Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Book I: The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan

Blurb: “Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. I never wanted to be the son of a Greek God. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. That’s when things really started going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends, and generally trying to stay alive. This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt—and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.

My Thoughts:
Characterization: This book has a fairly large cast of characters, and I think they’re mostly great. Even ones who aren’t thoroughly explored often have one or two memorable details about them, and I think that’s a really good way to do characters, because the worst kinds of characters are the ones without…ya know, character traits. So who to start with? Let’s start with Percy, who I think is an absolutely fantastic protagonist. This book is written in the first person, and I think that might be the best decision Rick Riordan has ever made in his life, because holy fucking shit, Percy has so much fucking personality! The way this book is narrated reads as though you, the reader, are sitting down at a park with Percy, and he’s just kind of calmly narrating his life to you in the same tone that one would normally talk about the weather. He cracks jokes at both his expense and occasionally the expense of others, he makes a few self aware jokes about how fucking insane his life becomes, and his general tone can best be described as “wait, I’m the protagonist of this story?” It’s so damn good, and I love it. Percy’s at his strongest during the second fourth of the novel, when he’s first adjusting to Camp Half-Blood, because it sets aside a few chapters to really explore Percy’s psyche and what it’s like to be him, while putting the plot on the back burner, and I absolutely fucking love it. Secondly, Grover is also a very good character, and it could be argued that Grover is both the heart and the comic relief of this story at once, which is difficult to pull off, but I think Riordan manages it fairly well. There are a lot of really whacky, silly moments involving Grover, where either a character or the author riff off the fact that he’s a Satyr. He’ll be chewing on a tin can, or having trouble wearing shoes, or just generally being goofy and out of place in the human world. This all works great, even if I think the tin can joke gets a bit old by the end. However, what I think is interesting is that this is all juxtaposed against a tragic backstory, and a noble goal which I assume is one lifted from actual Greek Mythology. Grover’s Thalia backstory is honestly heartbreaking, and his quest to find the god of nature is incredibly wholesome. Now, the issue is that this is quite the extreme tonal juxtaposition, and while I think Riordan does an overall good job handling it, it can be a bit jarring to go from Grover reminiscing about his life goals and his tragic backstory straight to goofy slapstick comedy and him munching away on a tin can. It’s not that it’s bad or anything, but it does occasionally take me out of the story, and that is, in my opinion, worth mentioning. Now, of the three main characters, Annabeth is undoubtedly my favorite. She has a shit ton of stuff going on, and it’s clear to me that this book only scratches the very surface of her character. I think she probably has the best arc out of the three of them. The scene where she talks to Percy about her family is one of the strongest of the entire book, and I liked the resolution at the end. While Percy’s arc of learning to accept his heritage is perfectly serviceable, I feel like Annabeth’s carries a lot of the book, and she probably has the best emotional payoff out of any character in this novel. Now, let’s talk about a character I’m not a big fan of, and that is Luke. Now I should be clear that I thought he was excellent for the first three fourths of the novel, and I think that his big character twist should have been great. He was the person who Percy looked up to the most out of anyone at Half-Blood hill, and I thought that his relationship with Percy was built up insanely well. However, I felt that his actual betrayal was handled extremely poorly. He just suddenly turned into a monologuing, posturing villain, who played into a bunch of cliches and then did an idiotic thing at the end. Now, I don’t know if this will be further explained in later books or not, and if it is then I’ll give some points back, but as it stands now, Luke’s character arc gets a thumbs down from me. His motivations are murky and odd, his actions near the end make no sense, and I’m just not a big fan. Now let’s quickly mention some other characters who were cool. Chiron was a rather interesting, quirky teacher character, Dionysus was fucking hilarious and stole every scene he was in, I fucking adored Ares. He was such a cocky, arrogant jackass and Percy’s victory over him was so satisfying. Zeus and Poseidon each only got one scene, but oh shit did they leave an impact, and Hades might be my favorite character in the book. He was so menacing and intimidating, and the scene with him in it is one of the most tense scenes in the entire book. Overall, I really like the characters! They’re mostly fantastic, but Grover’s sloppy tonal inconsistencies and Luke’s character payoff drags this section down a bit. I’m thinking an 8.5/10.

