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.   

Friday, September 14, 2018

Comic Review: Uncle Sam

At one point or another every American has pondered a fundamental question: what does it mean to be American?  Relatedly, what is the nature of America?  What are we to make of America's history? These questions are at the heart of the comic we're going to be reviewing today.  We're reviewing the comic Uncle Sam by Alex Ross and Steve Darnall. 

The comic follows a man named Sam.  His clothes have grown tattered and faded, he spouts out quotes and slogans like a madman, but Sam is no ordinary man.  He is Uncle Sam, the living embodiment of the United States of America.  Sam is confused and disoriented; he is plagued by memories and images of horrors and hypocrisy that have occurred throughout American History.  Sam is about to embark on a journey to find the answer to who he, and by extension America, really is.  

So, a bit of clarification before we really begin.  If you're a fan of DC Comics then you might be familiar with the DC universe's version of Uncle Sam, as created by comics pioneers Will Eisner.  That version of Uncle Sam was a muscular man of action who fight in World War II against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  He, along with his super team The Freedom Fighters, would continue the action on a parallel universe version of Earth called Earth X, where World War II lasted way longer than in our world. 

Well, all of that having been said, the Uncle Sam in the comic we're discussing is not that Uncle Sam.  In fact, this comic is not published by DC Comics, it's published by Vertigo.  Vertigo is a subsidiary of DC Comics.  Technically, DC and Vertigo take place in the same universe, but they keep to themselves and rarely interact.  Vertigo stories tend to be a bit more mature, and in some cases, especially the horror comics, darker, than your typical DC fare.  They're keep separate so that Vertigo stories can maintain a sense of drama and tension, without superheroes swooping in to save the day, and in some cases ruin the realism. 

Okay, now that we've established all of that, let's talk about Uncle Sam.  This story really captures the zeitgeist of the 1990s.  Not so much in that it features any 1990s pop culture or tends as major plot points, but it really captures the feeling and spirit of that moment in time.  Around the time this comic was written, back in 1997, America was dealing with a lot of major issues.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America found itself the sole remaining global superpower.  There was a lot of joy, but also a lot of fear and uncertain for what the 21st Century would bring the nation. 

In 1992, the Rodney King trails and the LA Race Riots made national news, and it sure felt like America was trying to commit suicide.  In 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City.  A mere year or so after this comic was written, President Bill Clinton would face impeachment by Congress, in part because of his infamous scandal with Monica Lewinsky.  Keep in mind, I was born on New Years Eve of 1992, so I only knew about all of this several years after the fact.  My mother tells me that the Oklahoma City Bombing particularly chilled her because there was a daycare located very close to the building that was bombed.  

The point is, America was reeling from a lot of shock, and a lot of people were questioning just what it meant to be American.  Keep in mind, it was also around this time that historians began to turn a much more critical eye toward the events of American History.  

Uncle Sam is divided into two issues.  The first issue is an incredibly brutal deconstruction of the American Dream.  Sam gets a firsthand of many of the tragedies and atrocities of American History.  He witnesses the Trail of Tears and the Indian Wars.  He is with Union soldiers in a Confederate POW camp.  He witnesses the horror of a black man being lynched in the pre-Civil Rights South. There a particularly powerful scene where a lawn jockey, who also provides commentary for the lynching, calls Sam out on the ways that America has failed to deliver on its promises to Black Americans.  An equally powerful scene is, when at the POW camp, a Union solider ask Sam if the war will be worth it.  Sam can't bring himself to say if it will be.  Throughout the first part of the comic, Sam's disheveled look brings to mind the famous "I Want Out" poster that was popular among protesters during the Vietnam War.  

The second half of the comic, however, is a reconstruction of the American Dream.  Throughout the first half of the comic, Sam has encountered a mysterious woman named Bea.  Turns out that she's Columbia, the other personification of the United States of America.  Columbia teaches Sam to view his history in a more nuanced way.  For example, Sam is haunted by the vision of himself participating the suppression of Shay's Rebellion.  However, Columbia points out that this resulted in the scrapping of the Articles of Confederation, and the adopted of the Constitution.  The Constitution lead the strengthening of America's government, and the also ensured greater protection of rights and liberties for all Americans.  Columbia shows him that, though the execution didn't always live up, there was never anything wrong with the idea of America, or the American Dream. 

Sam also has conversations with Britannia, Marianne, and a Russian Bear; the personifications of Britain, France and Russia.  With renewed vigor, Sam faces off against his greatest foe: a shadowy double of himself.  The other Sam is bright, shiny and pretty much embodies the 1990s Republican view of America mixed with a heavy dose of reality television and consumerism.  Sam defeats him by owning up to the mistakes throughout America History, but promising to learn from them and make sure that America becomes a better place for all people.  Unlike his doppelgänger, Sam expresses a sincere and genuine view of the American Dream.

