Rick Riordan begins Heroes of Olympus, the sequel/spin-off series to his bestselling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, in a way which reminds me of the opening number of the musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812: with a sense of outside dread and the absence of the character who would typically be the hero “There’s a war going on somewhere out there, and Andrei isn’t here.” One could easily replace Andrei Bolkonsky with Percy Jackson, who has been missing for several days prior to the beginning of The Lost Hero. Back at home, a beautiful young girl waits for our hero to return: “Natasha (Annabeth) is young, she loves Andrei (Percy) with all her heart. While Andrei’s is away fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, Percy’s disappearance may have something to do with the reawakening of the primordial goddess Gaia, whose army of giants poses an even greater threat than Kronos and his Titans.
Into this this hot, mythological mess step three new half-bloods: wise-cracking and machine savvy Leo Valdez, son of Hephaestus, rebellious and feisty Piper McLean, daughter of Aphrodite, and the mysterious Jason Grace, son of Jupiter, who must battle rogue wind spirits, cyclopses, and giants to rescue Piper’s father and the goddess, Hera, who have been captured by Gaia’s forces and discover how they fit into the Prophecy of the Seven:
“Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall,
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.”
Among the new characters introduced in this book, Leo stands out as a favorite. He is described as a short, scrawny, elvin latino with a huge personality who uses his wisecracks as a way of hiding how he feels like a third wheel who never belongs anywhere. As someone who’s insecurity tells them that people find them annoying and grating, Leo was the most relatable character. Leo is a rare child of Hephaestus with fire powers: “Anatole (Leo) is hot”, which caused his mother’s death when he was little, leading to him being passed from foster home to foster home throughout his childhood. His fire powers make him potentially destructive since the last Hephaestus child born with them was the guy that started the great fire of London. Leo’s chapters are a lot of fun because of his jokes and his backstory and inner struggle make him the most sympathetic of the three main characters.
The character of Piper brings up a number of issues that I have with the book. I get the sense that at Camp-Half Blood, the Aphrodite Cabin is looked down upon. They are mostly concerned with matchmaking and makeovers rather than quests and monster fighting and are seen as shallow and frivolous at best and stuck-up and bitchy at worst. Piper is tomboyish, rejects the trappings of femininity and her movie star father’s wealth, and is the token girl in the questing trio. Therefore she is a rare “good” Aphrodite daughter: “Sonya (Piper) is good.” With Piper, who doesn’t care much about her appearance but is still stunningly beautiful (if only we all could be that lucky) and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a makeup and couture wearing, boy-crazy Aphrodite daughter, Riordan is trying to do the “you’re beautiful without makeup”/ “you don’t have to be what’s expected of you” moral that is common in YA fiction but it’s highly unlikely that he would write about a daughter of Ares who wants to do beauty pageants or a daughter of Hephaestus who wants to be a dancer since traditionally feminine things are silly and degrading while traditionally masculine things are important and empowering. In the book’s defense, the negative traits associated with the Aphrodite children are mostly concentrated in the form of Drew Tanaka, the hyper-girly alpha bitch who is Piper’s antagonistic head counselor and rival for Jason’s affection (“Hélène (Drew) is a slut) while the other residents of the Aphrodite Cabin are friendly towards Piper. And in the last series we had Silena Beauregard, who was girly and romantic but also kind, selfless, and a good enough fighter to get mistaken for her friend Clarisse La Rue, daughter of Ares and one of Camp Half-Blood’s fiercest warriors. I don’t hate or even dislike Piper but her characterization suffers from being defined more by what she is not (not a typical Aphrodite daughter/ not a typical child of a movie star) rather than what she is.
One interesting thing about Piper is that she is of Cherokee descent and the reader gets to learn about a mythology other than the Greco-Roman one most would be familiar with and which is the basis for both Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus.
Jason arrives at Camp Half-Blood with no memory of who is he is or where he came from: “and what about Pierre (Jason)?”. He is revealed to be the brother of Thalia Grace, whose mother mated with the king of the Gods in both his Greek (Zeus) and Roman (Jupiter) forms with Thalia and Jason being the result. Jason being sired by the Jupiter form explains why he knows the Gods by their Roman names and understands Latin rather than Greek. Of the three main characters, Jason is the least interesting but he and Leo serve as excellent foils to one another. Jason is handsome, strong, and very attractive to girls while Leo is short, scrawny, and has terrible luck with his crushes. People find Leo annoying and he fears that he is little more than the sidekick/comic relief in the story while Jason is a natural leader and the story’s designated hero. Being noble and heroic, Jason has few other flaws besides the typical stress and uncertainty which a designated hero goes through.
At the end of The Lost Hero, we learn of another camp near San Francisco called Camp Jupiter which is from Roman demigods and is where Jason came from. The Greeks and Romans have an East Coast-West Coast beef with each other going back centuries. Camp Jupiter is where an amnesiac Percy finds himself at the opening of The Son of Neptune. There he befriends the awkward but noble Frank Zhang (pronounced Jong), son of Mars, and the sweet but troubled Hazel Levesque, daughter of Pluto. Because he is a greek, the leaders of Camp Half-Blood, the fierce and beautiful Reyna and the sniveling and manipulative Octavian, are suspicious of him but send him along with Frank and Hazel on a question to find Thanos, the god of death, in the “land beyond the gods” (Alaska) and battle Gaia’s army of giants.
The difference between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter is that Camp Half-Blood is more like a summer camp, albeit one where you train to fight monsters, whereas Camp Jupiter is more militaristic with a strict hierarchy and different cohorts. Camp Jupiter is part of New Rome, a beautiful city for Roman demigods where Percy dreams of living with Annabeth (the only name from his past that he remembers.)
Frank and Hazel have some of the most interesting backstories among the new characters. Hazel is a black girl from New Orleans who, like her half-brother Nico Di Angelo, grew up in the 1940s. She died when she was thirteen and was brought back to life due to the disappearance of Thanos. Frank is Chinese, from Canada, and is not only a son of Mars but a descendant of Neptune. They are much more compelling characters than Piper, I’m a rich girl with daddy issues, McLean and Jason, golden boy, grace.
Heroes of Olympus is getting off to a great start. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books.