Dialogue: I have a bit less to say here, because the dialogue is just great. Like, when I review fanfiction and shit I have a pretty high bar for dialogue, but this just blows even my absolute favorite fics out of the water, because of course it does, it’s a novel. All of the characters have their own unique mannerisms and tones that make reading long dialogue scenes an absolute pleasure, and dialogue is frequently used for an enormous variety of things and manages to make all of these things better. Whether it’s used to add tension to a confrontation, or to add excitement to an action scene, the dialogue is pretty much always fantastic, except for one or two jokes that kind of fall flat. Either way, it’s still very, very good. 9/10

Plot: Oh lordy me, the fucking plot. We’ll get to the actual narrative in a minute, but I first have to take a second to appreciate how fucking many interesting ideas this book manages to squeeze in. My personal favorite is probably the casino in Vegas and everything that entails, but all of the mythological adaptations work really well. The Medusa scene was particularly interesting, and the gnome imagery was really striking. Now for the actual narrative: I think it’s absolutely fantastic. This book does a great job introducing us to the world of Greek Mythology through Percy’s eyes, and it honestly does a fairly good job avoiding too much exposition. Percy learns more through being plunged into dangerous and whacky situations than he does through exposition, and I absolutely love it. I’ll just briefly compare this book to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which is similar to PJO is a lot of superficial ways, because some of the weakest elements of that book are the scenes where Harry learns new stuff about the Wizarding World, because it’s all done through exposition. Overall, I much prefer PJO’s method of introducing things, because it typically has something else interesting going on as well. But…yeah I love this book’s story. It has several fascinating locations and action sequences, lifts things from actual Greek Myths in a really interesting and respectful way while also giving some of them a more modern coat of paint, and is, overall, a very satisfying read. I also really enjoyed that the action only showed up when it was necessary for the story. Pointless action gets boring really quickly, and I really liked that each sequence got a lot of room to breathe. Speaking of things I like, the motherfucking underworld! Wow, the scenery is so vivid, and the book establishes this menacing, semi-depressing atmosphere masterfully. The cerebus scene was honestly kind of heartbreaking, and the scene with Hades was tense as fuck. I could keep going on, but I think I’ve made my opinion fairly clear. This book’s plot does everything a first book in a series needs to do. It establishes the mechanics and lore of the world, without sacrificing a compelling story. It’s great, it works really well, and I love it. 10/10

Action: I think that, for the most part, the action in this book is great. However, I do briefly have to address the existence of the first three chapters, because oh boy, that first sequence in chapter one sure does suck compared to the rest of the action sequences in this book. It’s very short, it feels very anti-climactic, and it doesn’t feel tense or exciting at all, which is something the rest of the book is really good at. Just look at Percy’s fight against the Minotaur a few chapters later. That sequence is amazing! It has some truly “oh fuck yeah” moments in it, while also capturing the mortal terror and fury Percy felt in the moment. The same goes for the fight against Medusa, and the scene with the Chimera, and it all pays off at the end during the battle on the Santa Monica beach. However, I also think that the final, final confrontation at the end falls a bit flat. It’s more of a backstabbing than an actual action sequence, but I just feel like something about the tone and the execution of the scene doesn’t work for me. Overall, I think this all averages out to about an 8/10

Tone: The tone works for the most part, but some of the switches between levity and drama are a bit jarring for me. This is especially an issue for me whenever Grover’s on screen, because even though I like his jokes, and I like his emotional moments, I feel like the switch between those two versions of him is always a bit jarring, and it doesn’t really work for me. The same is true for the betrayal scene. I like it on paper, but the traitor’s switch into cartoon villain mode is extremely tonally jarring, and I’m just not a fan of it. The rest of the book is great though. It strikes a really neat balance between the book’s dramatic moments and the light, casual, disbelieving tone Percy uses to tell the story, and it’s great for the most part. The best part is definitely the stuff in the underworld, but the other stuff is good too. 7.5/10

Pacing: Overall, this book is pretty well paced. It spends a couple chapters establishing characters and locations, and then it just jumps right into the story and doesn’t stop until the end. There’s a shockingly small amount of filler in this book and I really appreciate that. If anything, I felt like it stretched a tiny bit near the middle, but that’s just looking for criticism at that point. Overall, it’s really great. 9/10

Comedy: Alright to finish off, let’s discuss how intensely funny this book is, because holy shit the jokes are great. Besides the whole Grover tin can thing, which I think is a bit overdone by the end, pretty much all the jokes land. This is a fairly light book overall, and the jokes and references that Percy makes when narrating the story contribute a lot to that, but there are just a lot of fantastic gags running throughout, such as the giant cupid arrows trap. The really cool thing about this book is the way the comedy is expertly weaved into the dramatic moments, to the point that I can be on the actual edge of my seat, and laughing my motherfucking ass off at the same time. It’s really well done. 8.5/10

Overall: I really enjoyed reading this book. It was an absolute blast, it didn’t really feel like that much work to get through, it was funny, it had exciting action, the characters are gold, and it’s just an all around great time. When I first tried to read this book years ago, I didn’t like it for some reason, most likely because I was….am?…let’s go with was a tasteless moron. This book’s great. It’s a great opening to a series, and it’s also just a great stand alone novel.

Final Thoughts: If you’re reading this then you’ve probably already read PJO. If you haven’t read it, then go fucking read it you tasteless asshole, where have you been living? Under a rock with me? Anyway, this book gets a respectable, very good, 8.6/10

Written on 04/10/2021

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