At the end of the comic we find Sam back on the same street he began on.  Only this time he has the hat he's been missing throughout the comic, and his colors are just a bit less faded.  He now looks a bit more like the famous "I want you" version of Uncle Sam.  He picks himself up, dusts himself off and marches down the street singing "Yankee Doodle" with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

The artwork is absolutely gorgeous.  Alex Ross is famous for his photorealistic watercolor art style, and it is on full display in this comic.  There is a section in the back of the comic that briefly explains the history of Uncle Sam the character; from his first incarnations as Brother Jonathan to the form we all know and love today.  

One of the great ironies about America is that the same nation that, at its founding, denied women the right to vote and only count blacks as 3/5 of a human being wound up becoming one of the greatest forces for freedom, liberty and democracy in the world.  America isn't perfect, but we are getting better.  Hey, we got rid of slavery and twice elected a black president, that's got to count for something.  

All too often people tend to look at history, especially American History, in a very black and white sort of way.  The truth is for more nuanced, and painted in far more shades of grey.  I think that's one of the big takeaways from this comic.  As I've said, America isn't perfect, but we are getting better with each passing day. 

This is a really special comic, and I think I'm made it clear that I love it very much.  It was the product of a specific moment in history, and I don't think it could have been made today.  Uncle Sam is, as of this writing, overt twenty years old, but it's just as relevant today as it was when it was first written.  I cannot recommend Uncle Sam enough.  It's another one of those top-of-the-line comics to me.  

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

Riordan Retrospective: The Serpent's Shadow

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 short story collection The Demigod Diaries.  This time, we're finishing our look back at The Kane Chronicles.  We're taking a look back at The Serpent's Shadow, The Kane Chronicles book 3.

This is the moment everything has been building up to.  The final showdown with Apophis is at hand, and the House of Life is about to make its last stand against the forces of chaos.  There isn't really much more I can add, so let's jump directly to my thoughts.  Also, as usual, there's going to be plenty of spoilers.  Turn back now if you want to avoid that sort of thing. 

Before we get any further, I'd like to address something I should have brought up in previous retrospectives: where Mr. and Mrs. Kane married?  We know that after Mrs. Kane died her parents fought Mr. Kane for custody of Carter and Sadie.  The only way that would be even remotely possible is if Julius and Ruby hadn't been married; if you don't get married, and your spouse dies, then their parents can fight you for custody of your kids.  The only other scenario is if the parent is severely negligent and/or abusive, and that's certainly not the case here.

It only gets more complicated when you consider that Ruby's parents are British, and now your dragging international law into it.  And they couldn't expect to just say "Julius is unfit to be a parent because his lifestyle as a magician who fights gods and monsters puts these children at risk" without the judge laughing them out of court.  Also, why did they only get Sadie, and Mr. Kane only got Carter?  Wouldn't the judge want to keep the siblings together? 

The whole affair always just never made sense to me.  Speaking of familial relations, let's talk about Setne.  He is bound to Carter and Sadie's service as punishment for his crimes against the gods.  This, along with the fact that he later betrays them, is rather odd.  Setne was an actual historical figure, specifically he was the son of Ramses the Great.  He was beloved by the people of Ancient Egypt, a faithful servant of the gods and considered a hero. Granted, you could argue that he did so in a chaotic way, which the gods wouldn't approve of, but it is still rather odd for him to be portrayed as a villain. 

As I've previously mentioned, I kind of figured that Sadie's love triangle would be resolved by Walt becoming the host of Anubis.  Walt will be the Eye of Anubis, and Anubis will be a living god like the pharaohs of old.  Apparently, the more time they spend like that the more their personalities will merge together.  I guess it's kind of like the end of the second Rosario+Vampire manga where Inner Moka and Outer Moka combine to form a composite Moka.  Alternatively, it's kind of like how Mr. Kane and Osiris are pretty much one and the same.  Does that mean Carter and Sadie are, technically, children of Osiris?   

On that topic, back in the first book Rick tried to dance around the fact that Isis and Osiris were brother and sister, but also husband and wife.  It was explained as one time a brother and sister hosted them, and then a husband and wife hosted them.  Yeah, that didn't happen in the original myths, but I understand why he did that.  Egyptian Mythology is...kind of full of incest, which isn't a very family-friendly topic, so yeah.  

We finally get an answer to a question I'd been wondering for a while: what happens to atheists when they die in the Riordanverse?  Apparently, they don't see anything, at least if they default to the Egyptian afterlife.  We are told this, and yet it's contradicted by the text itself.  We see a man being judged who didn't believe in any gods, but had a love of Ancient Egypt, and he can see everything perfectly fine.  That was my personal take on the matter; if you don't have any strong convictions you ought to default to whatever the dominant pantheon is wherever you happen to be.  

So, moving to lighter subjects, during Sadie and friends' dance we get a surprise cameo by Drew Tanaka and Lacy from The Heroes of Olympus.  The Kane Chronicles does take places in the same universe as Percy Jackson/The Heroes of Olympus, but I gotta admit, I wasn't expecting characters from the other series to appear.  Then, of course, there were the official crossovers, but that's a topic for another time.  As previously mentioned, I liked Set's reasoning for fighting with the other gods.  He may be the god of chaos, but he views himself as someone who shakes things up and breaks old patterns.  Apophis, by contrast, just wants to destroy everything.

