Friday, December 7, 2018

Riordan Retrospective: The Blood of Olympus

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'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.  

Friday, October 12, 2018

Riordan Retrospective: The House of Hades

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 Mark of Athena.  This time we're taking a look back at The House of Hades, The Heroes of Olympus book 4.  Let's kick things off with a quick summary.

Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase are in Tartarus, literally.  After taking a massive fall into a seemingly bottomless pit they're now in the worst part of the Underworld.  Danger lurks around every corner, and it's going to take every ounce of strength and cunning they've got to survive.  Meanwhile, the remaining crew of the Argo II are racing against the clock.  They've got to make it to the Doors of Death and seal them once and for all, or else monster will keep instantly regenerating.  Hold on tight, all Hades is about to break loose.  

As per usual, there are quite a few spoilers beyond this point, so turn back now if you don't like that sort of thing. 

Okay, let's get the really big revaluation out of the way first: Nico is gay.  I gotta admit, I did not see that coming.  Really, I think none of us did.  It may have been unexpected, but I think it was fairly well done.  Nico is still fairly young, around thirteen, or fourteen at most...well, biologically speaking anyway.  The point being, he's only recently started going through puberty, so it isn't that unbelievable that it hasn't come up before.  A lot of gay people take a bit of time to figure out their sexuality.  

What made the revelation work so well was Nico's sexuality isn't the be-all-end-all of who he is.  We've had plenty of time to get to know him, and there is way more to him that just his sexuality, so he's not just a token.  I mean, in real life, most gay people have way more to their personality than just their sexuality.  That's one thing I'll give to The Heroes of Olympus.  It is clear that Riordan was trying to diversify the cast, but none of the characters felt like tokens.  Oh, many of them had other problems, but tokenism was among them.  I'll also add that I really like how Cupid was written as a tall handsome man who knows that love can hurt sometimes.  

One thing I found particularly noteworthy was that Jason seemed to have more chemistry with Nico than he did with Piper, his alleged girlfriend.  Jumping ahead a bit, but in The Burning Maze, Jason and Piper broke-up because they didn't find each other to be a good fit after the war against Gaea was over.  Make of that what you will.  It almost felt like originally Riordan wanted Jason and Nico to get together, but got cold feet.  That, or he gave their friendship a bit too many undertones.  

So, let's talk Percy and Annabeth in Tartarus.  Damn, they got put through the wringer and lived to tell the tale.  One thing particularly of note, especially during the scenes where they face the arai, is how the trip through Tartarus provides an absolutely brutal deconstruction of the original series.  In the original series, Percy and the gang don't really give much thought to all the monsters they kill.  Yet here, we see that maybe there was more to the monsters than just being mindless killers.  Many of them had hopes and dreams to.  They didn't have anything personal against Percy and the gang, they were just acting according to their nature.  Really, when you get down to it, the difference between friendly spirits like Grover and the monsters is really just a matter of degree.  

Then there's Bob, aka Iapetus, from all the way back in "Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades".  It's made clear that without him, and other allies such as Damasen, Percy and Annabeth wouldn't have stood a chance at surviving in Tartarus.  Percy feels bad about having to manipulate Iapetus to survive, but he's just doing what he had to do.  Of course, couldn't you say that about the gods and all of their manipulating?  

When Percy and Annabeth first arrive in Tartarus, in the waters of the River Cocytus, we see the true extent of Percy fatal flaw.  Percy fatal flaw is that he will sacrifice everything for the ones he loves.  However, that also makes it sting all the more when he fails to save those who matter to him.  He's clearly been carrying around a lot of guilt and regret, even for things that were completely outside of his control.  It really confirms something I've long suspected: Percy has PTSD.  Really, I'd expect most demigods have PTSD, considering all of the horrors they have to confront on a regular basis.  This is even worse when you consider that, unless Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter have some equivalent of physiologists, most demigods probably won't be able to seek help without getting thrown in a loony bin.  

Yet even at his lowest moment Percy has Annabeth to help him pick himself back up.  She reminds him that they can start a life in New Rome, and that there is always hope.  She's also the one who gets Percy to calm down after he nearly drowns the goddess Akhlys in her own poison.  Although, it does seem a bit odd that a goddess of poison would be effected by poison.  It reminded me of the episode of Doctor Who where The Doctor and Donna Troy meet for the first time.  Hey, Rick is a big Doctor Who fan, so you never know.  That scene also hints that Percy might have a darker side lurking beneath the surface.  Even Percy finds the thought chilling.  

Keep that thought about Percy having PTSD, and Annabeth being his rock, in mind.  It's going to be very, very important during our next retrospective.  

