Welcome once again to the Riordan Retrospective. For those of you just joining the fun, this is my look back at the works of Rick Riordan. That means we're taking a look at Percy Jackson, its sequel series and its spin-off series. This is less of a formal review, and more of a look back, along with my thoughts and observations. Last time we took a look back at The House of Hades. This time, we're hitting another major milestone and finishing our look back at The Heroes of Olympus. We're taking a look back at The Blood of Olympus, The Heroes of Olympus book 5. Let's start off with a quick summary.
Our heroes have been reunited, but this is no time to relax. The big showdown with Gaea and the giants has arrived. The seven heroes of the prophecy must unite with the gods to take down the great treat to Western Civilization since Kronos. Meanwhile, Reyna and Nico are in a race against time to deliver the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood and prevent and all-out war between the Greek and Roman demigods.
As usual, spoiler of plenty are to be found ahead. Turn away now if you don't want any of that. Everyone who wants out gone? Then let's begin.
Well this is it, the moment we've all been waiting for. The big show down at the end of the series and...it's kind of a mixed bag. Well, let's start with the stuff I enjoyed. Reyna and Nico finally get their own viewpoint chapters, and personal, I found them to be the highlight of the book. We get to see inside Reyna's head and...damn, she's been through some serious shit! Turns out she was one of Circe's assistants from way back in The Sea of Monsters, and also she survive Blackbeard and his crew. Of course, her biggest problem is that she killed her father in self-defense because he turned into a Mania. Octavian knows this and is using it to blackmail her, because patricide is a major no-no in New Rome.
The book tried to explain this as New Rome keeping with the traditions of Old Rome, but that doesn't quite hold water. For example, New Rome allows as women to serve in positions of power and authority, something Old Rome wouldn't be caught dead doing. Point is, they've clearly at least somewhat modernized, so it seems odd that they'd execute Reyna for acting in self-defense.
I really loved the brother-sister dynamic Reyna and Nico had. I was also surprised by how well Coach Hedge gelled with them. As I've previously stated, in all of the previous books I found him both unnecessary and annoying. Here, however, he shows a softer, less over-the-top, and almost fatherly side. Going back to the soup analogy, he works better in combination with Reyna and Nico than he does with the seven.
I also liked the scenes with Hades and Nico. In his own, somewhat awkward way, Hades is trying to be a good father to Nico. I don't know why he appeared as a Catholic priest in that scene in Portugal. Then again, he did have that Catholic priest on a spirit chain the whole time. Maybe Hades did it to be ironic? Anyway, the French zombie driver was kind of humorous. Though it would have been nice if Bellona had directly appeared and had some interactions with Reyna.
So, once we actually get to Camp Half-Blood we get to see Will Solace again. It was during the scene when Will slaps some sense back into Nico that he forever endeared himself to me. After so many scene of heroes being unnecessarily mopey and angsty (more on that in a minute) it was refreshing and cathartic to hear Will tell Nico that nobody rejected him, he reject himself. I didn't expect him to be the one Nico wound up with, but all things considered, I think they actually make a good pair.
Octavian might not have been the most complex villain, but he sure was an entertaining villain. I just loved how full of himself and completely lacking in self-awareness that he was. As I've previously mentioned, it was a bit disappointing that legacies didn't play a bigger role in the series. Octavian and Bryce Lawrence were the only ones we ever see, and they're both evil, especially Bryce Lawrence. Although, I will admit, that scene where Nico sent Bryce Lawrence directly to the underworld was pretty cool. At one point Octavian is even described as a faded copy of Will Solace. Granted, Frank is a legacy of Poseidon, but his son of Mars status is what tends to be emphasized.
We'll get back to some of the good stuff, but for now, let's shift gears and talk about the stuff I didn't like. One of my big problems with this book is that it repeatedly derailed good characters to make the less developed characters look better. For example, there's the part where Percy and Jason go to meet Kymopoleia. During the fight Percy deliberately dives into some poison because he has a flashback to his fight with Akhlys. He felt that he didn't deserve to live, and it was at that moment it really sank in that Percy has PTSD. So, as a result of Percy coming down with plot-induced stupidity, Jason swoops in to save the day. When I said Percy should take his friends on more underwater adventures this is not what I meant!
So, how does Jason respond to Percy's attempted suicide? By laughing and joking about how he saved Percy in his own domain. Well what do you know, Jason does have a personality: he's a dick! Moreover, after promising to build Kymopoleia a shrine he make a grandiose speech to the gods about how he will finish what Percy started. The dude's talking like Percy died or something! He was in a coma for six months, as were you, Jason Grace. Also, while we're on the subject, Percy has returned Zeus' stolen master bolt, sailed the Sea of Monsters, held up the sky, traversed the labyrinth, defeated Kronos and saved Mount Olympus from certain destruction. What, dare I ask, have you ever done, Jason Grace?!
