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 Half-Blood...in 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.