As with the previous installment, the series takes a more international approach than Percy Jackson does.  Besides some early scenes in Dallas and Brooklyn, almost all of the scenes on Earth take place in Egypt.  By sear coincidence, this part of the series came out not too long after the Arab Spring happened.  I wonder if, in the Riordanverse, Apophis had a hand in all of that. Good thing the series came out when it did; any later and it would have been pretty difficult to have scenes set in Egypt.  Hmm, I wonder if Apophis also had a hand in creating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.  Did he convince them to pick that name in order to defame the goddess Isis?  

Also, it's mentioned that Dallas Museum of Art was hosting a King Tut exhibit.  A few years before this book came out, it really did.  In fact, my family took a trip to Dallas to see it.  King Tut, however, was not actually at the exhibit, which was mildly disappointing.  Still, it was great to see all of the Egyptian artifacts, many of which I'd only see in books before that.  Kind of cool to think my counterpart in the Riordanverse might have bumped into Carter and Sadie.  Well, Apophis did kill all of the magicians at the Dallas nome, meaning I might have wound up as collateral damage so...yeah.  

While we're speculating, let's talk about Thoth.  We know that he was the only god the House of Life didn't banish in ancient times.  It is said that he did this because he's the god of magic, and thus their patron and founder.  What if there's more to it than just that?  Without the other gods around he'd get all of the prayers and offerings, and potentially more power, so what if he was behind the banishment of all the other gods?  The Riordanverse version of Thoth might act silly and scatterbrained, but maybe, just maybe, he just might be the biggest chess master in the entire Riordanverse. 

I gotta admit, when the series started off I really wasn't sure about Sadie, but she grew on me.  I honestly feel like I witnessed her grow as a character.  At the start of the series she's very rude and brash, but does so as a coping mechanism to hide her insecurities.  By series end she's calmed down and matured a bit.  She accept that her life won't ever be normal, but that's okay, because she's a magician of the House of Life.  I really like how she embraced the magical and otherworldly part of her life, rather than pining after a "normal" teenage life.  She also finally got around to using polytheistic swearing.  

As was prophesied at the start of the series, Carter becomes the first pharaoh in over 2000 years, but leaves most of the day to day affairs to Uncle Amos.  Carter has never loved the spotlight, in large part because of his upbringing.  He never got to do typical kid things because he was always traveling with his dad.  Unlike many other Riordanverse characters, he didn't really ever have a taste of "normal" life.  I like to think that eventually he'll learn to accept his life as it is like Sadie did.  

So we all knew Apophis was going to be defeated, but it was a fun ride to get there.  Unfortunately, since order cannot exist without chaos, the gods will be withdrawing from the world as well.  That is rather sad, especially given how nice, for the most part, they tend to be.  Still, at least Carter and Sadie can visit them in the Duat.  And hey, Anubis gets to say because Walt is hosting him as his eye.  

As I've previously mentioned, one of the drawbacks to The Kane Chronicles only being three-books-long is that the minor characters don't get as much time to shine.  For example, in this book we meet a young Russian magician named Leonid who learn the Path of Shu, god of the wind, against the wishes of his nome.  He felt a bit underutilized.  On a more positive note, Felix finally found his magic: ice magic!  That combined with his love of penguins, will probably make him the only magician who actually wants to be assigned to the Antarctica nome.  The Egyptian Pantheon doesn't have a snow deity, so I don't know which Path of the Gods he'll be taking.

The book ends with Sadie mentioning that mysterious magical activity has been discovered on Long Island, and that an investigation will be commencing soon.  Obviously, this is setting things up for the crossover short stories collection Demigods and Magicians.  Unfortunately, it isn't out in audiobook form in America, despite Britain and Australia having it out in audio, so it might be a bit before we get to that retrospective.  

Speaking of audiobooks, for one final time, I'm going to plug the audiobook version of The Serpent's Shadow

Well, I think it's time I gave my overall thoughts on The Kane Chronicles.  Like I said in the Red Pyramid retrospective, not a perfect series, and I admit some of my objections are unique to me, but overall not a bad series.  It doesn't quite have the charm of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but it is still well worth reading.  Who knows, you just might learn something new about Egyptian Mythology and/or Ancient Egyptian History.  

For one final times, let's analyze the cover.  We see Carter and Sadie deep within the Duat.  They're admits the primordial sea of chaos and are making their way to the very first land, where Ma'at, given form by the obelisk, shines bright.  Apophis looms ominously in the clouds. 

The new cover is...actually, it's not half bad.  We see Carter and Sadie standing in front of the Pyramids of Giza as Apophis rises out of the sands.  Easily the best of the new covers, even if it doesn't quite have the charm of the original.

With that we've come to the end of our retrospective of The Kane Chronicles.  Thus, the Riordan Retrospective hits another major milestone.  We'll be continuing on, uninterrupted, with out look back at The Heroes of Olympus.  That is, unless Demigods and Magicians comes out in audiobook form in the near future.  I hope you've all been enjoying these retrospectives as much as I have.

Join me again next time when we take a look back at The Mark of Athena.  I will see you all next time.