So after that shitshow, Percy and Jason go back to the Argo II and make a speech about what good friends they are. Their speech is so stiff, wooden and robotic that I could practically hear the gears grinding in their heads. Worst of all, we constantly hear characters using this instance to shill for what a great guy Jason is in the future books. Even Percy shills for Jason in The Ship of the Dead!
As if that wasn't bad enough, then we get to Sparta. The narrative waxes poetical about how glorious Sparta was, and what a tragedy it is that hardly anything remains of it. While I'm inclined to agree that it is a bit sad that we don't have more Spartan ruins, they were most certainly not glorious. All Ancient Greek city-states practiced slavery, but Sparta made it the backbone of their society, and theirs was an especially cruel brand of slavery. Slaves, known as helots, could be killed for pretty much anything; seriously, you could even be killed for being too beautiful. The Spartan military school had a final exam, but anyone who killed a helot automatically passed it. The Spartans also had an annual festival called Krypteia, where they killed the strongest helots in order to prevent slave uprisings and keep them in constant fear. Is it any wonder these guys loved Ares?
So, Annabeth and Piper visited the temple of Phobos and Deimos. While there Annabeth gets whacked with plot-induced stupidity and freaks out about her future. Naturally, Piper swoops in to assure her she just needs to have faith rather than using logical all the time. Did Rick seriously forget that Annabeth said nearly the same thing, minus the feels over reals bit, to Percy not one book ago?! Again, he's derailing Annabeth to make Piper look good.
This brings me to another problem I have with Piper. It seemed like Rick was using her as a way to go "See! See! Aphrodite kids aren't useless!" but in the process he fell into a trap many middle grade and young adult writers tend to fall into when writing female characters. There is an unfortunate belief that, in order to be considered strong, female character must swear-off traditionally feminine personality traits and interests. The implication here is that Piper is strong specifically because she's a tomboy. This is he biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard of. There are many different kinds of strength, not just physical strength. Emotional strength is just as important of a strength, and it's not like Rick doesn't know this. Mrs. Jackson might not have any powers, but she has amazing emotional strength. She raised Percy all on her own, soldered on despite the numerous misfortunes life threw at her, and provides emotional support to Percy and all of his friends.
Riordan seems to have sensed this, and tried to rectify this, but his attempt fell flat on its face. Moreover, at the end of the story Piper is best buddies with Annabeth and Reyna, but once again, it is just as artificial as Percy and Jason's so-called friendship. For that matter, I don't think Piper and Reyna really had any interaction with each other. If your underdeveloped characters can only shine when the other characters act like idiots, then you didn't do a very good job writing them.
Now let's talk about Leo. He wasn't necessarily a bad character from the get-go, unlike Jason and Piper. However, he definitely overstayed his welcome. He might have worked as a side character, but he got just plain annoying and obnoxious after so many books. Of course, when not telling bad jokes and being generally irritating, he also takes time to be angsty and emo. For example, he mentally curses Percy for failing to make good on his promise to free Calypso. Leo, serious question, what do you think Percy was up to during his six month coma? He acts like Percy did that on purpose, shades of Jason's pompous speech. Leo also angst about how he's so isolated and everyone has rejected him. Ugh, Will Solace needs to slap some sense back into this guy.
Leo is a painfully obvious creator’s pet. He almost single-handedly defeats Gaea, gets a hot girlfriend in the form of Calypso, he cheats dead itself, and when he dies everyone whines about what a great person he was, even though they couldn't stand him five minutes ago. Of course, I think I've made it very clear by now that Jason and Piper are big time creator’s pets as well. In the interest of fairness, I will add the scene where the three of them went to meet Asclepius was very well done. They actually felt like three friends and allies rather than just three random strangers. I'm also happy that the seven finally made it to Greece and got to tour all of the ancient sites. Although, personally, I'm with the Hephaestus kids, more than just the seven should have gone to the Ancient Lands.
The fight with the giants could have used some work, but wasn't completely bad. The fact that summoning Gaea only took a couple drops of blood was a bit anticlimactic though. On that note, the actually fight with Gaea was pretty damn anti-climatic, and it only required Jason, Piper and Leo to be pulled off! The implication being that Percy, Annabeth, Frank and Hazel didn't matter all that much and were totally arbitrary to the quest. Again, why does Riordan love Jason, Piper and Leo so damn much? The other characters are lightyears ahead of them. To put this in perspective, Piper and Leo got points of view in every book but The Son of Neptune, Jason got three plus a major focus in The Mark of Athena, while poor Annabeth, Frank and Hazel only got points of view in two books. Lest we also forget that Nico and Reyna only got The Blood of Olympus.
