Sunday, January 7, 2018

Flag of Isla Blanca

This is the flag of Isla Blanca.  It comes from a world where the Spanish Armada was slightly more successful than in our world.  Though it failed to conquer England, the armada to manage to capture the Isle of Wight.  Due to a mistranslation, the island was renamed Isla Blanca, or White Island in English.  Isla Blanca proved to be an invaluable strategic location for the Spanish.  Owing to its close proximity to the British Isles, the Spanish were able to use Isla Blanca to keep the British in check.  As a result of this, Gibraltar remains firmly under Spanish control. 

Over the years, the Britain has made many attempts to regain Isla Blanca from Spain.  For example, when Isla Blanca's constitution was being written in the late 20th Century, it was stated that it could not seek independence from both Britain and Spain.  Shortly after that, a referendum was held to decide Isla Blanca fate.  The options were continued union with Spain, union with Britain, or having both nations share joint custody of Isla Blanca.  The people of Isla Blanca overwhelmingly voted to remain part of Spain.  Several other referendums have been held over the years, but the result is always the same, much to Britain's chagrin.

In terms of culture, it is often said that the people of Isla Blanca are more Spanish than even the Spanish themselves.  Recently, following Spain's decision to leave the European Union, some have wondered if Isla Blanca might waver in its loyalty.  For now, however, Isla Blanca remains fiercely loyal to Spain and proud of its Spanish culture and heritage. 

The waves on the flag represent Spain's control of the wave, and a nod to its former world-spanning empire.  Above the waves is a maroon field, representing royalty and the Spanish monarchy.  The monarchy is also reference in the crown atop the coat of arms.  The coat of arms contains a stylization image of Isla Blanca set against a soft blue sea, as well as two fish.  The fish represent fishing, unsurprisingly, a historically important industry on Isla Blanca. 


Flag of the Russo-American Alliance

This is the flag of the Russo-American Alliance.  It comes from a world where World War II dragged on for long than it did in our world, before ending in a stalemate.  The Allies and Axis signed an armistice, but officially, the war never ended.  For the next few decades there was an uneasy peace as the major and minor powers improved their technology in apprehension for the war heating up again.  One development was the beginnings of colonizing the Solar System.  The other major way this world differs from ours is that the Solar System is teaming with habitable worlds, much like it is depicted in science fiction from the 50s and 60s.  

Colonization of the Solar System got a major boost when the war finally started up again.  By this point, both the Allies and the Axis had developed atomic bombs.  Both sides were more than willing to use their nuclear weapon, along with other new weapons such as remote controlled asteroids.  As a result, Earth's environment was completely devastated.  Numerous cities were destroyed, massive crop failure occurred due to nuclear winter, and overall it was not a good time to be living on Earth.

The nations of the Earth, or at least, the ones with space programs, engaged in a mass evacuation attempt.  New alliances were forged and cultures were intermingled.  By the 21st century Earth remains a backwater planet just beginning to show signs of recovery from the nuclear war.  Meanwhile, Mars and Venus shine as bastion of culture and freedom, and are locked in a bitter war against the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. 

The war continued even into space, but for now at least, things are at an uneasy truce.  The Allies laid claim to the Inner Planets, while the Axis were pushed to the Outer Planets.  The astroid belt was claimed by neutral nations, such as Switzerland, and become something of a neutral zone between the two.  Recently, the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt have been designated as neutral zones as well. 

The Russo-American Alliance started off as a coalition the United States, the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the French Empire.  However, Britain and France took quite a beating during the thermonuclear war.  As a result, America and Russia came to dominate the alliance both culturally and in terms of political clout.  The official language of the Alliance is Runglish, a combination of Russian and English, with a few bits of French thrown in.  Venusian Runglish is more similar to Russian, while Martian Runglish is more similar to English.  


The blending of Russian and American culture is most evident with the design of the flag.  The flag is a combination of the American and Soviet flags. 


Monday, November 20, 2017

Interview: Pelycosaur24

I'm taking a small break from my Riordan Retrospectives.  I've just gotten a major break with my writing career, and I need to focus on that for the moment.  However, I'm not going to leave you guys empty-handed.  I've got another interview today.  We've having a brief chat with Pelycosaur24 from DeviantArt.  She's made some really nice commissioned art for me, which I'll hopefully get to share with you guys soon.  So, without further ado, let's get started.


1) In your own words, tell us who you are

I am someone with a lot of different interests - which has led to four different university studies (I am currently working on my master’s thesis). My hobbies include experimental archaeology, archery, sword fighting and of course drawing.