I thought the way Percy and Annabeth sent the message, and got supplies, from the shrine of Hermes was clever.  I always did wonder how the Stoll brothers got the note out of the fire, but we'll get to that when we get to Camp Half-Blood Confidential.  Also, yay, Grover and Rachel got a cameo!  It was kind of disappointing that Rachel didn't play a bigger role in The Heroes of Olympus than she did.  Especially with all of the pomp and circumstance about her being the Oracle of Delphi now, and the one who gave the prophecy of the seven.  

Tartarus, the godly personification of the realm, only makes a brief appearance, but damn, what an appearance it was.  I liked the characterization of Damasen, in that he showed that even giants have a few good members, further adding the greying of morality.  

The Doors of Death being in Tartarus does explain why we never see any of the good figures from Greek and Roman Mythology back in the land of the living.  Still, that was a bit of a missed opportunity.  Imagine the seven hanging out with the great heroes of the past.  Percy with Theseus, Annabeth hanging out with Odysseus, Frank and Hazel chilling with Aeneas.  Well, maybe it wouldn't have been totally sunshine and lollypops, but still, think of all the cool stuff that could have happened.  

This is just me, but having actually been to Venice, the scene set in Venice felt like they lacked a little something.  I've been to Venice twice, it's an amazing city, and I'd happily visit it again.  It's just, ever since I've actually went there, works of fiction set in Venice always feel like they're missing something.  Like, because I've actually been, it demystified Venice and maybe took away from a bit of the legend, exoticism and romance.  Like I said, that's really just a weird thing with me.  The scenes in Bologna, Croatia and Epirus still hold up pretty well for me.  I particularly loved when everyone first arrives at the Necromateion and the ritual they perform, with the special potion and the barley cakes, is an actual ritual the Greeks performed in ancient times.  

This book is also notable in that it is the only book where all seven of the heroes get a viewpoint chapter.  It's also the only book set almost exclusively outside of the United States of America.  

We're finally reunited with Calypso and she is much more fiery than she was when we last left her.  It's almost like Riordan felt he made her a bit too perfect the first time around, so he felt the need to fix that, and I'm certainly all in favor of the new snappier Calypso.  We also get set up between her and Leo, but more on that next time.   

So, Hazel got some magic lessons from Hecate, the goddess of magic.  That seems a little odd, since it would have made more sense if Hazel was a child of Trivia, Hecate's Roman form.  Once again, we have an instance where the minor gods and their children get the short end of the stick, in favor of a child of the major gods.  Also, apparently Mist manipulation is a special skill only a select few can learn, rather than something anyone could accomplish.  Kind of contradicts The Titan's Curse.  Though I will say that the scenes with Sciron were pretty cool.  Hecate also seems much more in-character here than she did in "Son of Magic".  

Meanwhile, Jason makes his big choice and gives up New Rome for Camp an utterly anti-climactic scene.  Once again, show, don't tell.  We never see Jason feel conflicted or struggling beyond a few times that the text states, but never shows, that this is the case.  For that matter, we barely know what he was like back when he lived at Camp Jupiter.  It appears that Jason's personality is...well, not having a personality.  This makes it all the more baffling as to why Riordan seems to love him so much.  He's clearly been trying to set Jason up as the new Percy, but Jason doesn't even come close to comparing with our beloved seaweed brain.  Still, the part where Frank and Nico brought the dead Romans to life using the Staff of Diocletian was pretty cool. 

On the flip side, I loved Reyna's character development in this book.  She's torn between her loyalty to New Rome and her loyalty to the seven.  This is made worse in that Octavian has taken over the senate and is planning on launching on attack on Camp Half-Blood.  He's also planning on blackmailing Reyna.  I'm sure that the people of Old Rome would be very proud that New Rome is preserving their longstanding traditions of scheming, backstabbing and politicking.  Yes, New Rome is very devoted to preserving the ways of Old Rome, including the ones that are probably best left to the dustbin of history.  

In all seriousness, Reyna was very well written.  She learns that she can be loyal to the idea of Rome, rather than the current government of New Rome.  Kind of like what Captain America learned during his time as Nomad.  Her character development only keeps getting better in the next book, but more on that in the next retrospective.  Reyna, in many ways, feels like the character Jason should have been.  

I should have brought this up before, but does New Rome have any version of Child Services?  We know Jason was an orphan, so who raised him?  We never get any mention of foster parents, so did the legion collectively raise him?  Also, what do the adults of New Rome think of Octavian's plans?

Naturally, I'm plugging the audiobook version.  This audiobook sees Joshua Swanson depart in favor of Nick Chamian.  It's usually not a good sign when audiobooks switch narrators; sort of like switching horses mid-stream.  However, Nick does a great job.  In fact, I'd actually say he does an even better job than Joshua did.  

Despite a few hiccups along the way, The House of Hades remains one Hades of an emotional ride.  It is also one of the core three good books of The Heroes of Olympus.  Now then, let's analyze the cover.