Suffice it to say, I cheered for joy when Leo died. I'm pretty such Riordan didn't intend for me to do that, but he bungled Leo so much that I was glad to be rid of the little bastard. Naturally, I was completely crushed when he came back to life. Worse, I had to listen to all of the other characters whining about what a great guy he was, even though they could barely stand him not five minutes ago! Seriously, why are they so hung up? Percy wasn't nearly this mopey when he lost so many friends in The Last Olympian, and those characters had way more going for them than Leo does! I should point out that this doesn't mean that Percy didn't morn them for feel guilty about their deaths; his time in Tartarus proves that.
I've been haranguing on Jason, Piper and Leo a lot. I think I should elaborate on just why they fail as characters. Since you guys really liked it the last time I used archetypes, let's do that again. It's often said that characters in fiction can be identified with one or more of the classical elements: water, earth, fire and wind. Earth types tend to be leaders, and they are the rock that everyone else relies upon. They're good at calming everyone down, and tend to be stoic. Fire types are hot-heads ready to rush into battle, and are very passionate. It isn't unheard of for them to be leaders, but usually an Earth type will be second in command to them. Wind types are the idea guys and the ones who come up with plans. Water times are the emotional ones, and tend to be prone to brooding. They also tend to be the youngest member of the group.
I should emphasis that these archetypes aren't mutually exclusive; you can have a character by Earth ninety percent of the time, and Water ten percent of the time. So, where do our heroes fall. Annabeth is a clear Wind type; she's the tactician and the one who comes up with ideas. However, we also see her show some Earth qualities in Tartarus, when she is Percy's rock. Hazel and Nico are Water types; they're the brooders and the youngest members of the team. Percy is an interesting case, because in the original series he was very much a Fire type, but in The Heroes of Olympus we see him transition to an Earth type. During The Son of Neptune he is the rock Hazel and Frank rely upon, and when he is in Tartarus the rest of the seven feel his lack of stabilizing influence.
Reyna is largely an Earth type, her power is the ability to boost her comrades moral, but in this book we get to see her Water side. Coach Hedge is, obviously, a Fire type. Chiron is another obvious one, he's an Earth type. I'm not sure what Frank is; he doesn't seem like he fits any one of the four types. I could maybe see him as a Wind type, but I'm not entirely sure.
Now, as with all thing, when these archetypes are taken too far they become a problem. Earth types taken too far can become stiff, rigid, flat, set-in-there ways and run a considerable risk of being written as bland. Jason is a prime example of this problem. On the flip side, Water types taken too far lose any sympathy and become whinny and insufferable. Piper started out like this, before getting a heaping dose creator’s pet syndrome. Wind types taken too far become can suffer from disorganization, leading them to become a whirlwind in a way, or suffering from paralysis by too much analysis. Riordan tried to do this to Annabeth, but it rang hollow because it contradicted her character development up to that point. Leo, as previously mentioned, suffered from creator's pet syndrome, and prior to this book Coach Hedge was just plain obnoxious. For those wondering, Fire types taken too far become self-destructive.
No one archetype is necessarily better than the other, and all four complement one another and balance each other out.
Also, at one point, Reyna mentions that, during American Revolution, the Greek demigods fought for America and the Roman demigods fought for Britain. There is some justification, we already know George Washington was a son of Athena. We also learn that one of the British generals was a son of Bellona. Except that this violates the rule of Romans in the West and Greeks in the East. Riordan tries to justify this by claiming that the Romans had a great empire like the British, but America was fighting against a monarchy, something the Romans were very famous for doing. Once again, Riordan is very bad about sticking to his previously established rules.
Okay, with all of that out of the way, what do I think of The Heroes of Olympus as a whole? Well, it certainly doesn't have the charm of the original series, but there's still a lot to love. The Lost Hero was a lackluster start, The Blood of Olympus left something to be desired, but The Son of Neptune, The Demigod Diaries (mostly), The Mark of Athena and The House of Hades were all worthy successors to the original series. It's great seeing the continuing adventures of Percy and Annabeth. The Roman demigods are all welcome additions to the Camp Half-Blood family, and I really loved the scenes at the end of The Blood of Olympus of them interacting with the Greek demigods. All things considered, The Heroes of Olympus is still worthy of your time, and is worth a read.
So, for one final time, let us analyze the cover.
We see the giants standing amidst the ruins of the Pantheon atop the Acropolis, but the seven are there to take them down. We see Hazel astride Arion and we see Jason leaping into action with electricity crackling.
For one final time I'm also going to plug the audiobook version.
With that, our look back at The Heroes of Olympus has come to an end. We've reached another major milestone, and I'm glad you've all come along for the ride. So, we've reached another point where we're going to alternate a bit. From here on out we'll do a retrospective of one Magnus Chase book and then one Trials of Apollo book in alteration. With that having been said, join me again next time when we begin our look back at Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard with a look back at The Sword of Summer. I hope to see you all then.