2) I understand that you're from Austria. Can you tell the readers a bit about what life is like in Austria?

It is very different than life in America, I imagine, but I am very happy to live in Austria, what I love most about this country is the great balance between modern times and historical presence. Most cities have existed at least since the middle ages and there are a lot of old houses everywhere. But of course, we have a lot of nature too, mostly mountains and forests.

3) What got you into art?

I used to write short stories and wanted to get a better picture of my characters, so I started illustrating my stories

4) Is there any story behind your user name?

I just love mammal-like reptiles, but there is no particular story behind the name

5) What is a typical day like for you?

Since I joined the army 2 months ago, a typical day for me now begins at 6 am and consists mostly of marching and combat training.

6) What historical era is your favorite? Relatedly, what historical figure do you most admire?

That is a tough question, but I think I go with the roman republic. Corresponding with that one of the historical figures that fascinates me most is Tiberius Gracchus. The historical figure I most admire would probably be Archduke Charles, a 19th century Austrian military commander.

7) What is your favorite prehistoric creature and why?

My favorite Dinosaur has always been Iguanodon (also because I love the history of paleontology and the story of how Iguanodon was discovered), while my favorite prehistoric mammal is the cave bear (the most common prehistoric animal in Austria - 30.000 have been found in one cave near where I live).

8) Are there any works of fiction that you're a fan of?

I generally really love Pixar and DreamWorks movies (especially Kung Fu Panda), and I also really like the show Primeval.

9) Any advice for aspiring artists?

Just always keep practicing, and from time to time you can compare your drawings and reflect on your progress.

10) What are you working on at the moment?

I had a rather big drawing project where I drew lots of people from the Chalcolithic and now I am working on some backgrounds for them, and of course I have my Stone Age movie reviews that I write every other week.

11) What does the future hold for you?

Right now, I just want to get through basic training and finish my master’s thesis at the same time.  Then I will see what I do from there.

12) Any closing remarks, and where can the readers find you?

You can find my drawings at my DeviantArt page or on my Facebook page. I appreciate every like and favorite.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Riordan Retrospective: The Demigod Files

Welcome once again to the Riordan Retrospective.  For those of you just joining the fun, I'm taking a look back at the works of Rick Riordan, collectively known as the Riordanverse.  That means the Percy Jackson series, its sequels and its spin-offs.  Last time, we took a look back at The Battle of the Labyrinth.  This time, we're taking a look at The Demigod Files.


Now, this time is going to be a bit different; since we're looking back at a short story collection rather than a novel.  As such, this retrospective might run a bit shorter than the rest, but there's still lots of fun to be had.  Let's get started by talking about the stories themselves.  As per usual, beware of potential spoilers beyond this point. 

Our first story is entitled “Percy Jackson and the Stolen Chariot”.  Percy is at school when he looks out the window and sees Clarisse La Rue being attack by feather-shooting birds.  After getting excused from class, Percy learns that Clarisse is on a mission to retrieve Ares missing war chariot.  It's been stolen by her brothers, the gods Phobos and Deimos, who have hidden it at the Staten Island Zoo.  Percy and Clarisse have until sundown to get the chariot back to Ares temple, aka the USS Intrepid.

Overall, I thought that “Stolen Chariot” was a great way to expand on the worldbuilding of the Riordanverse.  We get the sense that Percy is having adventures even when he isn't at Camp Half-Blood.  This is also the first time that minor gods have played a major role in a story.  Granted, Janus appeared in Battle of the Labyrinth, but this time minor gods are front and center.  Also, this story confirmed a theory I'd long suspected: Percy can walk on water!  Albeit, it takes an extreme amount of concentration on his part.  The fact that the gods still have temples, of a sort, has...interesting implications.  We'll touch more on this when we get to next retrospective.

We also gain some interesting insights when Percy and Clarisse confront their greatest fears.  Not so much what their greatest fears were; Clarisse fear being a disappointment to Ares, and Percy fears that his friends would get hurt and he wouldn't be able to save them.  No, the interesting part is that Percy apparently counts Clarisse as one of his friends.  It really says something about how far they've come since the series began.  Rick Riordan originally posted this story, in three parts, to his blog back in 2007 to help hold readers over until book four came out.  So, chronologically, I'd say this story takes place between The Titan's Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth.

