The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One)
by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson is the poster boy for a troubled child. He's been expelled from several schools, suffers from ADHD and dyslexia, and his stepfather is an a cruel, abusive man. After his teacher, Ms. Dodds, turns into a harpy and attacks Percy on a class field trip, his mother and his best friend Grover decide that for his own safety , Percy must be taken to Camp Half-Blood, a safehaven for demigods just discovering their powers. En route, the three of them are attacked by a minotaur and Percy's mother disappears in a shower of golden light. At Camp Half-Blood, Percy learns to fight and use his demigod powers, and he is claimed by his father, the sea god Poseidon. But the poor kid can't catch a break – his mother is probably dead, the children of Ares seem out to get him and Zeus accuses him of stealing the Master Bolt. If the Bolt is not returned by the summer solstice, Zeus and Poseidon will go to war, dragging the rest of the gods – and the world – with them. Percy must go on a quest to recover the Bolt and clear his name, accompanied by Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and Grover, Percy's very own guardian satyr.
I had heard about the Percy Jackson series for years and years, but I didn't get around to reading it until fairly recently because most people seemed to describe it as “like Harry Potter, but not as good.” Now that I have read the book, I can see where people draw the parallels. A black-haired, green-eyed boy is Special and pulled from the 'real world' into a magical world where he makes two good friends, one extremely smart girl and one comic relief boy, and they go on many dangerous adventures together while a prophecy hangs over their heads. The stories are similar, but they aren't the same, not by a long shot. So if you've been avoiding the series because you've heard it's a Harry Potter rip-off, give it a shot. It definitely appeals to the same audience.
The Lightning Thief is very fast-paced, and really focuses on action over character development. It seems like every time I turn the page, someone new is trying to stick their claws into Percy. I want to say “This would make a great movie!” but having seen the 2010 Lightning Thief film, I can only sigh and admit that this is not the case. But it's fun. Really fun.
I liked how the gods and goddesses were updated for the 21st century. These aren't lazy gods lounging around in togas amidst broken marble pillars. The Olympians are still very involved with the world and its events. Riordan's workaround explanation to keep the gods relevant is that as the center of Western civilization moved from one country to the next, the gods moved with it. Now that America's the leader of Western civilization (sorry, everybody else!) the gods are here, too, and Olympus is located at the top of the Empire State building in New York City. OK, I admit, that sounds really silly when I type it out here, but I still think it was a clever idea.
4 out of 5 stars