We see Percy and Annabeth pulling themselves out the River Cocytus, the river of lamentation.  They're in pretty rough shape and they're know they're in for a bumpy ride as Tartarus stretches before them.  

Well I think that should do it for now.  Join me again next time when we finish our look back at The Heroes of Olympus with a look back at The Blood of Olympus.  I will see you all next time.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Comic Review: Figment

I'm sure I've brought this up before, but I love the creativity and storytelling that go into the creation of Disney Theme Park attractions.  As you can well imagine, I'm also quite fond of the Disney Kingdoms comics line that is being produced by Marvel Comics.  It is easily the best series Marvel is currently producing.  As I'm sure you guessed by now, we're going to be reviewing one of the additions to the Disney Kingdoms line today.  Specifically, we're taking a look at Figment

Figment takes place in London in the year 1910.  It follows an aspiring inventor named Blarion Mercurial.  He might not look it, but he is destined to become The Dreamfinder.  Blarion works for The Academy Scientifica Lucidus.  He's always been a dreamer and he wants to harness the power of imagination and creativity.  Unfortunately, his boss, Chairman Illocrant, is only interested in creating a device that can during thought into energy.  While working on the device, Blarion brings Figment, his childhood imaginary friend, to life.  He also opens a portal into a realm of pure imagination.  Before long, our heroes embark on a journey into imagination.

This comic is based on the beloved EPCOT ride Journey into Imagination.  As such, why don't we talk a little about the ride.  A ride/pavilion dedicated to imagination might seem out of place in a theme park dedicated to science, technology and world culture.  I, however, would argue that it was a perfect fit.  As Dreamfinder famously reminded us all, one little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation.  Submarines started out as an imaginary machine dreamed up by Jules Verne.  Then they became real, and today hundreds of Nautilus' prowl the depths of the oceans.  Similarly, Robert Goddard was inspired to create rockets after he read War of the Worlds.  Dozens of scientists and inventors have been inspired by what they saw on Star Trek.

The point being, all of these inventions wouldn't have been possible without someone dreaming them up and imagining them first.  Imagination is the spark that leads to several scientific discoveries, and many wonderful artistic creations.  In fact, you could even go as far as to say that without imagination EPCOT, and Disney World as a whole, wouldn't exist.

Journey into Imagination debuted in 1983 and delighted guests of all ages with a whimsical journey into...well, into imagination of course.  Dreamfinder and Figment delighted guests by showing them all of the wonderful things imagination is capable of doing.  Throughout the ride there was a bit of a theme of "science and imagination can work together to solve the world's problems" which is a pretty great, and fairly timeless, lesson to impart.  Dreamfinder and Figment are notable for being one of the few walk-around characters early EPCOT had.  When it first started out, EPCOT had a strict policy of not incorporating pre-existing Disney characters into the park.  For a while, Dreamfinder and Figment were the unofficial mascots of EPCOT.

Unfortunately, in 1998 the ride closed down are part of a contract with the ride's sponsor Kodak.  EPCOT had a policy of having rides sponsored by various companies.  This was to provide the companies with free advertising in the hopes that they would help pay for the upkeep of the rides.  This model...didn't quite work out, to put it succinctly.  By the late 1990s Kodak was in some serious financial trouble as digital cameras began to replace convention film.  They didn't want anything to do with Journey into Imagination, but were contractually obligated to renovated.  So, they went with the cheapest solution they could find.

The new version completely removed Dreamfinder and Figment and stared Eric Idle.  Idle played a scientist who insults the guest for having no imagination, but he fixes that with the power of science...I guess.  Unsurprisingly, this version, called Journey into YOUR Imagination, was universally hated and closed down in 2001.  In 2002 the ride opened again as Journey into Imagination with Figment.  This version starts out similar to the second version, but quickly goes off-the-rails as Figment takes over and brings things, somewhat, back to the original ride.  While better received than the second, fans agree that this version just doesn't have the magic of the original.  Especially since Dreamfinder is still nowhere to be seen.

Okay, now that we've talked about the ride, let's talk about the comic.  So, as you may have surmised, this comic is very much an origin story for Dreamfinder and Figment.  Dreamfinder is very much cut from the same cloth as character such as Willy Wonka or Ms. Frizzle.  They're characters you don't know much about, but you don't need to know much, because they're just that awesome.  As such giving these characters backstories must be handled with great care, because there is a lot that can go wrong.  So, how does it work for this comic?  Quite well, quite well indeed.

Even before Blarion embraces his destiny as Dreamfinder do see little hints of what is to come.  He's good natured, friendly and wants to make the world a better place.  Yet at the same time he's being kept down by various forces in his life, such as his boss, and needs Figment to show him that his dreams aren't in vain.  Or to put it another way, Figment shows him that a dream can be a dream come true.  If you pay attention, you'll spot many references to the original version of Journey into Imagination throughout this comic.  Also, there is an introduction at the beginning of the comic written by famous Disney imagineer Tony Baxter.