Our next story is “Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon”.  Percy Jackson and Charles Beckendorf, son of Hephaestus, are on the same team in capture team in capture the flag.  Things are not looking very optimistic.  Athena Cabin and Ares Cabin are playing on the same team and kicking everyone's butts.  Things only get worse when Beckendorf is captured by a swarm of Myrmekes when trying to retrieve a bronze dragon head from their nest.  The head belongs to a mechanical dragon the used to help guard the camp.  Percy's going to have to team up with Annabeth and Silena Beauregard, daughter of Aphrodite, to save Beckendorf and put the bronze dragon back together.

In every series there's always a few ensemble darkhorses, as TV Tropes would put it.  They're those character who, even though they don't necessarily play a major role in a given work, but you love them anyway.  Everyone has their personal ensemble dark horse, but to me, it's always been Beckendorf and Silena.  I can't really explain why, but I've always been fond of them.  So, I was very happy that they both played starring roles in this short story.  These stories might seem like fun little side adventures, but they have actual relevance to the overall plot of the series.  The titular bronze dragon becomes incredibly significant in The Heroes of Olympus

In terms of chronology, I'd say that this story takes place between The Titan's Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth.  It a plot point that Beckendorf wants to ask Silena to the Fourth of July fireworks show, the biggest dating event at Camp Half-Blood.  This is significant because Silena and Beckendorf didn't officially become a couple until the end of Battle of the Labyrinth.  Then again, that doesn't necessarily work out so...you know what?  Don't question it, it's a story with Beckendorf and Silena, enjoy it for that alone.  It was also really nice to have a story set a Camp Half-Blood where the fate of the world wasn't at stake.  As with “Stolen Chariot”, it helps to expand the worldbuilding.  

Our third and final story is “Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades”.  It is set between The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian.  Percy, Thalia and Nico have been summoned to the underworld by the goddess Persephone.  Hades new sword has been stolen by a demigod working for Kronos, and it's up to the children of the Big Three to get it back.  This is especially important because the Keys of Hades have been forged into the sword.  The keys allow anyone to enter the underworld, or free any spirits in the underworld, anytime they please.  

This is another story that winds up having huge significance in The Heroes of Olympus.  This is when we first meet the titan Iapetus, or as he's known after falling into the River Lethe, Bob.  Thalia and Nico have always been very popular ensemble darkhorses in their own right, and I like to think that this story made a lot of fans very happy.  In fact, Nico gained such popularity that he'd later go on to play a major role in The Heroes of Olympus.  I loved that the story included an appearance by Melinoe, goddess of ghosts.  She's definitely not a goddess most people would know off the top of their heads. 

Fun fact, Rick wrote this story for World Book Day back in 2009.  I gotta say, I did not see the end of this story coming.  Turns out it was Persephone who made the sword in hopes of bringing balance of power among the Big Three.  Hades had not clue, and wasn't entirely happy about what Persephone was up to.  That actually brings up an interesting point.  Zeus has his thunderbolt, Poseidon has his trident, but Hades doesn't really have any iconic weapon.  He has his Helm of Darkness, and his two-pronged staff, but nothing with any offensive capabilities.  

Now that's we've talked about the short stories, let's talk about the character interviews.  Well, actually, let's talk about the introductory letter.  From this letter we learn that Rick Riordan himself is a character in the Riordanverse.  Specifically, he's apparently the head scribe of Camp Half-Blood.  The Kane Chronicles would later reaffirm Riordan's existence as a character in the Riordanverse.  This is certainly interesting, but it does raise the question of why Percy never mentioned Rick in any of the books.  

Okay, now let's talk about the interviews.  They're a collection of fictional interviews with Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Clarisse and the Stoll Brothers.  Overall, I thought they were pretty fun.  My favorite bit was when the Stoll brothers recalled the time they tossed a golden mango with the words "To the Hottest" into the Aphrodite Cabin and then laughed their asses off as all the Aphrodite girls fought over it.  Of course, it was the Aphrodite girls who ultimately got the last laugh.  Also, their names are Conner and Travis Stoll, and their dad is Hermes, god of thieves (amoung other things).  Funny, but it should be noted here that one of Rick Riordan's former students really is named Travis Stoll.  Also, I'd like to take the opportunity to point out that, contrary to popular fan belief, Conner and Travis aren't actually twins.   Rick has stated this multiple times, as has Percy in various books. 

The Grover interview was also pretty fun.  I especially liked he part where he asked his story about meeting wood nymphs in Upsate New York to be retracted.  He wouldn't want to upset his girlfriend Juniper, after all.  I did find it a bit disappointing the everyone said their favorite god, besides their parents, was Zeus.  That just seemed too predictable.  I like to think they said something else, but then they heard a clap of thunder and changed their answers.  

