The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1)

The Lightning ThiefBy Rick Riordan [LibraryThingAmazon]

Percy Jackson is about to get kicked out of school…again. He doesn’t mean to get in trouble, but it follows him everywhere and he just doesn’t know why. At least not until he finds out the teacher who’s always hated him is one of the Furies, and his friend Grover is actually a satyr, sent to protect him. Soon Percy discovers that all of his troubles happen because he’s the son of a Greek god, and he finds himself first surrounded by other half-human kids like him and then out on a dangerous quest to recover Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt. And if he fails, it means war among the Gods—and probably the end of the world as we know it.

There were a lot of things that I liked about The Lightning Thief, and one big thing that I didn’t. That one has a lot to do with the setup of the book’s reality: the Greek pantheon of gods is all real, and it represents all real civilization. As the heart of civilization has moved, so did the gods—from Greece to Rome, around Europe, eventually to Britain when it had its empire, and now they exist in the U.S. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, if it had tied the Gods to, I don’t know, the idea of simply great civilization or modern civilization or what have you. But it is very, very specific: the formerly-Greek gods represent The West, and The West is Real Civilization. Which means first of all, that Greece was the first real civilization to exist—which I suspect would come as rather a shock to the Chinese, Japanese, Incans, Mayans, and Egyptians, to name a very few. Second, it sets up a very sharp divide between the U.S. and its allies as The West/Civilization/All Things Good, vs. everyone else.

Um. I live in the U.S. and I’m pretty patriotic. But the West in general and the U.S. in specific has done some pretty terrible things. Furthermore, the incredible arrogance of claming that this country is the only true civilization is astounding. And I’m disturbed by the way the villain spouts off anti-West rhetoric at the end, as it verges closely on terrorist rhetoric. While the character in question is Caucasian, the book’s overall emphasis on how frigging awesome The West is and the villain using stereotypical terrorist language really, really walks a fine line when it comes to racism and anti-Islam. I’m frankly not sure which side of the line the book falls on—it isn’t blatantly spouting off that Muslims are evil, but it certainly suggests that people who aren’t totally down with the U.S. are all villains looking to destroy the world in a way that is evocative of Islam. That makes me really, really uncomfortable.

There are some other elements that made me go “Bzuh?” Like the fact that Percy is dyslexic because his brain is hard-wired to read in Ancient Greek. Or his ADHD, which has something to do with his Hero Instincts. The dyslexia and ADHD have combined to make his life miserable and school very frustrating for him for as long as he can remember, but there’s very little actual emotion in Percy’s first-person narrative, which is odd. In fact, Percy is pretty much an Everykid, so there’s not much emotion from him, period. I think the book would have been strengthened with a stronger personality narrating it, frankly, but overall Percy isn’t bad. He’s just kind of there, and sometimes very flippant in a way that often works to give the book humor, but sometimes seems to be trying too hard to force in some humor.

However, the other characters are all pretty delightful. I love Annabeth, a half-God who’s Athena’s daughter. Her skills, of course, are all set in being clever, but she’s also extremely strong and competent in a fight. She always has a plan or can come up with one. The book allows her to be a hero herself, without ever overshadowing Percy. Similarly, Grover (Percy’s guardian satyr) is a lovable dork, and a very endearing character overall.

The book uses mythology really well, too. The myths I knew were put to great use—of course the Gorgon should show up when you’ve got Athena’s daughter!—and there were a bunch I didn’t recognize. Some of it seemed a bit obvious, as if the characters should have been able to surmise what was going on from having studied their mythology (which all of the half-gods are required to), but it doesn’t get in to ‘no duh, Sherlock’ territory too often. (Even Jess, much more of a classicist than I, was impressed by the series’ choice of Big Bad when I described it to her.) And the gods who appear are all delightful in their representations as modern people—Zeus in a business suit, Poseidon as a beach comber, Ares as a biker, etc. They alone make me want to read the rest of the series to see what’s done with them.

The book’s central mystery is also quite good—while the minor mystery at he beginning (which God is Percy’s father?) is pretty obvious, the questions that arise over the course of the book are not. I was able to put things together before Percy did, but not too quickly. Plus the pacing of the story and the danger of the quest itself is great. The writing is very solid.

I’m giving The Lightning Thief two and a half cupcakes. It would have been a solid three and a half (maybe even four) if it hadn’t been for the book’s serious The West Is Awesome problem, as I think I’ll probably end up reading at least one more in the series with the hopes that the problem goes away. I don’t care too much about Percy as a protagonist, but I do like his story.


    3 Responses to “The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1)”

    1. Lily says:

      Yeah, that was one thing I didn’t like about the books either, for I don’t know much at all about Greek mythology, yet I was able to put things together waaaaay faster than some of them. Also, I don’t exactly understand why the West thing was in the books- it’s never made sense to me.

    2. Hannah says:

      I didn’t really get the whole West thing either. I did find some things easier to figure out then other things, like how was the friend that was going to betray him or whatever. I’m not really into Greek mythology but I thought this was a good book. =)

    3. Enzo says:

      I originally thought this would be a Harry Potter knock-off, so I treated it with a lot of skepticism at first. As I read through it though, the story had its own unique set of charms that just reeled me in. I guess having Greek Mythology as one of my topics as an English teacher helped get me more absorbed. I finished this book quite quickly, and ‘devoured’ the next three in relatively rapid succession.

      The ‘West’ issue gets a little more diluted as the series progresses, and Percy’s character receives much needed depth as the main plot develops in the succeeding books. Riordan’s writing gets more solid especially in the fourth entry, and I just can’t wait for the fifth, and final, installment to be released.

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