The artwork wasn't the best I've ever seen, but it gets the job done.  There were a few touches I did appreciate.  Figment, and everyone else from the realm of imagination, has somewhat more vibrant coloring than the real-world characters.  He's also noticeably more cartoony, which is in keeping with his appearance, and make him standout more.  Blarion also takes on a more whimsical art style once he fully embraces his destiny as The Dreamfinder.

The realm of imagination was a joy to experience.  I loved the Audio Archipelago, home of the Sound Sprites, and all the various sound puns it had.  For example, when Blarion and Figment get arrested they are put in a jail cell at the bottom of the Archipelago known as the Bassment.  They were arrested because, apparently, failing to speak in alliteration is one of the most heinous crimes to the Sound Sprites.  In other puns, our heroes get swept up in the gales of a brainstorm at one point.  The entire realm of imagination was a joy to experience because of how whimsical it was.

I liked that the real-world portions are set during the Edwardian era.  Dreamfinder and his inventions have always had a bit of a steampunk feel to them.  The Edwardian era was a more optimistic time than the Victorian era.  Of course, four years later all of that hope and optimism was dashed by World War I, so good that Blarion become Dreamfinder when he did.

On that note, I feel like the concept of Dreamfinder could have been introduced a bit better.  Now granted, we all know that's what Blarion is destined to become, but within the context of the story, it kind of comes out of left field.  It wouldn't be too hard to fix.  We know Figment was his childhood imaginary friend, so maybe include a few lines/scenes about how he used to play games or tell stories where he went on adventures with Figment as Dreamfinder.

This is really just a minor point, overall this comic was a joy from start to finish.   I'm not the only one who thought this.  Figment went on to be a surprise hit for Marvel, even Disney CEO Bob Iger was taken by surprise, and a sequel was immediately ordered.  Before you ask, yes, I will review that one eventually.

If there is a message to take from this comic I think it is this.  Trying means that you might fail, and that can be scary, but never trying means you never succeed.  You have the power to achieve your dreams within you, even if you don't know it yet.  All in all, an excellent message to impart to readers, and very in keeping with the theme of the ride.  I should mention that this is an excellent all ages comic.  Of course, this is a Disney creation, so that is to be expected.

Well, I think that should do it from me for now.  I hope you all enjoyed this review very much, and I will see you all next time. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Riordan Retrospective: The Mark of Athena

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 finished our look back at The Kane Chronicles with a look back at The Serpent's Shadow.  This time we're returning to The Heroes of Olympus with a look back at The Mark of Athena, The Heroes of Olympus book 3.  As usual, let's kick things off with a brief summary. 

The seven heroes of the prophecy have been united at last.  The Argo II has arrived in New Rome and the journey to the ancient lands can officially begin.  Tensions remain high as the Greeks and Romans are forced to put aside old prejudices in order to work towards a common goal.  None are more conflicted than Annabeth Chase.  She must shoulder the burden as leader of the quest, but also has a special task from her mother Athena.  Once in Rome, Annabeth must find the long-lost Athena Parthenos statue.  Wisdoms's daughter must walks alone as the Mark of Athena burns through Rome.

As usual, spoilers of plenty beyond this point.  Turn back now if you don't want any of that.

As you may have guessed, Annabeth gets a bit of a special focus throughout this book.  Well, Percy, Piper and Leo get chapters from their perspectives, but Annabeth is really the center of this particular book.  After two and half books, Annabeth and Percy are reunited, and it feels so good.  We also finally get an answer to a question fan have been pondering since The Titan's Curse: what did Percy and Annabeth do about the grey streaks in their hair from holding up the sky?  Turns out they did nothing, but the grey is starting to fade, so no big deal.  It certainly isn't unusual for younger people's hair to grey up well ahead of schedule; so not like it would be too hard to explain.  I got my first grey hairs when I was a teenager, and early grayness is a bit of a genetic trait on my mom's side of the family...yeah, it sure will be fun when I'm thirty and have a head of completely grey hairs, but I digress.

Anyway, we finally get a look inside Annbeth's head, but it just felt off to me.  She came across as far more self-conscious, critical and insecure than in previous books.  Now, granted, you could argue that, since the original series was from Percy's perspective, it was a bit biased.  You could even make the case that Annabeth was making an effort to hide these sides of her in order to appear strong and in-control.  Still, it just feels off to me.  One of the most egregious instances was when the heroes are in Charleston, South Carolina.  Aphrodite/Venus is having a tea party with Annabeth, Piper and Hazel.  Annabeth thinks to herself about how fattening all the sweets, what?  I'm pretty certain that Annabeth gets a lot of physical exercise, particularly when it comes to training to fight monsters.