There a few bonus features including a crossword puzzle, a word jumble, a look inside Annabeth's camp trunk, and a sneak peak at The Last Olympian.  There's also a map of Camp Half-Blood, but it has since become out of date.  

There's not much to say about the cover, as there's just the one.  We see a sword, presumably Percy's sword Riptide, in front of a glowing trident symbol. This is accompanied by a swirl of bubbles and set against a blue background. As per usual, you know I'll take this moment to plug the excellent audiobook version.

Well, I think that wraps up this retrospective of The Demigod Files.  Join me again next time when we take a look back at The Last Olympian.  Until then, I will see you guys next time.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Riordan Retrospective: The Battle of the Labyrinth

Welcome once again to my Riordan Retrospective.  I'm looking back at Percy Jackson and the Olympians, its sequels and its spin-offs.  Last time, we took a look back at The Titan's Curse, widely considered to have been a major turning point in the series.  This time we're taking a look back at The Battle of the LabyrinthPercy Jackson and the Olympians book 4.  As usual, we're going to kick things off with a brief summary. 


Percy Jackson is feeling a bit down about having to go to freshmen orientation in the middle of summer.  He mood doesn't exactly improve when he's nearly attack by a pair of empousai.  Percy soon finds himself back at Camp Half-Blood, where there's trouble brewing.  The war against the Titans is drawing closer with each passing day.  Worse, the Labyrinth of Daedalus is back, and on of its openings is in the middle of Camp Half-Blood; a perfect sneak entrance for the Titan army.  Percy and his friends are going to have to brave the twists and terrors of the Labyrinth to find Daedalus and get him to close the Labyrinth once and for all.  

As I've stated many times before, but I'm going to state it again, there will be spoilers of plenty beyond this point.  Turn back now if you don't want anything spoiled.  Now with that out of the way, let's talk plot.

As the penultimate book of the original series, some serious shit goes down in Battle of the Labyrinth.  This is, of course, in order to set things up for the final book, The Last Olympian.  The changes that The Titan's Curse started only continue to mount in this book.  

Perhaps the biggest shocker was when our heroes finally find the god Pan.  Grover's entire character arc has been based around finding Pan and convincing him to come back and save the wild.  However, Pan has grown so weak that he no longer has any will to live.  Still, he passes his spirit to Grover and friends and encourages them to keep fighting the good fight, and defend the wild.  Again, this has been what Grover's entire character arc has been building towards, and you can just feel how absolutely crushing this was to him.

And yet, even with this crushing blow, Grover still dusts himself off and soldiers on with his new.  I think it really goes to show how strong-willed Grover is, and how many people often underestimate him.  To me, Pan's death was even more shocking than Bianca and Zoe, because it showed that even gods can die.  Granted, this does raise quite a few questions.  For example, Pan claims to be dying because wild places are being destroyed.  Problem is, there are huge swaths of America that contain wild and undeveloped lands; that's not even getting into all the places in other countries with wild and untamed lands. 

Now, let's change gears slightly.  Throughout the Percy Jackson series there's always been a bit of a subtle environmental message.  For example, there are a lot of times that Percy winds up in a river and will remark on how polluted it is, and of course there's Grover's occasional commentary.  There's also a couple other occasions that Percy will note the ways humans have effected the natural landscape.  You get the message, but it never gets too preachy.  This contrasts nicely to how Riordan would go on to tackle other serious topics, but again, we'll get to Magnus Chase eventually.

It is also in this book that we get an explanation for how Athena has children, despite being a virgin goddess.  Apparently, they're created from thought when Athena finds a mortal mind that matches her own.  So, I guess you could say that a child of Athena is literally a brain child.  Admittedly, it does seem a bit odd that Riordan took so long to get around to explain this, given that Athena having children would raise most mythology buffs' eyebrows.  I think it is a good and clever explanation.  It also had the benefit of expanding the pool of goddess mothers beyond just Demeter and Aphrodite.   

Speaking of children of Athena, let's talk about Quintus.  It was certainly an interesting dynamic to have an adult demigod be one of the major characters. In fact, this is the first, and only, time in the original series that we see an adult demigod.  It has been strongly implied that most demigods get killed by monsters before reaching adulthood.  Though, admittedly, this is somewhat contradicted by how many famous historical figures are mentioned to have been demigods.  It does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity that we never got to meet any other adult demigods.  What sort of wisdom and perspectives could they have offered to Percy and company?  

