The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
The Last Olympian is Rick Riordan’s conclusion to the well-received Percy Jackson series which involves the attempt by Kronos, the titan displaced ages ago by Zeus and the other Olympians, to rally his fellow titans, as well as assorted monsters, demigods, and disgruntled minor gods, to take down the Olympians and their allies, especially the Olympians’ children — the demigods of Camp Half-Blood led by Percy Jackson (son of Poseidon), Annabeth (daughter of Athena), and Grover (a satyr).
As one might expect of the concluding book, the action reaches its peak and Kronos is as close as he will ever be to achieving his aims. The Last Olympian opens with a bang, as Percy is on a mission to blow up an ocean liner filled with Kronos (who in the previous book reincorporated himself in the body of Luke, a former member of Camp Half-blood who gave himself over to Kronos) and hordes of monsters. From there, Percy and his friends Annabeth, Grover, and new-friend Rachel Dare (a mortal who can see through the Mist that cloaks supernatural activity from regular mortals) careen from crisis to crisis. Along the way, we see more of the Great Prophecy that has driven much of the action — one that seems to indicate Percy will die; we travel with Percy to his father’s underwater palace as its under siege by the Titan Oceanus; we watch Percy go with Nico (son of Hades) to the Underworld and take a bold, unexpected risk; and we learn more of Luke’s early childhood and his relationship with Annabeth.
In the final quarter of the book Percy and his friends must defend Manhattan, in particular Mt. Olympus (the 600th floor of the Empire State Building) from Kronos’ invading army while the Olympians travel out West to try and slow the steady march to Manhattan of Typhon — the greatest monster of all and one that almost destroyed the Olympians in the first war of the Titans. The half-bloods fight one desperate holding battle after another on their own as the Olympians gradually give ground to the seemingly unstoppable Typhon. Meanwhile, amidst all the military mayhem, Percy has to deal with his warring emotions over Annabeth (his feelings for her, her feelings for Luke) and Rachel, as well as his newfound doubts about whether or not his opponents might actually have an argument to make about the Olympians’ rule the past few millennia.
The Last Olympian, like the series as a whole, is a wild, enjoyable ride, with a great overlay of Greek mythology — a mix of the well-known and the lesser-known (obscure monsters, lesser gods such as Morpheus or Hestia) as well as reoccurrences of past mythological events (the sulking of Achilles in his tent, the charge of Patroclus) that are dressed up in the modern plot in simply wonderful fashion. The book zips along with very few lags, there are several compelling subplots including Luke’s background and the question of a spy among the half-bloods, the dialogue is crisp, the adolescent characters act like adolescents (albeit with lots of power), heroes come from obvious and far-less obvious sources, and Riordan layers a sophisticated level of greyness over many of the events and characters, so that it doesn’t simply become an overly-simplistic battle of good vs. evil. Humor runs throughout despite the seriousness of the events and we never lose touch of the fact that Percy and his friends, for all their powers and responsibilities, are adolescents with all the baggage that comes with that age. And it’s nice to see that Riordan has resisted the urge to pad these latter books just because the books are popular — they remain tightly plotted and constructed.
The ending is relatively strong, though perhaps a bit predictable for adults, and certainly many of The Last Olympian‘s elements have been seen in other fantasies, including relatively contemporary ones: animated statues, a prophecy that seems to indicate the main character must die, a desperate defense a la Hogwarts, flashbacks into a villain’s childhood, etc. And Riordan may rely a bit too much on Percy’s dreams as a way of cluing him into what his enemies are doing. But these minor flaws are quickly forgotten in the rush and enjoyment of the plot and characters.
Fans of the series will be happy to know that while The Last Olympian brings the war of Kronos and the Olympians to a satisfactory resolution, the ending clearly points the way to more stories in this world. While I often wince at the way fantasy series, especially YA ones, have lately begun to spin out in seemingly endless fashion so as to ensure a constant flow of dollars (and movie rights), Riordan so far shows no signs of exhausting his world of gods and demi-gods and I’ll look forward to seeing what he does next in it.
So I finally come to it, the fifth and final book in the PERCY JACKSON series and the culmination of his coming-of-age story. At the age of twelve our hero found out that his father was the god Poseidon, making him a demi-god with a place waiting for him at Camp Half-Blood, the summer camp designed to teach and train the children of the gods. As Percy quickly realizes, it’s a dangerous world if you’re a half-blood, particularly since he attracts monsters like a magnet.
