The Red Pyramid (2011), by Rick Riordan, starts readers off on a new series intermingling ancient mythology, today’s world, and snappy young teens. In this case, though, the mythology is Egyptian, not Greek as in his Percy Jackson series (or Roman, as in the newest addition to that series) and the young teens aren’t the sons and daughters of gods but are instead possessed by them (if that doesn’t seem like much of a difference, it’s because it really isn’t as the story plays out). This may seem overly familiar, but “why mess with a good thing?” is probably Riordan’s thinking, and my guess is his fans’ as well.
And truth be told, there’s a lot to like in Riordan’s writing, especially for a young audience. The books are fast-paced (admittedly sometimes too much so); the dialogue mostly smacks of real pre-teen and teen-speak, rather than that painfully obvious how an out-of-touch adults “thinks” teens speak; the characters are accessible and likable (even some of the “bad” guys); they tend to be funny (though this one’s humor is a bit forced at times); the lessons are solid; and hey, kids might actually learn something (but don’t tell them that).
All of those hold true for The Red Pyramid as well. The novel opens (nearly so) with a bang, literally. The Rosetta Stone is blown up in the British Museum by Carter and Sadie Kane’s father, in what appears to be an attempt to bring their mother back to life. Instead, several Egyptian gods are freed, some take possession of various humans (or “host” in them), including Sadie and Carter, and the kids’ father is taken. Soon, we’re off to Brooklyn (having picked up the cat-goddess Bast, an old uncle, and a baboon), then to Washington D.C., then to Phoenix (with stops in several other locales, including the Land of the Dead) having encountered and/or picked up some magicians, various other gods and monsters, and a possible traitor or two, to stop the entombment of their father in a great red pyramid being built by the bad guy Set who wants to destroy the world, though he isn’t really the “big bad.” And that isn’t close to all. And of course, it leaves room for the sequel.
The ride is pretty much nonstop and breathless. I wouldn’t have minded some time to rest, but my guess is Riordan’s audience will eat up the thrill ride. The plot lines are suspenseful: will they stop Set in time, will they find out who the traitor is, will they learn their powers, how will they deal with the gods inside of them, do they like or “Like-Like” their clear matches (well, the last one isn’t really all that suspenseful). To be honest, I do tire a bit of the heroes’ magic arriving or not arriving at opportune moments, and the way in which they can morph into power so easily is a bit thin (in Percy Jackson it’s because they’re demi-gods, here it’s because they host gods and have the blood of Pharaohs); what happened to learning and working for power? But I’m the grumpy old man telling these kids to get off my lawn; again, I’m pretty sure the YA audience won’t mind a bit.
The first-person narration switches between Carter and Sadie and both are winning voices, though they could have been a bit more distinctive. They have the trademark Riordan light patter down, but here Riordan has upped the emotional ante a bit, adding some depth to the characters (though he cheats a bit at the end I’d say. Did I mention I walked to school uphill both ways? Through snow?). The side characters, save for an ancient magician, are a bit flat, but as the focus is pretty much on the two kids throughout, that doesn’t detract too much.
Riordan does not quite have the crossover appeal of the biggest YA authors, lacking that richness of background detail or depth of character that is more appealing to an older audience. But he knows how to hit his target audience and hit them he does, again and again and again. The Red Pyramid is recommended for Percy fans and for YA readers, especially younger ones. Adults and older young adults could still enjoy the book, but will probably find it a bit wanting.
The Kane Chronicles — (2010.-2013) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Since their mother’s death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane. One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a “research experiment” at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives. Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them — Set — has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe — a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family, and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.