Of course, we can't talk about Quintus without discussing who he actually is: Daedalus.  It's mentioned that Daedalus was a son of Athena, though this is purely and invention of Riordan's.  Then again, the myths were never very consistent, and as I mentioned in my retrospect of The Titan's Curse, it's implied that not all myths are accurate accounts.  Hephaestus more or less says as much when Percy meets him, so there's that.  His major character arc is learning that wisdom and book-smarts aren't the same thing.  As Annabeth points out, children of Athena are supposed to be wise, not just clever.  

There's a bit of early installment weirdness, as TV Tropes would put it, at play in this book.  The biggest offender being when the characters encounter Janus, a purely Roman god with no Greek counterpart.  The Roman gods and demigods didn't appear in full until the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus. I suppose it can be excused somewhat, as it is possible that Riordan hadn't workout all the lore and/or plans for sequel series.  Though, if nothing else, Janus serves as (possibly) unintentional foreshadowing for what was to come. 

I probably should have brought this up before, but a lot of the characters' names are actually pretty significant.  They either nod to their parentage or reveal something about their personality or motives.  For example, we have Nico di Angelo, son of Hades.  In Italian, di Angelo means "of the angels", like how when someone dies they're often said to have become an angel.  Theologically speaking, this is inaccurate, but you get the point.  A very fitting name for a child of the god of the dead, especially one who was originally from Venice.  

That brings us to Ethan Nakamura, son of Nemesis, the goddess of justice and balance.  In Japanese, Nakamura means "middle village", or to put another way, neutral.  He also wears an eyepatch over one of his eyes, due to it having been stabbed out, bring to mind the old say "justice is blind".  Ethan is also notable in that he is the first child of a minor god we are introduced to.  His entire motivation is based around the fact that the minor gods, and by extension their children, get no respect.  The minor gods don't have thrones on Olympus, nor do they have cabins at the camp.  Their children as forced to bunk with the Hermes campers. 

Just a side note, just why didn't the minor gods have cabins?  I can understand not having thrones, but no cabins for their kids?  Children of minor gods aren't exactly rare, and even taking into account how bad the gods were about claiming their kids, surely, they'd need somewhere to sleep at the camp?  Was there some rule that said only gods with thrones could have cabins?  I'm getting off track, let's get back to talking about Ethan.

You get the impress that, at heart, Ethan is a good kid.  However, his circumstances forced him to join Kronos' army in hopes of bringing justice to the minor gods and their children.  It's related to one of the things that makes Luke such an effective villain.  A lot of the things he says do have at least some legitimacy to them.  There also a really great scene where Percy is on Ogygia and is having dinner with Calypso.  He ask how she could have sided with the Titans during the Titanomachy.  She replies that they were her family and she felt obligated because they're her family; then she asks if that's really so different than why Percy fights for the Olympians.  

Percy himself have a pretty significant name, but we'll get more into that when we get to The Last Olympian.  In more on the nose names, we've got Rachel Elizabeth Dare, who is a redhead.  I liked the way she factored into the plot, and showed that mortals who can see through the mist can still do cool things even without demigod powers.  I also enjoy the fact that the other characters didn't get derailed just to make Rachel look more competent.  Annabeth's plan for finding Daedalus wasn't without merit, she was just looking at things from the wrong angle.  This contrast very well with a similarly scene in the later books, but we'll get to The Blood of Olympus eventually.

Also, let's take a moment to appreciate how, when faced with the newly revived Kronos, Rachel tossed her hairbrush at him without a second thought.  Even Kronos himself was a bit impressed that she was so bold.  Don't think I've ever brought this up before, but I've always thought that The Mist was a really cleaver way to explain why most regular mortals don't notices the mythological goings on.  

Leaving aside names, let's talk about the Labyrinth itself.  It was actually a pretty great way to get the character across America in the blink of an eye.  My only minor criticism is that it seems like it could have gone a bit further.  For example, why not have it take the characters to other nations?  Granted, the gods are currently living in America, so that probably explains it.  Still, it does seem like a bit of a wasted opportunity.  Interestingly, The Trails of Apollo would later confirm that, yes, that Labyrinth can go to other nations.  I will also add that I loved how the scene with the Sphinx satirized standardized testing.     

