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.

1 comment:

  1. This was one of my favorites. I found it kinda interesting that in this one, Percy and Annabeth end up back at Camp Half-Blood before their mission is even completed. Usually quests don't have the heroes end up back home before continuing the quest. It's normally one long journey. And I laughed at the change in mood when Rachael threw a hairbrush at a Titan, and it worked in the escape. Pan vanishing kinda reminds me of other works of fiction, where they say that the gods can die, if they are forgotten. It's an interesting theological concept that gods need those to believe in them at the same time that they influence mortal lives.