Monday, April 27, 2009

Review - The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)This book/series was recommended to me by some neighbors. The 12 year old daughter in the family read and loved the series and the mother also enjoyed it a lot. I picked up the first book around Christmas time and it sat on my shelf for the next couple of months. In the meantime, I saw numerous reviews of the book and the series, many of them calling it "Harry Potter with Greek mythology rather than wizardry." When I finally started reading the book, I was determined not to compare it too closely to Harry Potter. Unfortunately, I found myself quickly falling into that trap.

From a high level, there are a lot of similarities. The book focuses on Percy Jackson. Percy is a 6th grade kid having trouble at school (always getting into trouble for "strange things" happening) and at home (where his stepdad is just vile and cruel to him). Percy's mother is around, which is a difference from the Potter formula, but the similarities grow as Percy's life is found to be in danger and he goes away to a special "camp" for others like him.

I don't want to spoil the plot or formula of the book too much, but let me just say that there are a TON of parallels that can be drawn between the world of Percy Jackson and the world of Harry Potter

And then let me say...That's not a bad thing. I've taken numerous creative writing course and workshops over the years. In many of them, a comment was made to the effect of "If you find something you like in a story, steal it and make it your own." This comment is not speaking of plagiarism or directly ripping off a plot, setting, character or language. What it means is that writers should also be readers. And when a reader/writer finds something that intrigues or inspires, the writer should see what can be done with it. In my own writing, I've mimicked style, formula and language many times and sometimes I even make allusions to the piece that inspired me. In this case, Riordan likely saw the solid structure and adaptability of Rowlings form and used it as a skeleton to structure his own story. The story itself is different enough in the way things play out so as to overcome any hindrance caused by similarities. In fact, in many places, I felt that Percy Jackson's initial story was more solid than Harry Potter's initial story (though in other places, it was weaker). Generally, I came away liking this initial book in the series more than I liked the first book in the Potter series. that I've done what I'd hoped not to do (compare the two books), let me speak solely of Percy Jackson. Percy is a vivid and interesting character. He has a lot of depth of emotion and thought which brings him to life and helps the reader feel compassion and empathy towards him. The world created by Riordan feels distinctive and realistic. Being set in first person, we see the world through the eyes of young Percy complete with his 21st century vocabulary and expectations. The language was very accessible and a lot of fun and helped make the story feel more real to me. The plot itself was fun and exciting with the requisite twists and turns to help our young hero "come of age" as it were.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a quick read and a lot of fun. I'll certainly dig into the other books in the series and can easily recommend this, especially to young readers. There wasn't anything objectionable (perhaps the "statue" at the very end of the book could be seen as too vindictive, but it was played off lightly) for a young reader and the storyline is quite fun. The mythology presented is well researched and as a result, a reader may come away from the book learning something new (shh, don't tell them). It's nothing terribly deep or heavy (perhaps future books will have heavier themes, similar to the way the Potter series progressed), which is fine. Overall it's just a quick, fun adventure well worth experiencing.

4 stars (out of 5)

P.S. - As I was posting this review, I found out that the author has a blog. Click here to head over to Rick Riordan's blog and follow his writing, awards, family and news about a movie (cool).


Lisa Moore said...

I read this book about a month ago and I'm working on the second one now. I had the same problem with comparing it to Harry Potter! I wish I could stop doing it because Harry Potter just can't be beat to me. I really liked the book and I would have loved it as a kid.

Anonymous said...

To tell the truth, I never thought of comparing it to Harry Potter O.O
But yeah, very true, but I actually think that the Lightning Thief was better in a lot of ways. I dunno, maybe I just like the plot more. (Not saying Harry Potter isn't absolutely amazing though!)

Okie said...

Yeah...I think comparing book 1 to book 1, I definitely liked Lightning Thief better. I need to get more into both series to see how they each progress. I'm about halfway through Harry Potter and I'm liking the increased conflict/intrigue. Will be interested to see how Percy's adventures go.