For that matter, I'm pretty sure keeping in shape is mandatory for all demigods.  As the movie Zombieland noted, fatties are always the first to get eaten during a monster attack.  Having Annabeth go "OMG, so fattening" was so stereotypical, for a teenage girl, it was downright painful; especially given that she wasn't even hinted to have that mindset before.  It was also way out of character that she needed Frank to explain Chinese fingercuffs to her, even if she was distracted at the time.

Also, let's talk about Athena and Minerva.  Athena/Minerva has tasked Annabeth with finding the Athena Parthenos so that she can reclaim the honor the Romans strip of her by reducing her to a minor goddess.  This is flat-out incorrect.  Minerva may not have had the war goddess aspects of Athena, and she was certainly more focused on the domestic arts, but she was by no means a minor goddess.  The Capitoline Triad, three of the most important gods in Rome, consisted of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.  The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, arguably the most important temple in all of Rome, honored these three gods.  Minor goddess my ass!  This is especially glaring given Riordan's usually impeccable attention to mythological accuracy.

I promise I'll get to the positives in a minute, but we got one more negative to cover.  We get more insight into the American Civil War, as it pertains to demigods.  Apparently, the Romans supported the South because the Ancient Romans kept slaves.  Jason admits it wasn't one of the Roman demigods' finer moments.  This is rather odd, considering that the Ancient Greeks also kept slaves.  I should here note that slavery in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome was different than slavery in Antebellum America.  Greeks and Romans practiced colorblind slavery; if you were a barbarian (read: non-Greek/Roman) or were a conquered enemy, it didn't matter what color you were, you had potential to become a slave.  In pre-Civil War America, by contrast, slavery was entirely race-based.

Okay, you've had your vegetables, now it's time for desert...unless you like vegetables and hate sweets.  In which case, scratch and verse what I just said.  I consider The Mark of Athena to be one of the best books in The Heroes of Olympus, along with The Son of Neptune and The House of Hades.  I loved that Reyna and Annabeth, and by extension the other Greeks and Romans, finally got to interact with each other, and that the series finally starts to get into international territory.

Annabeth's navigation through the catacombs of Rome was awesome from start to finish.  She's the only member of the seven without any powers, but that didn't slow her down.  The scene where she encounters the lares who are followers of Mithras was particularly amusing.  She doesn't know much about their religion, and mostly gets by by guessing at at the symbols they used.  This is a nod to how scholars know basically nothing about Mithraism, and what little we do know comes from archaeology and educated guesswork.  I also liked that the Athena Parthenos, an actual historical artifact, was central to the plot of the book.  Really great to see more Ancient Greek history being incorporated into the series. 

The scene at the Pillars of Hercules was particularly well done, especially when Jason and Piper meet Hercules himself.  Turns out that, over the years, Hercules has grown rather cynical, jaded and a bit of a jerk.  This has particularly relevance when you think back to The Last Olympian, and the gods' offer to make Percy a god.  You can almost see Hercules as a shadowy image of what Percy could have become.  That makes Percy's wish that he could have been the one to meet Hercules carry that much more irony.  Back in The Titan's Curse, Percy said that Hercules was his favorite hero, because of how relateable he found him.  Had he taken the gods up on their offer, he might have related to Hercules on a whole other level. 

We also learn that there's an undersea camp for children of the aquatic gods, except children of Poseidon, run by Chiron's brothers Aphros and Bythos.  I know they had the rule about Poseidon's kids, but come on, Percy should have visited them.  Underwater stuff is his wheelhouse.  I wouldn't have minded if Frank and Leo tagged along, I certainly think that Percy should be taking his friends on more underwater adventures, but he shouldn't be missing out.  Also, if Poseidon kids can't come to the underwater camp, why was Triton one of their alumni?  Maybe he was so bad they banned all other Poseidon kids?  Whatever the reason, I feel that the underwater camp was seriously under utilized, especially since it never reappears after this book.

I also think it's a shame that Poseidon never really appear in this series, apart from when he was with the other gods.  How would he come across to demigods other than Percy?  Would he still be a nice god, or would be see a darker side of him?  What does Poseidon think about Annabeth being a daughter of his rival Athena?  Is Neptune pretty much the same as Poseidon, or does he have a different personality?  There's a lot of potential that never really got tapped.

As I've previously mentioned, I listened to The Sea of Monsters when I was taking a school-sponsored trip to Italy the summer before my junior year of high school.  In a way, seeing Percy, Annabeth and the gang having adventures in Rome felt things coming full-circle in a way.  It brought back memories of that trip.  Well, I didn't have to fight monsters and giants, or go on any quests for the gods, but you get the point.

I enjoyed getting to see Bacchus when the seven stopped in Kansas.  I never thought I'd miss Mr. D so much, but Camp Half-Blood just hasn't felt the same since he left.  Like the song says, sometimes you really don't know what you got til it's gone.  I do hope that he will appear in The Trails of Apollo at some point.  Hmm, if Dionysus is Mr. D, does that make Bacchus Mr. B?