As a side note, in this book we finally get some scene set in Riordan's native Texas.  I bring this up because, as of the posting of this article, he's never set any of his book in San Antonio, the city of his birth and where he spent most of his life.  We've got scenes set in San Francisco, where Riordan lived for many years, and Magnus Chase is set almost entirely in Boston, where Riordan currently lives.  We've also, in other books, had scenes in Houston and Austin, but not San Antonio.  It just seems odd that San Antonio has yet to appear in any of Riordan's books. 

As usual, you know I'm going to plug the audiobook version.  It was just as excellent as all of the other audiobooks in the series.  The only minor criticism I had was that Jesse gave Ethan an Asian accent, even though nothing in the text suggests that this is the case.  Like I said, just a minor point, it is still a great audiobook.

In other things that you know are always do, let's analyze the covers.  The new cover features a group of buildings that eventually turn into the Labyrinth.  Looming over it menacingly is Kronos; at least, I'm fairly certain that's him.  If you look closely you can see our heroes on the run.


The old cover features crimson red as its primary color.  We see Percy pearling into Kronos' sarcophagus, which is overflowing with energy.  Below, we see a miniature version of the Labyrinth and miniature representations of some of the major stops in the novel.  

Well, I think that wraps it up for now, just one minor order of business to attend to.  Technically, The Last Olympian is the fifth book in the series, however, there is short story collection set between it and Battle of the Labyrinth.  This collection, known as The Demigod Files, will be the focus of the next edition of The Riordan Retrospective.  Not only is it chronically set between books four and five, but it actually plays a pretty significant role in the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus.

So, all that having been said, join me again next time when we take a look back at The Demigod Files.  Until then, I will see you guys next time.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Flag of the Republic of Ezo

This is the flag of the Republic of Ezo.  It comes from a world where the Boshin War went slightly more favorably for the Shogunate forces.  As a result, the Meiji government was forced to, at least temporarily, recognize the Republic of Ezo.  It wasn't long before the Japanese declared war on Ezo once again.  However, the Satsuma Rebellion still happened and was a lot more widespread, emboldened by Ezo's success.  The Meiji government was forced to focus on quelling the Satsuma Rebellion.  Ezo was able to find support from France and Russia to help protect them from the Japanese.  Eventually, Japan had no choice but to formally recognize the Ezo government.

In response to Ezo's alliance with France and Russia, Japan strengthened its ties to Britain and Germany.  Following their failure to capture Hokkaido, the Japanese turned their attention to Korea.  Ezo, under the command of the recently defected Saigo Takamori, also sent an expedition to conquer Korea.  Korea was able to play Japan and Ezo off of each other, and was able to maintain its independence.  In time, Korea was able to modernize and industrialize like Japan had.  Japan was humbled by its failure in Korea, and the Japanese were forced to focus more on domestic policy than foreign conquest.

Ezo also pursued a policy of isolationism following the failed expedition to Korea.  Some industrialization was a necessary evil, but on the whole Ezo strived to maintain as much of its traditional culture and way of life as possible.  As time went on, however, Ezo began to increasingly fall under French influence.  In many way, it could be said that Ezo had become a French protectorate. 

World War I started off around the same time, and with very similar circumstances, as our world.  However, in this world Japan fought for the Central Powers.  The Japanese were bitter at the British for selling weapons to Ezo, resentful growing opposition to the creeping British influence on Japanese society, and their alliance with Germany was as strong as ever.  Ezo initially tried to remain neutral, but a surprise Japanese attack prompted Ezo to join the Entente Powers.  The war ended in an Entente victory.  Japan was placed under crushing reparations to Ezo, and was forced to cease land in northern Japan to Ezo.

Japan began to grow resentful against Ezo, and began to rearm for another war.  Ezo and Korea were subjected to a series of harsh bombing campaigns. It wasn't long before Ezo and Korea were forced to surrender and formerly occupied by Japan.  The Japanese continued to expand their influence across East Asia and the Pacific.  It wasn't long, however, before they found themselves in conflict with the United States.  Like in our world, the war ended in an American victory. 

Ezo regained its independence following the war.  Though there is still bad blood between Ezo and Japan, the two nations are slowly putting their past behind them.  There is a movement to reunify Ezo and Japan into a single nation, but it doesn't have much support at the moment.  Still, you never know what the future might hold.

The flag is black and white in reference to the flag of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and the seven-pointed star stands for the spirit of the Ezo people.


Riordan Retrospective: The Titan's Curse

Welcome back to my Riordan Retrospective.  For those of you just joining the fun, I'm taking a look back at the works of Rick Riordan.  This includes Percy Jackson and the Olympians, its sequels and its spin-offs.  Last time, we took a look back at The Sea of Monsters.  This time we're taking a look at The Titan's Curse, Percy Jackson and the Olympians book 3.  As usual, we're going to start things off with a brief summary.


