Warning: Contains some mild spoilers for the previous book, The Lost Hero.
First, a brief reminder of where this book stands among Rick Riordan‘s collection of YA novels: it is the second book in the HEROES OF OLYMPUS five-part series, which itself is the sequel series to the original PERCY JACKSON books. Suffice to say, if you’re unfamiliar with the stories published before this one, you’re likely to be hopelessly lost in understanding what’s happening here. Head back to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and work your way up.
For those who are all up-to-date, you’ll be pleased to know The Son of Neptune doesn’t waste any time in throwing you back into the action. As realized by his friends at the conclusion of The Lost Hero, Percy Jackson’s eight month disappearance is down to godly forces switching him with Jason Grace, a member of Camp Jupiter — the secret encampment where the children of Roman demigods are trained in the ways of the Roman Legions.
The deity pulling the strings is the goddess Juno (the Roman equivalent of Hera) and her reasons are clear enough: she wants to unite the estranged Roman and Greek communities so that they might join forces in the approaching war against Gaia. And when I say “Gaia”, I don’t mean the warm and maternal Mother Nature, but the vengeful and primeval earth goddess whose children want to depose the pantheon of gods who constitute the parents of our protagonists.
It’s clear that Riordan is getting ambitious when it comes to expanding the boundaries of his world, not only by drawing upon more gods from different cultures (the original series dealt with the Greeks only; this one introduces the Romans) but by adding more point-of-view characters. This story shifts between the first-person narrative of Percy and his two new companions, Frank Zhang and Hazel Levesque, both of whom have their complex backstories and dark secrets. Having been chased by gorgons into Camp Jupiter, Percy soon finds himself caught up in another quest: to travel to Alaska and free the death-god Thanatos, which will prevent Gaia from resurrecting any more of her giant children.
Yeah, it’s pretty complex, and it’s clear that Riordan is gearing up for something big in the remaining three novels. He’s an intricate plotter, fond of “plans within plans within plans” as Frank Herbert would say, particularly in his use of the Prophecy of the Seven which is sure to be explored further in later books.
But for readers familiar with Riordan’s innovative take on Greek mythology, they’ll find plenty of his usual tricks to enjoy here. There are plot-points taken from the ancient legends (Percy is required to carry a goddess disguised as an old woman across a river, Frank’s backstory involves an artefact similar to the one that determined Meleager’s life-span, Mars gives one of his children a dragon’s tooth that — when sown — calls up a skeletal warrior), though Riordan also likes to put a modern spin on the old tales: many of the gods carry iPads and cell phones, it turns out Amazon.com is run by a tribe of Amazons preparing for world domination, and instead of reading auguries in the entrails of dead animals, a soothsayer uses the stuffing from toy animals instead.
Whether you’re well-versed in the mythology these books are based on, or have no idea what to expect on any given page, the PERCY JACKSON books are simultaneously a series of in-jokes and helpful primer on the subject of Greek/Roman culture. In fact, it’s clear from this book that Riordan did considerable research into how the Roman legions looked, fought and operated.
It’s also worth pointing out that he’s great with female characters and racial diversity: Frank is Chinese-Canadian and Hazel is a mixed-race girl from the 1940s, and neither one comes across as the token sidekick to Percy, but rather important and three-dimensional characters in their own right.
Riordan can touch on some rather dark material at times: Hazel is cursed with a “gift” that brings her wealth but also terrible bad luck, and there is a short but memorable interlude in the Fields of Asphodel where lost souls wander for eternity without reprieve, so perhaps in compensation Riordan is careful to keep the tone light and the jokes frequent. He has a sense of humour that resembles J.K. Rowling‘s, including such droll gems as:
He ran the sword, which was about as deadly as a laser pointer, through Frank’s chest a few times. “Ouch,” Frank said, just to be nice.
“I’m fine!” Percy yelled as he ran by, followed by a giant screaming bloody murder.
This book has a lot of hitherto unknown siblings running around (though I suppose that can’t be helped when the premise involves a cast of children born to a select number of immortal gods), but also plenty of material to ponder — dozens of little subplots and mysteries strewn across the overarching quest to reach Alaska, no doubt with payoff still to come in later books.
For those already entrenched in the world of Percy Jackson, this makes for a rewarding story, updating us on what the Roman demigods have been up to and finishing on a note that promises more adventures to come.
The Heroes of Olympus — (2010-2014) Ages 9-12. Sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Publisher: After saving Olympus from the evil Titan lord, Kronos, Percy and friends have rebuilt their beloved Camp Half-Blood, where the next generation of demigods must now prepare for a chilling prophecy of their own: Seven half-bloods shall answer the call, To storm or fire the world must fall. An oath to keep with a final breath, And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. Now, in a brand-new series from blockbuster best-selling author Rick Riordan, fans return to the world of Camp Half-Blood. Here, a new group of heroes will inherit a quest. But to survive the journey, they’ll need the help of some familiar demigods.