Now let's talk about Coach Hedge.  My biggest question about him is, well, why do the seven even need him?  They're clearly more than capable taking care and defending themselves.  About the only thing I can think he'd be good for is making sure the seven aren't fooling around and having sex, or anything like that.  I bring that up because there was that one scene of Percy and Annabeth falling asleep in the ship's hold, and then getting discovered by everyone else.  Now, they never outright say it, but based on the way everyone else was reacting, I think there just might be a chance that Percy and Annabeth were getting a little frisky.  Hey, Riordan would have had to keep that sort of thing under the radar.

Now let's get a bit more speculative.  Coach Hedge is much more aggressive than the other satyrs at Camp Half-Blood.  In Greek Mythology, satyrs were very lustful and wild, a sharp contrast to the ones at Camp Half-Blood.  This could be because Riordan wanted to keep things family friendly.  It could be, but what if there's a slightly darker reason?  What if the satyrs are that way because they've been neutered, except for studs used to replenish the population?  Hmm, nah, I'm probably reading too much into that.

Speaking of satyrs, let's touch on Grover's absence.  Grover was a key part of the originally series, especially in the trio he formed with Percy and Annabeth. You can see them as the Freudian Trio; impulsive Percy as the Id, brainy Annabeth as the Superego, and Grover as the Ego who mediates the two approaches.  You can also see them as a reflection of the concept of Mind, Body and Spirit.  Grover is the Body; he, like all nature spirits is intrinsically bound to the physical world.  Annabeth is the is the cool and calculating Mind. Percy is the impulsive and passionate Spirit, but also embodies it in his empathy and compassion for others, and his drive to defend them.

The point I'm making is, I think this is why the seven, in the combination they stand, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.  Grover, a key part of the original series core, has been completely sidelined, and his absence is felt very much.  Strange isn't it, one satyrs life touches so many other's.  When he's not around he leaves a awfully big hole.  We'll touch about this more in The House of Hades, but The Heroes of Olympus sees some notable character development for Percy.  He's the heart of the seven, the one who binds them all together.  He's an Id transitioning into an Ego.  This does make sense; he's old, wiser, more experienced and more mature.  Yet at the same time he's still the Seaweed Brain we all know and love.

Alright, I've put it off for long enough, let's talk about Jason.  I'd really hoped that this book would clear up his characterization and give him some development.  Yeah, that did not happen at all.  My biggest problem with Jason is that he runs foul of "show, don't tell".  We are told that Jason feels conflicted, we are told that Jason is drawn to Camp Half-Blood, we are told that he is a great praetor.  We are told all of this, but we are never shown any evidence of this.  Again, a prequel short story set at Camp Jupiter might have helped out here.  It appear that his personality was...well, not having a personality.  The Ancient Romans prized stoicism, it is true, but this is not a case of that.  It just comes across more as lazy writing and a lack of planning.

One thing I noticed was that the seven didn't really work as a whole collective unit, but they did work in certain combos.  For example, I was surprised at how well Hazel, Frank and Leo gelled together, especially towards the end of the book.  It's kind of like how you can have ingredients to make a soup, and maybe they work in certain combos, but don't really work together as a whole.  This will become a bit of a reoccurring theme as we move forwards.  Just keep that in mind.  Also, Leo's great-grandpa being named Sammy means that we finally got a character named Sam!  Well, I thought that was significant anyway.

And of course we have to talk about the ending.  Percy and Annabeth falling into Tartarus...I mean, damn.  I did not expect something like that.  That was Thanos snaps his fingers level of "damn!"  Of course, we'll discuss that more in depot in our next retrospective.  And I'm also going to take a moment to plug the audiobook version.

Now let's analyze the cover.  We see Percy and Jason riding Blackjack and Tempest about to duke it out.  The storm is gathering as a pair of owl eyes, obviously symbolizing Athena, watches over them.

I hope I didn't sound too nitpicky.  The Mark of Athena is one of the core three good books of The Heroes of Olympus, and I enjoyed it very much.  Well, I think that should do it for now.  Join me next time when we take a look back at The House of Hades.  I will see you all then.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

There are some books that I put off reading for a while, but when I finally do, I'm really glad that I did.  It's not that I didn't want to read these books, just that I've got other books and things competing for my attention, so sometimes it takes time to get to them.  Of course, when I do get to these special books, I always wish I'd read them sooner.  One such book is the book that we're taking a look at today.  We're reviewing American Gods by Neil Gaiman. 

