As I mentioned in my recent review of The Red Pyramid, when I went to the library to get The Lightning Thief for my husband, I wasn’t planning on reading it myself. I try not to judge a book by its cover, but when I saw that the first chapter had the title “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher,” I decided I wasn’t interested.
I always liked my teachers, including math teachers, and the idea of vaporizing one of them, even accidentally, did not sit well with me. I was a teacher myself (very briefly), and I remember being on the receiving end of nasty jokes, notes, and lots of disrespect. I can just imagine some student wanting to vaporize me. (I admit I did a lousy job in terms of classroom control, which is why I now work with computers instead of young teenagers.)
The idea of a protagonist who was a demigod didn’t help any, especially thinking what the “divine” side of him would be like. I read all the Greek mythology I could get my hands on when I was about ten, and those Greek gods were selfish, immoral, arrogant, thoughtless, and often downright nasty. Why would I want to read about a kid who inherited that kind of character, along with the power to vaporize teachers?
But since I enjoyed The Red Pyramid, I did read The Lightning Thief, and I am happy to say it is nothing like what I had thought. The teacher Percy vaporized wasn’t a human being at all, she was a Fury who had disguised herself as a teacher in order to get close enough to Percy to kill him. And while the character of the gods of Olympus – who have moved to New York City and are on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building – is as unappealing as in the ancient myths, their half-blood children (at least some of them) are better than that.
Kids raised by single parents sometimes fantasize about what the absent parent is like. Imagine finding out that your absent parent was a god. Lots of power, but not enough love to stick around and raise you. In some ways you have the worst of both worlds – a human parent who doesn’t know what to do with a child who is always getting in trouble at school (they tend to have ADHD and dyslexia, not to mention a rebellious streak), and the enmity of other gods (remember, the gods of Olympus always quarrelled among themselves) and a variety of monsters.
As in The Red Pyramid, Riordan is clever in how he brings ancient gods into modern life. Zeus wears a pinstripe suit. Ares is a leather-clad biker. The gate to the Underworld is in Los Angeles. Hephaestus tries to use video cameras to catch his wife cheating on him with Ares. And if humans happen to witness gods or demigods in action? Somehow they see things in a way that they can make sense of (e.g. swords look like guns and the earthquake caused by Hades’ wrath was just an earthquake).
There are lessons about friendship, loyalty, courage, and sacrifice. But mostly it’s a big adventure story with a good dose of humor.
Time to go get the next book in the series from the library.