Under the guidance of the centaur Charon and his best friend Grover the satyr, Percy thrives in his new environment and has already proven his worth by having undertaken several quests over the course of the past four books, alongside his friend Annabeth (the daughter of Athena) and various other camp members: the children of Hermes, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephasteus and other gods of the Greek pantheon.
But always hanging over Percy’s head is a prophecy declaring that on his sixteenth birthday he will make a decision that will either save or destroy Olympus. With the rise of Kronos and the Titans, who are steadily gathering their allies and building up their armies for an assault on Mount Olympus, Percy and his friends prepare their own defences. It’s a grim battle that awaits them, for leading the assault is their former friend Luke, who was corrupted by Kronos and is currently possessed by his spirit.
Needless to say, if you have not caught up on the previous PERCY JACKSON adventures, you’ll be rather lost jumping on the bandwagon this late in the game — you’ll have to start back with The Lightning Thief and work your way up. Now with his birthday fast-approaching, and his allies spread thin across the land, sea and air in their attempt to hold back the forces of the Titans, Percy is astonished to find himself the appointed war-general of the half-blood campers, defending Manhattan from the onslaught of Kronos’s army of monsters.
Though most of the book is straight-out action sequences, in which Percy (having made a startling strategic decision early on in the book) fights the legion of monsters bombarding New York, there is also time for some back-story into Luke’s tragic past, the threat of a spy in the Olympian’s midst, a strange destiny unfurling before Percy’s mortal friend Rachel Elizabeth Dare, and an internal crisis when Percy ponders the possibility that maybe the Titans have a point when it comes to their vendetta against the neglectful, vindictive, irresponsible gods.
Essentially, if the previous books were all set-ups, this final installment is all pay-off — though whether or not you think Riordan delivers is up to you. Riordan has kept careful track of his various plot arcs and dangling threads, and there’s very little left hanging by the end of the book. Most of the characters introduced in the previous books return here to help or hinder our heroes, whether they be mortals, half-bloods or gods, and Riordan ensures that each of them gets their personal moment of glory.
Completely gone is the usual formula of the cross-country adventure fraught with monsters, (just as well, as this was getting rather stale). The Last Olympian rushes by at a turbulent pace that never slows down for a second, from the opening act in which Percy attempts to blow up Luke’s cruise ship, to his secret mission alongside Nico de Angeli to secure invulnerability for himself, to the battle for New York, which takes up most of the book. Some may find that this battle gets rather repetitive after a while: the half-blood campers fight furiously against a variety of monsters, only for a third party to arrive at the most opportune moment.
As always, Riordan keeps Percy’s first-person narrative, a dangerous technique in the wrong hands, but which ends up being the strongest element of this series. Percy’s inner monologue is self-effacing and down-to-earth, with plenty of snarky commentary on himself, his world, and the crazy scenarios that he finds himself thrown into. I’m going to miss his voice. In fact, at the risk of scandalizing the throngs of HARRY POTTER fans, I find myself enjoying the character of light-hearted Percy far more than that of moody Harry. Although your opinion may wildly differ from mine, I found that when the time came for the protagonist of each series to make his character-defining choice, Percy’s decision was more stirring than Harry’s. Perhaps not as heart-breaking, but certainly more life-affirming. At the conclusion of the PERCY JACKSON series, I got the sense that Riordan felt it was not enough to simply save the world — it had to be changed as well.
Speaking of HARRY POTTER, the comparisons are inevitable. This is a series named after its lead hero, concerning a battle between good and evil fought with magic by teenagers, with a romantic subplot, plenty of monsters and a prophecy that probably doesn’t mean what the protagonists think it does. The world of Percy Jackson is (much like the wizarding world of HARRY POTTER) a secret world within our own, in which updated versions of the Greek gods still continue their immortal lives, just as carelessly, recklessly and hypocritically as they did back in Ancient Greece. Because they are manifestations of Western culture and tradition, they move along with the shift of power in the world, which means that Mount Olympus is currently located on the top of the Empire State building in New York. It’s a nice twist on the old stories, and for those with foreknowledge of the Grecian myths, it’ll be even more rewarding to see what Riordan does with his updated versions (I especially liked the replaying of the Achilles and Patroclus friendship replayed between two half-bloods).
All in all, I’ve enjoyed reading the PERCY JACKSON series. It’s had its flaws and its quirks, and it’s doubtful that the movie franchise will take off in the same way the HARRY POTTER films did, but for the duration of the five books it was a wild ride — with a pretty big hint that there’s more to come in the sequel series, THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS.
Oh, and if you’re wondering who “the last Olympian” of the title is… you’ll be surprised.
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.