American Gods follows a man named Shadow.  He's just gotten out of prison, and he's looking forward to reuniting with his wife Laura.  Unfortunately, she died in a car accident while he was locked up.  Shadow find himself lost and adrift in the world.  That is, until he meets that mysterious Mr. Wednesday.  Wednesday reveals to Shadow that the gods and goddesses of ancient mythology are very much alive in the modern-day United States of America.  There's a war coming, and Wednesday needs Shadow to help him gather the Old Gods for a fight against the New Gods, the gods of modern day life.  Shadow's about to embark on a mythological adventure through modern day America.

Like I said, it took a long time for me to get around to this one, but it was well worth the wait.  A lot of people say they don't like this book because they think it's slow and meanders.  I, however, love it for exactly those reasons.  American Gods is a meditation on the nature of America, and on what it means to be American.  I enjoyed that the book took a laid-back and relaxed sort of way it.  It added to the overall meditative quality the book had for me.  

To me, this is a very 1990s book.  Not in the sense that it constantly references 1990s pop culture, current events or anything like that.  The closest we get to that is a brief mention of Xena the Warrior Princess and the Disney Hercules movie.  No, what makes this a 1990s book is the way it captures the zeitgeist of the 1990s.  During that time, America had just won its decades long Cold War against the Soviet Union, and now stood as the sole remaining superpower in the world.  Everyone was happy, but there was also the a linger feeling of "well, now what?"  American Gods really taps into that feeling of uncertainty, and uses that as a springboard for the meditation on the nature of America.  

Neil Gaiman himself notes this in the introduction to the 10th Anniversary edition.  He says that if he ever writes a sequel it's going to be different just because of how much America has changed since American Gods was first published.  In particular, he notes about how surreal it is to think that a bookstore in New York City where he promoted the book was destroyed in the September 11th attacks less than a year later.  

The novel is set almost entirely in Flyover Country.  There are a few brief scenes set in the coastal metropolises here and there, but for the most part, the vast majority of the action takes place in Middle America.  The summer before I began Middle School I took a road trip with my maternal grandparents and my sister across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states.  It was one of those trips I'll never forget.  As such, the setting of this book, and it's road trip plot, gave it a nostalgic feel to me.  I should point out that not all of the places mentioned are real, though many of them are.  For example, would you believe me if I told you that The House on the Rock is a real place?  It's mentioned that a lot of the places in America where magic is strongest are these out-of-the-way roadside attractions.  Throughout the book you get a sense that there's magic to be found even in mundane everyday life.  

There are several instances where a god won't be directly identified, but if you know your mythology, you'll be able to figure out who they are.  For example, at one point Shadow meets Whisky Jack, better known as the Algonquin god Wisakedjak.  During that scene we meet Johnny Appleseed, but he's different than the historical John Chapman.  I liked the nod to Paul Bunyan probably being fakelore, as well as the importance of mythology to a nation, during the at scene.  There's also a cameo the Welsh trickster god Gwydion fab Don; he works at a grocery store these days, and could be doing better.  

I enjoyed meeting all of the different gods and spirits, and learning how they've adjusted to life in America.  I should clarify that these aren't the original versions of the gods.  The original versions are still in their home countries.  It's explained that, whenever someone who believes in a god goes to a new country for the first time, it creates a new version of that god unique to that country.  So, by extension, this means all of these stories and hypotheses about various peoples making it to the New World before Columbus are true.  For example, the Egyptian gods came over when Ancient Egypt sent a expedition to America in ancient times.  

I also loved the shear variety of gods.  We have gods from Norse Mythology, Slavic Mythology, Egyptian Mythology, West African Mythology, and so much more.  There is a rather notable absence of the Greek and Roman gods.  Well, Medusa had a brief cameo in Rhode Island, but that's about it.  Gaiman has stated that he couldn't find any evidence, however sketchy, of the Greeks or Romans making it to the New World.  That, and he felt that Greco-Roman Mythology had been done to death, and he didn't think he could add anything new.  

If you're at all familiar with Norse Mythology, you'll figure out quickly that Mr. Wednesday is the American version of Odin.  Wednesday is named after Woden, the Germanic version of Odin.  Now, some people might find the way Mr. Wednesday beds numerous women and is generally a bit of a conman to be odd.  However, that's actually very true to the original myths.  In Norse Mythology, Odin and Loki are actually very similar to one another.  Both were very crafty and very much tricksters with a thing for bedding beautiful women.  Odin frequently disguised himself in a grey coat and hat and wandered around Midgard play tricks on morals.  

Chernobog pretty much stole every scene he was in.  He's just so loud, bombastic and over-the-top that he was hilariously awesome.  I also liked the way he adjusted to life in America.  It's repeatedly emphasized that the gods need sacrifices to maintain their strength, and that there is power in blood.  Chernobog maintained himself by working in the Chicago stockyards and dedicating the killings of the livestock to himself.  There's also a nod to the theory that Chernobog and his brother, the god Belobog, might have been the same god.  Belobog was god of light, and Chernobog get noticeably nicer during the spring, when light gives way to dark, and he does mention he can't remember when he last saw Belobog.  

