Book Review – “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”

Longtime reader Erf submitted the following review:

The first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series has been highly recommended to me by a few YA readers I know. With The Lightning Thief, the series is off to a pretty good start.

General Information

Title: The Lightning Thief
Author: Rick Riordan
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Original Publication Date: 2005
ISBN: 978-1423134947
Cover Price: $7.99 US / $9.50 CAN
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A boy with a rough childhood discovers he’s actually a demigod, and he’s not the only one. He’s whisked away from his awful life for his protection and training, then is sent on a quest to stop a war.

High Point

For the most part the gods and their abilities strongly reflect their realms, and vice versa.

Low Point

The conclusion of the thread with Percy’s mother. In a book like this, that sort of action isn’t usually morally easy, let alone encouraged. The author could have set this things up to make this conclusion more acceptable, but even then it should have had a lot more weight to it — or this should have been a very different book from the start.

The Scores

This book is original within its subgenre (see Additional Notes, below). It fills the tropes with interesting characters and adventures. 4/6.

The imagery is probably this book’s strong point. The action is always very clear, and the descriptions are vivid. 5/6.

The story was generally very good. There’s an interesting reason for Percy’s quest, and everything is tied together by the end — and the book comes to a satisfying conclusion even as it sets up the rest of the series, which can difficult to do well. There are some important plot points that really don’t sit well with me, though, particularly the Low Point. 4/6.

The characterization is reasonable, but not spectacular. Percy is pretty well developed. His companions start out as basically stock but grow into real characters, if relatively simple ones. Everyone else is stock from central casting — although it’s not always the stock character you’d expect in a given role, which boosts the score a bit. 4/6.

The emotional response was surprisingly good. I found myself feeling Percy’s frustration and cheering him on, and that connection was what kept me turning pages. 5/6.

The editing was very good. The story was well paced for the most part, with the exception that in the beginning nobody would tell Percy anything even when there was time and it would have been extremely wise to tell him. The author tries to motivate this but it still came down to “there’s no time to explain” followed by a silent two-hour car ride… After that, the pacing is pretty much perfect. 4/6. (It gets 5/6 once people start talking to him.)

Overall, this was a very fun, very fast adventure story. Recommended to Harry Potter fans and anyone looking for a light read with chapter titles like, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Math Teacher,” “A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers,” and “I Battle My Jerk Relative.” 5/6.

In total, The Lightning Thief receives 31/42.

Additional Notes and Comments

This book, and presumably the series, sits squarely in the same subgenre as Harry Potter. Boy comes from a rough home life, discovers he’s special, gets taken away to what amounts to his dreamworld and gets everything he could desire, faces bullies, has adventures, saves the world at age 12, and then returns to his mundane life until next year. The parallels run quite a bit deeper than that, too. That said, I do think that’s all tropes of the genre rather than an actual rip-off — sort of the 12-year-old equivalent of the hero’s journey. (I’d be surprised if Harry Potter was the first.) And this book really uses the tropes in its own unique way; reading it this doesn’t feel at all like an HP clone, but its own story told with some of the same tools.