Circumstances of my day job have left me with rather more time to read via computer than I had expected, and as a result I’ve gotten more reading done in the last couple of months than I had in the year prior to that. I’ve read through a number of terrific new books, but some unexpected favorites turned out to be Rick Riordan‘s young adult series based on Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythology.
I’m not really sure what I expected when I opened the first of them, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. I only got around to it because Hoopla Digital has almost the entire series to date available (since they’re published by Hoopla partner Disney), and I needed something to read, so why not. I thought it might at least make a decent diversion for a while. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I’ve now read every one of the 16 novels currently available, plus all the short stories (except for the choose-your-own-adventure books), and am now sad that there won’t be any more until the next couple books come out in May and October.
The premise of the books is that the ancient Greek and Roman gods and monsters are still around, though most people in our modern scientific society have lost the ability to see them. However, they’re still going right on doing the same things they did in the old myths—particularly, falling for mortals and having demigod kids. The first pentalogy focuses on one of those kids in particular—Percy Jackson (the son of Poseidon as it turns out) and several of his good friends. Much as with the Harry Potter books, Jackson discovers his heritage and is whisked away to a secret school for people like him—and into all the adventures and catastrophes that follow.
The next pentalogy introduces another community of demigods who take after the Roman versions of the same deities. Then there are two trilogies involving the Egyptian and Norse pantheons, respectively. (The third volume in the Norse trilogy is due out in October.) Finally, Riordan has begun a new five-book cycle in the Greek/Roman line, whose second volume comes out next month. There are also several “guide book” entries, a couple of which have short stories in them, and another Percy Jackson short story included in a fantasy worlds story collection. There are also a couple of volumes of Riordan’s own retellings of some of the best-known myths, and a choose-your-own-adventure-style book, none of which I’ve gotten around to yet. Most of the novels and short stories involve first-person narration by the protagonist, and said narration is frequently hilarious.
One of the most engaging elements of the series is the way that the mythological figures are adapted to the modern world. They’re not merely updated for the sake of “putting a new spin on them,” but rather they’re applied to the same sorts of elements of the modern world that they were originally tied to in the ancient world. For example, Odin, Norse God of (among other things) wisdom, now writes self-help books and gives Powerpoint presentations. Heimdall, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge who is able to see anyone anywhere, has gotten addicted to taking smartphone selfies with them.
But perhaps my favorite elements of this modernization have to do with a certain corporation headquartered in Seattle. When the heroes of one of the books visit the headquarters of Amazon.com, they find it is run by actual Amazons. Their distribution warehouses are stocked with crossbow-mounting “battle forklifts,” and, in addition to items ordered by mortals, they also ship weapons, treasure, and magical items and creatures to Amazon outposts all over the world. (One of the characters notices Amazons reading from a black plastic tablet-like device, which he assumes to be some “mysterious Amazon technology.”) That certainly gives a whole new meaning to the corporation’s goal of “world domination”!
In another book, a minor river god scoffs at the codex-style book a character shows him. He insists that tomes made with this confusing new technology aren’t real books, and that appellation should apply only to scrolls. And as a health insurance call center representative in my day job, I got another good chuckle out of a scene set in the waiting room for Aesclepius, god of physicians. The receptionist demands their health insurance cards, including the name of their “primary care deity.”
Young Adult Isn’t Just Kid Stuff
My greatest discovery from reading all these books was a fresh reminder that “Young Adult” does not have to mean “juvenile” in the pejorative sense. These books were every bit as well-written and compelling as any of the “adult” books I’ve been reading lately. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that this sort of book is just more fun than many adult books, because the target audience is old enough to appreciate good writing (and to detect and despise being written down to), but still has a short enough attention span to have little patience for boring parts. So once the stories get going, young adult books like the Percy Jackson series don’t slow down until the very end.
And these particular young adult books were exciting, well-told, frequently hilarious, and surprisingly deep in terms of the amount of historical and mythological research that clearly went into them. I would venture to say that anyone with an interest in mythology will find them worth reading, regardless of their age.
Knee Deep in the Hoopla Digital
Another thing I learned is that Hoopla Digital’s e-reader app works great on the computers at the day job where I have decent amounts of time to read between calls. Prior to this, I hadn’t done any great amount of reading via Hoopla at all (beyond sampling a few books for the sake of the review of Hoopla I did a while ago). But once I got started, I found I was able to read books via the web browser on my work computer with no problem, and then pick up where I left off via the Hoopla app on my smartphone on the way home.
One benefit of checking the ebooks out from Hoopla is that there is no waiting on hold; the titles are immediately available. When I looked up the Rick Riordan selection via my public library’s Overdrive ebook catalog, they all had waiting lists as many as a dozen holds deep. The drawback is that, depending on your public library’s subscription level to Hoopla, you can only check out between 4 and 15 titles per month. (Fortunately, some of the books are available in 3-in-1 omnibus editions.)
In any event, Rick Riordan’s young adult mythology books are fun, exciting reading, and there’s enough there to keep new readers occupied for quite some time. It’s going to be frustrating to wait for further books in the series to come out, but it’s not as if that’s anything new. Whenever a favorite series is involved, loving to read often means resigning yourself to having to wait.