Chernobog lives with the Zorya sisters, Slavic star goddesses, which leads to a slight deviation in the mythology.  In Slavic Mythology there are two Zorya, Zorya Utrennyaya and Zorya Vechernyaya, the morning and evening stars respectively. However, Gaiman adds a third Zorya sister, Zorya Polunochnaya, the midnight star.  Polunochnaya has no counterpart in Slavic Mythology, and was completely created by Gaiman.  Still, for the brief scenes we get of her, she's a nice addition to the story.

I enjoyed that the Egyptian gods played such a big role in the story.  I'm especially happy that Thoth and Anubis, my two favorite Egyptian gods, played such an important role.  They live in Cairo (pronounced kay-roe) Illinois because that's where the Ancient Egyptians sent their expeditions to all those years ago.  It's a joke because that part of Illinois is called Little Egypt.  Fittingly enough, they run a funeral parlor, and are referred to as Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jackal.  Bast is there too, as their pet cat, and Horus has gone a bit nutty due to spending too much time as a hawk.  Mr. Ibis mentions that there used to be more gods, but over the years they disappear for various reasons.  For example, Set took a trip to San Francisco, and was never heard from again.  

Yeah, even the gods can die, especially is they're low on power from lack of worship and sacrifice.  It's mentioned that there used to be an American version of Thor, but he committed suicide in the 1930s.  That's particularly tragic because, had he held on for a few more decades, he would have lived to see Marvel's Mighty Thor comics.  Of course, it's questionable if that would have helped.

There's a scene where Shadow and Wednesday are in San Francisco trying to get the goddess Easter to join the coming battle.  Easter insist that people still love her, so Wednesday ask a neopagan what she knows about the holiday Easter.  The neopagan wrongly assumes that it originated as a purely Christian holiday, and is shown to have very hazy beliefs about gods and goddesses.  The whole thing nearly gives Easter a heart attack.  The point being that, without traditional rituals and well-defined beliefs, neopagans might as well be atheists or agnostics as far as the Old Gods are concerned.  Some of you might object to the way the neopagans are presented, but I've known many of them that actually are kind of like that. 

Alright, so all of this is going on, but what about Jesus?  American Jesus never appears, and it's implied he considered himself above the coming war, probably because of all the legitimate worship he gets.  Amusingly, there is a deleted scene where Shadow meets American Jesus, and the way he's described sounds kind of like Steven Spielberg.  Wednesday mentions that he once met the Afghanistan Jesus, who is almost completely powerless. 

Throughout the books we also get flashbacks that explain how the various gods got to America.  We see the Norse gods come over with Viking explorers.  We see the Fair Folk thrive as people still tell their stories and leave them offerings.  The gods of West Africa come over with slaves from Africa, and we even see a now forgotten Mammoth god cross the Bering Strait with the ancestors of the Native Americans.  We also get brief vignettes of gods and spirits across America.  We follow a jinn working as a taxi driver in New York, and we briefly follow Bilquis, whom you probably know better as the Queen of Sheba.  

Now let's talk about Hinzelmann.  I already knew what the twist was with him, even before I read this book.  Even then, that arguably made the reveal even more effective.  He comes across as one of those jolly old men who tells funny stories; the kind you can find in most small towns.  Well, if you ignore the fact that he's a kobold who murders children to sustain himself, and make the town such a nice place to live.  It feels like Gaiman was using Hinzelmann to make a commentary on Americana.  As though he was saying that a quintessential small town like Lakeside, Wisconsin could only exist if something horrible was keeping it floating.  

There were occasionally mentions of gods and goddesses I wished had been elaborated on.  For example, we see that the Chinese and Japanese gods are active in America.  Do they get legitimate worship?  Maybe it would matter all that much.  The American version of Kali is joining the war because there aren't very many Hindus in America.  

Now let's talk about the audiobook version that I listened to.  I listened to the 10th Anniversary full cast edition of the American Gods audiobook.  A lot of people say they don't like, but frankly, I can't understand why that is.  All of the voice actors are very talented, and they perfectly capture their characters.  Even Neil Gaiman gets in on the action, narrating the Coming to America sections.  Full cast narrations almost always have leg up on single narrations, and that is certainly the case here.  As far as I'm concerned, the 10th Anniversary full cast edition is the definitive American Gods audiobook.  About the only negative is that, yet again, Audible changed the cover to the television tie-in edition.  They did that for both version of this audiobook, and I really wish they wouldn't.  Of course, the fear of this happening was the fire under my ass that I needed to finally listen to this book, which I did just in time.  

Well, I think it's quite obvious by now that I love this book very much.  I can't believe that it took me this long to listen to it, but I'm so glad that I finally did.  Do yourself a favor and check it out today.  You'll be glad that you did.

Well, I think that should do it from me for now.  I will see you guys next time.