A Review of The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune

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***WARNING: SPOILERS***

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.

 

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J.A.R Reviews: Tulip Fever Review

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I started a Youtube series called J.A.R reviews where my friends Jasmine, Ashley, and I talk about the movies we watch together. My choice for our first video was Tulip Fever (2017) which was recently added to Netflixs.

Tulip Fever is set in 1630s Amsterdam during the “Tulip Mania,” when tulips, then an exotic novelty, caused the first recorded speculative bubble. Sophia (Alicia Viksander) a young woman married to a wealthy and much older merchant (Christophe Waltz) begins a risky affair with Jan (Dane Dehann) a painter hired to do her portrait. Meanwhile, Maria (Holliday Granger), Sophia’s servant, becomes pregnant and is separated from her lover. Sophia and Maria plot to pass off Maria’s baby as Sophia’s and Sophia and Jan speculate on the tulip marker in order to get money so they can run away together.

I am a huge fan of the art and aesthetics of 17th Century Holland and the production design of the movie looks straight out of the paintings of artists like Vermeer. It’s a beautiful looking film and its a shame it tells a love story I couldn’t bring myself to care about.

Here is the link to our review video

Eliza Schuyler and Female Powerlessness

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The theme of female powerlessness which is woven throughout Clarissa also come into play in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit hip-hop musical Hamilton, which is based on the life and loves of founding father Alexander Hamilton. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Hamilton’s demure and virtuous wife, and Angelica Schuyler Church, her feisty and self-confident sister, best-friend, and confident, bare a number of similarities with Clarissa Harlowe and Anna Howe. They start off as young women whose beauty, wealth, and social position attract a lot of suitors. The musical number A Winter’s Ball shows how the ambitious young officers of the Continental Army are all smitten with the Schuyler sisters and wish to marry into the influential Schuyler clan. Angelica, Eliza, and their younger sister Peggy have their pick of eligible gentlemen and who they choose defines them as characters.

Eliza’s first solo number, Helpless, initially paints her as a passive figure. Whereas Angelica’s first solo number, Satisfied, is an emotionally, lyrically, and musically complex look into her psyche and moral dilemma (Angelica helps bring Hamilton and Eliza together, despite having feelings for him, herself, and doubts that she made the right decision), Helpless is an upbeat R&B love ballad which follows the progression of an apparently straightforward boy-meets-girl romance. Eliza waits on the sidelines for Hamilton to notice her and relies on Angelica to introduce her to him. Her own timidity and the confines of eighteenth-century etiquette prevent her from making the first move; for Eliza to approach Hamilton or for Hamilton to approach Eliza without someone to make the necessary introductions would have been a breach of propriety. The historical Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler were engaged within less than a month of meeting, so Helpless feels like a countdown to the inevitable wedding. The main hurdle to their union is gaining the approval of Eliza’s father. As an eighteenth-century woman without a legal identity of her own, marriage for Eliza would have been essentially being passed from her father to her husband.

A closer look at Helpless shows that Eliza is more than simply a bashful wallflower. Upon first seeing Hamilton, she tells Angelica “this one’s mine” and frequent sings “that boy is mine” and in a sense singles out Hamilton as her future life mate rather than the other way around. Her choice of Hamilton (an attractive and dashing but penniless upstart with a questionable background) is based on love rather than ambition or social obligation. Despite spouting a number of proto-feminist catchphrases, Angelica follows the more conventional path by marrying the wealthy but dull John Barker Church, the Mr. Hickman to Hamilton’s Lovelace.

The word “helpless” defines Eliza as a character throughout most of the story and takes on several different connotations. It first describes her overwhelming love for Hamilton and then her unhappiness at being constantly neglected by him. “Helpless” is later appropriated by Maria Reynolds, Hamilton’s mistress, who uses it to lead him astray. Taking Eliza’s signature word highlights this betrayal.  The Reynolds Affair causes Eliza to re-examine her relationship with Hamilton and her decision to marry him. An eighteenth-century wife was expected to grin-and-bare and turn a blind eye to any affairs their husband might have, which were not considered insufficient grounds for a divorce. Obtaining a divorce would have been winning the battle but losing the war, since as a divorcée, Eliza would have forfeited custody of her children and been ostracized from polite society. Stuck with a selfish and reckless man who never really loved her who then dies in a duel, leaving her with substantial debts and a large family to support, Eliza truly is helpless. But she shakes off this passive attitude and forges an identity, independent from her husband, as a philanthropist and proto social worker. She outlives Hamilton by half a century and dies a well loved and respected figure.

It is unclear whether it was Eliza or Angelica who made the better choice. Eliza marries for love but is stuck with a man who betrays and humiliates her. Angelica marries a rich man due to social obligations and is whisked away to live a glamorous life in London. But in the cut song Congratulations, Angelica describes her marriage as “loveless” and we are given a sense that she is unsatisfied despite her glittering lifestyle. The experiences of both women show how women in the eighteenth century were vulnerable to the whims of whatever man they were attached to. It is only after she is widowed that Eliza is able to live a fulfilling life, free from the man mistreated her.

 

Clarissa Book 2: The Perfect Guy

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*** WARNING: SPOILERS***

Much of the first two books of the novel Clarissa or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson is taken up with letters written between the heroine, Clarissa Harlowe, and her best friend, Anna Howe. The contents of these letters frequently discuss the most complicated and important question that young women in the eighteenth century would have to deal with: who they should they marry?

Clarissa’s main conflict so far has been whether or not she should bow to family’s pressure to marry the rich but repulsive Rodger Solmes or accept the protection of the dashing but rakish Robert Lovelace. Rejecting or accepting suitors is one of the few areas where a gentile young woman like Clarissa had a say in their life and often that was not even the case. Marriages were arranged by your families and dictated by the demands of your position in society with the feelings of those involved given very little consideration. What Clarissa is going through is an extreme example of what many young women in the eighteenth century went through: pressure to marry someone they do not love or even like.  

The central conceits of the story, which Richardson is trying to subvert, are the old adages that all girls want bad boys and a reformed rake makes the best husband. Clarissa insists that she was no particular interest in Lovelace but always comes to his defense when people bad mouth him. This shows the complexity and ambiguity of  Richardson’s writing. Because the story is told through letters, Clarissa and Lovelace’s relationship has a “he said/she said” element to it. Despite her protestations that she is not attracted to Lovelace, we get a sense that she is lying to herself. Lovelace is a man who has seduced and ruined the reputation of many women while Clarissa is a woman of great virtue and integrity. She does not want to admit that she has fallen for Lovelace’s charms. Lovelace uses the implication that her love can reform him to try to woo Clarissa but we can tell that this is only a ploy. Anna Howe is being courted by the respectable and devoted but dull Mr. Hickman who she, proto Jane Austen heroine that she is, enjoys making the victim of her sharp tongue: “If a man is rash enough to woo me, he must take me as I am.”  Hickman is the suitor encouraged by Anna’s mother and he is framed as a good man who would make a good husband. 

Upper Class women like a Anna and Clarissa would never have to work or be able to pursue a career, so choosing a husband would be decision that would define the rest of their lives. Marrying a good man with a comfortable income would lead to a happy and stable life while the opposite could lead to a life of misery. Through the letters written by Anna and Clarissa, Richardson explores what makes a man a good suitor and how a girl should choose who to marry. Should she follow her heart or the demands and expectations of her family? Should she chose someone attractive and exciting like Lovelace or someone respectable and reliable like Hickman.