if they’re down there too long. Led by Annabeth and joined by Grover and Tyson, the quartet of heroes have a range of obstacles and personal challenges to overcome, in what is another fast-paced and humor-filled adventure that successfully builds on the growing plots of the previous books without repeating itself.
Although The Titan’s Curse remains my favorite installment (so far), Battle of the Labyrinth has the most cohesive plot. In previous books the story-lines can be a bit haywire, with our protagonists running about with no clear idea of what they’re doing or why, but here the goals are decided upon swiftly and the setbacks faced with maturity. Our heroes are growing in more ways than one, and for the first time a touch of tension exists between Percy and Annabeth that has nothing to do with their external circumstances. Other little subplots and mysteries are continued (such as Nico de Angelo’s misplaced anger at Percy for the death of his sister) or introduced (a new teacher known as Mr. Quintus seems to have an unclear agenda at the camp), and resolved in satisfactory ways.
The Labyrinth is a great imaginative effort, a large semi-conscious organism that is ever-changing and evolving, filled to the brim with monsters, traps, secrets and danger. Percy and his friends certainly find more than they expect down there, and Rick Riordan has great fun satirizing certain aspects of contemporary culture, updating the old Greek myths in clever ways (I loved his take on the riddle-speaking sphinx).
I’m always amazed by the sheer amount of material that Riordan manages to pack into any one Percy Jackson book without things getting slow. There’s even room for a poignant chapter in which Percy comes across Calypso’s island and finds himself faced with the same dilemma that Odysseus of old once did. There’s also a reappearance from Rachel Elizabeth Dare, the mortal who can see through the concealing Mist that hides supernatural activities from normal human beings, a visit to Triple G Ranch where the steeds and cattle of the gods are pastured, resolution to Grover’s attempts to find Pan, and an introduction to Hera, the Queen of Heaven. Whew!
By the end of the book the game has changed, the stakes have been raised, and we’re all one step closer to the prophecy that dictates either Percy or Nico will make a world-changing decision in the coming battle between Titans and Olympian Gods in the fifth and final book: The Last Olympian.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians — (2005-2014) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse — Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends — one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena — Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.