“Not again!” yells one of the three protagonists at one point in Rick Riordan’s first installment of his second five-book series that fuses Classical mythology with everyday teen angst. Readers may be forgiven if they’ve been feeling déjà vu from page one of this overlong and underedited retread.
The three protagonists in question are Leo Valdez, son of a mechanic and the god Hephaestus, Piper McLean, daughter of a Cherokee movie star and the goddess Aphrodite, and Jason, son of Jupiter—come again? Yes, Riordan mixes it up between the Romans and the Greeks, playing further on his central, winning conceit that the gods have moved west over the centuries with the center of civilization. Jason has a serious identity crisis. In addition to speaking Latin instead of Greek and bearing the Imperial “SPQR” tattoo, he really has no idea who he is.
Readers will know where he is, though. In not-short-enough order, Jason, Piper and Leo end up at Camp Half-Blood, learn, more or less, their identities and the quest begins. This exposition takes more than 100 pages to unspool with formulaic predictability.
There are high points. Incidental details that bring the gods into the story often shine, as they have before. Argus, the camp’s head of security, is distressed at the imprisonment of his creator, Hera, and weeps from all his eyes, causing him to “[wipe] the tears from his elbow.” Boreas (who has taken up residence in Québec City, spawning a pretty great cover image) displays a classically godlike disregard for humans: “We are to crush your little mortal faces.”
Between these moments, however, are far too many pages of stretched-out action, telling not showing and awkward dialogue. Riordan has set himself an ambitious schedule of two books per year, alternating between The Kane Family Chronicles in the spring and The Heroes of Olympus in the fall, and the compressed timetable shows in an overall flabbiness of construction.
The Greek-vs.-Roman tension tantalizes, but only after the lengthy denouement does it begin to take real shape, making this feel more like very long exposition than a complete novel.
Throughout, both key secondary characters and the author play the irritating we-know-more-than-you-do game readers will remember from Percy Jackson, but here, rather than ratcheting up the suspense, it serves to emphasize the sense of a foregone conclusion. In a line of clunky, all-too-typical dialogue, Chiron tells Jason, “The last chapter approaches, just as it did before.”
Die-hard fans will probably be happy with this for a time, but unless Riordan tightens things up considerably by number five, they may find themselves hoping that it does not end with a third Great Prophecy.