The Lightning Thief – Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1

By Rick Riordan

Young Adult Fantasy

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Synopsis:

Percy Jackson is a chronic troublemaker who never does well in class, has been kicked out of a string of boarding schools, never knew his biological father growing up, and is stuck with a stepfather who is the embodiment of the foulest aspects of humanity. The only bright spot in his life is his mother who he fears he is disappointing because of everything that came before this sentence in the synopsis.

Then one day everything changes. Strange things start happening as monsters straight out of Greek mythology start showing up in the real world and doing their best to kill him. He discovers that he is actually a demigod, the son of a Greek god who had a child with a mortal. Percy quickly discovers that the life of a demigod hero is usually nasty, brutish, and short, and that things aren’t likely to be different for him as Zeus and Hades have both marked him for death for crimes he didn’t commit.

Now Percy has to travel across the United States to try and clear his name while avoiding all manner of monsters who would love nothing more than to kill the newest would-be demigod hero in the making.

In A Nutshell:

Remember back in elementary school when the teacher would get a strange gleam in her eyes as she told the class that they were about to spend the next hour playing video games? “What?!” you undoubtedly thought to yourself. “This is school! You don’t play video games in school!”

And of course you were right. The thing that appeared on the computer screen certainly had the trappings of a video game, but it was really just a thinly veiled not-so-fun attempt at teaching¬†math or spelling. The games weren’t even the fun kind of math where you crunched numbers to create the best possible character so you could properly annihilate monsters. Aside from the occasional gem like Oregon Trail or Carmen Sandiego most educational “games” were just rote multiplication tables and memorization dressed up with fancy cartoon characters.

I bring this up because that’s how I felt while reading The Lightning Thief. Sure there’s some stuff in there about the end of the world as we know it that’s supposedly driving the plot, but ultimately it’s just a flimsy excuse for a series of vignettes featuring various mythological creatures doing their best to kill the plucky protagonist. Some of the vignettes are interesting while others fall flat. The main problem is that none of them really add to the overall urgency of the main plot.

In my review of Elantris I talked about how the mark of a really good fantasy novel (or any novel, really) is that the characters are reacting to and changing the world around them rather than simply creating a neat setting and then using the characters as stand-in tour guides for the reader. The Lightning Thief definitely falls into the second category. A lot of stuff happens to Percy as he makes his trip across the United States, but that’s the thrust of the whole book.

Things happen to the characters and they react to it, but there isn’t much to the book beneath the spectacle. It’s the literary equivalent of a popcorn action movie where lots of stuff blows up and the hero gets into some cool action setpieces, but there’s no substance underneath that compels you to read the sequels or reread the first one.

Warnings:

We are talking about the Young Adult branch of the fantasy genre. Kids in the book’s target demographic probably won’t care about the popcorn spectacle aspects of this book as they’re too young to be widely read enough to know what they’re missing. So if you’re in your early teens or you have kids at that age then The Lightning Thief is a good read that will probably teach a few things along the way.

If you’re any older, wondered what all the hype was about,¬†and picked up The Lightning Thief expecting something that transcends age groups (which, to be fair, is pretty common in YA fantasy) then you’re going to be disappointed.

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Paperback: Buy the Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)

Kindle Edition: Buy the Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)

Hardcover: Buy the Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)