It's Christmas Vacation, but there's no rest for Percy Jackson, the demigod son of Poseidon.  Along with his fellow demigods Annabeth Chase and Thalia Grace, the newly revived daughter of Zeus, he's on a mission to locate a pair of newly discovered demigods.  During the mission, however, Annabeth is kidnapped by an manticore.  Worse yet, the goddess Artemis is also being held hostage.  An important meeting of the Olympian Council will occur during the Winter Solstice, about going to war agains the Titans, and Artemis could prove to be the swing vote.  It's going to take everything Percy and the gang have got to brave to fearsome odds to get Annabeth and Artemis back in time.

The Titan's Curse is often considered to be a turning point for the Percy Jackson series.  I think that, all things considered, that's a fair assessment.  We're introduced to several characters who either leave a big impact, or go on to play major roles later in the series.  We also get set up for events and plot-points that play a big role later in the series.

Once again, given the nature of these retrospectives,mothers going to be spoilers ahoy, so just keep that in mind as we move forwards.

One of the big changes that comes with The Titan's Curse is that it marks the first time we witness characters die "on-screen", and two main characters at that.  Granted, previous book have discussed demigods getting killed, but always in reference to the past.  This time, however, Plot Armor is not guaranteed from the get-go.  I does deliver the harsh, yet still true, message that sometimes even heroes die in the line of duty.  It also serves to up the stakes and makes thing a bit more interesting, as everyone's survival is not a forgone conclusion.

Now then, let's talk about those characters.  First up we've got Bianca di Angelo.  Despite only making it about halfway through the book, she leaves a huge impact on the series.  Her death proves to be a huge source of motivation for her brother Nico.  Speaking of Nico, Bianca often catches a lot of flax for her decision to join the Hunters of Artemis, but I think she deserves more sympathy.  She's been looking after Nico for quite a while by the time Percy and company find them, and she's only twelve-years-old.

 Well, physically, she and Nico have been in the Lotus Hotel since the 1940s, but time passes slower in the hotel than in the outside world.  Point is, she definitely loved Nico, but she was just a kid herself.  She knew that he'd be safe and cared for at Camp Half-Blood, and the Hunters would be able to give her the freedom to just be free and actually be a kid, just like she'd always wanted.  Plus, she knew that she wouldn't be saying goodbye to Nico forever, just goodbye for now.  Granted, that's not how things played out, but I can at least understand her thought process.

In other characters, we've got Zoe Nightshade.  She makes it almost all the way through the book before she bites the dust.  Bianca's death has more long-lasting impacts, but Zoe's death makes more of an immediate impact because we've spent the whole book getting to know her.  She also helps expand the worldbuilding.  For example, we learn that she's one of the Hesperides, the daughter of the titan Atlas.  However, the reason she never made it into the mythology books is because Atlas disowned her for helping the hero Heracles.  I liked how it gave the impression that, while all of the Greek Myths are true, they might not all be completely accurate accounts of what happened.  It's a clever way to handwaving any discrepancies; well, that and the fact that consistency was never a strong point of Greek Mythology.

Next up, in important characters, there's Annabeth's dad.  Throughout the first few books, Annabeth has had a strained relationship with her father.  So, what's he like when we finally meet him?  He's goofy and silly, but he also clearly cares about Annabeth, and he's there for her when the chips are down.  Now, consider that Percy is goofy and silly, but also cares about Annabeth, and is always there for her when the chips are down.  Studies have shown that women often uses their fathers as a template for choosing a husband; the same holds true for men using their mothers a templates for choosing a wife.  This isn't an Oedipus Complex, or anything like that.  It's more that these kinds of people often bring with them the comfort of familiarity and feelings of safety.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, maybe one of the reasons Annbeth became attracted to Percy is that, subconsciously, he reminds her of her father.  On a similar note, I like to think that Percy's mom was a bit like Annabeth in her younger days.

So, there is that supercool scene at the climax where Mr. Chase rides in on a World War I biplane, and shoots monsters with Celestial Bronze bullets.  However, that scene raised an interesting question: why don't demigod use guns.  Now, from a Doylist, or out-of-universe point-of-view, the explanation is probably that sword fights are cooler to read about than gun fights; though that is subjective.  It's also possible that, given Riordan's political views, he simply doesn't like guns and doesn't want to glorify them.

