Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick RiordanDerivative? Sure.
Educational? You betcha.
Sure, it's similar to Harry Potter. But which came first, the chicken or the egg? Yolen's Wizard's Hall is a version of Harry Potter. Written before Harry Potter. Hmmm.
If Riordan is derivative of anyone, and beholden to anyone, it's Homer and the lexicon of Greek mythology. Just as Rowling is beholden. And Pratchett. And the writers of the Bible (in the original Greek version of the bible, hell is called "Tartarus" ... hmmm). And, and, and.
However derivative it all is, Riordan has done a bang-up job of re-imagining a mythological world married to our modern world in a way that makes me smile quietly in appreciation. Olympus is over New York and Hades under L.A.? Brilliant. Dyslexia is a demi-god affliction because they are half-wired to read ancient Greek? Clever. Satyrs pissed off about the sullying of the environment by humans? Nice.
Yes, sometimes Riordan's prose is a tad clunky but it didn't bother me one bit. This is a first-person narrative by a 12 year old. A dyslexic 12 year old. With ADHD. And, for all of the obvious shortcomings of prose aimed at pre-teens being consumed by adults, the effect is often lovely. Take, for example, this gem of a description of Percy's mother, "My mother can make me feel good just by walking into the room. Her eyes sparkle and change color in the light. Her smile is as warm as a quilt. She's got a few gray streaks mixed in with her long brown hair, but I never think of her as old. When she looks at me, it's like she's seeing all the good things about me, none of the bad."
And who wouldn't like the idea of like Ares on a Harley or Charon wearing Italian Suits? Or Hades causing all the California earthquakes? Or the fight between Zeus and Poseidon, gods of sky and sea, causing all the weird weather we have?
That's what is fun about Rowling, too. Imagining an otherworld folded into the one I live in every day.
In the way-back-then-olden days, mythology existed solely to explain the things that couldn't be explained. In our uber-rational modernity, a world saturated by three main religions and the overwhelming logic of science, mythology still exists but now it seems to function solely to reawaken magic and wonder in a world almost entirely divorced from awe.
Ergo, kudos to Riordan, and Rowling, and Pratchett, and Pullman, and Susan Cooper, and Wynne-Jones, and Juster, and Julie Andrews, and, and, and... Kudos to all of them for writing books that reconnect us with wonder.
The Sea of Monsters is a read-like-the-wind-to-find-out-what-happens sequel. As readable and charming as the first, despite the fact that there were not as many opportunities to cleverly overlay mythology onto modern America (though I particularly liked that the Sea of Monsters was the Bermuda Triangle.) And, as there were in the first book, there were some lovely laugh-out-loud moments (as when Percy confuses "hummus" with "hubris") and a predictable plot which, still, despite its predictability, entertains beautifully.
The Titan's Curse is a