Okay, so what about the Watsonian, or in-universe, explanation?  There could be quite a few reasons.  It could be that swords are more reliable than guns; gun need to constantly be reloaded with bullets and might jam at critical moments.  There's also the question of how many bullets it would take to kill a monster.  On the flip side, it only takes one or two bullets to kill a demigod.  Perhaps the thinking is that it's best not to give the monsters any ideas.  Curiously, in The Heroes of Olympus, the Camp Half-Blood arsenal is mentioned to contain a shotgun, so maybe it just hasn't occurred to anyone yet?

In other speculations, let's talk about the Ophiotaurus.  First of all, hats-off to Rick for not underestimating his audience.  The Ophiotaurus is definitely not a creature most people would think of when listing creatures of Greek Mythology.  Now, Percy convinces the gods to spare the little beast on the grounds that it is wrong kill it for something it might do.  It probably didn't hurt that the gods were also having a very similar conversation about whether or not to kill him at this time.  Perhaps, however, Percy's motives weren't as altruistic as they seem.  By this point, Percy is more than aware that the gods can be major pricks when they want to, and that demigods are often powerless to do anything about it.  So what if he saved the Ophiotaurus to use as a potential Sword of Damocles if the occasion ever called for it?

Don't think he wouldn't go through with the ritual.  If there one thing you should never do, it's mess with Percy's loved ones.  He'd probably use it as an absolute last resort, but if he were pushed far enough, I believe he'd go for it.  Though, I concede, this is all speculation on my part.

To a certain extent, The Titan's Curse follows the pattern set by the previous books.  Like the previous books, someone significant to Percy has been kidnapped and he needs to rescue them.  In The Lightning Thief it was Mrs. Jackson, in The Sea of Monsters it was Grover, and this time it's Annabeth.  Similarly, whereas last time we got The Odyssey 2.0, with a bit of Jason and the Argonauts, this time much of the action is inspired by the Labors of Heracles.  Percy and the gang battle the Nemean Lion, our heroes hit ha ride on the Erymanthian Boar, and holding up the sky is, of course, the titular Titan's curse.  In the previous book , we also got the Stymphalian Birds and the Hydra.  We also get some more of this in The Battle of the Labyrinth, but we'll talk about that next time.  Like I've said, it ties in with the theme of history/mythology repeating.  We also got other cool monsters, such as the Spartoi.

All of that having been said, The Titan's Curse also diverges from the other books in that it is clearly setting things up for later books more so than before. For example, we get the first few sparks of Percy and Annabeth's eventual romance, as well as set up for the eventual war with the Titans.  We're also introduced to characters like Nico and Rachel, who play major roles in subsequent books.

The audiobook version was as excellent as always, and the Hoover Dam scene becomes even funnier.  If you're reading the text, it's obvious that the characters are saying things like "the dam snack bar" or "the dam bathroom".  In the audio version, it sounds slightly racier, as though they're saying "the damn snack bar" or "the damn bathroom".  I knew what the joke was from the start, but it's fun to pretend, and I love Uncle Rick for including it.

Let's now take a moment to analyze the book covers.  First, we'll start with the original.  It's very purplish-blue, and we see Percy and his pegasus Blackjack atop the Chrysler Building.  Fun fact, when Blackjack was first introduced in The Sea of Monsters he was described as female, but in all subsequent books he is described as male.  It is unknown why this is, probably just a typo that never got corrected, or something like that.  We see some vines from Mr. D attempting to stop the duo from going to Washington D.C.  When Rick first showed this cover to some kids to promote the book, he had a memorable experience where a kid shouted out "Percy's riding a war moose!" because of how fat Blackjack looks.


Moving on to the new cover, we see Percy and Blackjack front and center.  In this version, Blackjack decidedly does not look like a war moose.  In the background we see the Golden Gate Bridge, since the climax takes place in San Francisco and thereabout.  It also notable I contrast to the previous covers.  The first two covers had very dark and ominous color schemes; this time, however, the colors are bright and triumphant.  Curiously, the books are numbered using Roman Numerals, even though the Romans don't appear until The Heroes of Olympus.

I hope you've been enjoying these retrospectives as much as I have.  If you like these and my other work there are many places you can find me.  You can follow me on Twitter where I'm @ArthurDrakoni, you can like my fan page on Facebook, or you can checkout the Camp Half-Blood subreddit where I regularly post these retrospectives.

Well, I think that does it for now.  Join me again next time when we take a look back at The Battle of the Labyrinth.  Until then, I will see you guys next time.