The Lost Hero

Star summary: 

4- full marks for plot. Partial points for characters, character-building aspects, writing quality & creativity.

Summary: Jason awakens on a bus in the middle of the Arizona Desert, surrounded by kids his own age and being bossed around by a coach. He has no idea who he is, nor who the people around him are. They are soon attacked by storm spirits, and Jason instinctively knows what they are and how to fight them. He and two other students- Piper, who says she's his girlfriend, and Leo, who says he's his best friend- are rescued by Annabeth & Butch (a new demigod), and are flown to Camp Half-Blood. By order of Zeus, Mt. Olympus has cut off communication with all mortals, including Camp Half-Blood. Something strange is definitely going on. Chiron realizes who Jason is and where he is from, but won't divulge anything. Soon all three friends are claimed by their godly parents, and they are sent off on a quest to save Hera from an unknown super-powerful enemy. All along, Jason is trying to discover who he is, where he's spent the past 12 years, and why each of them has been selected by Hera for this quest. The fulfillment of the second Great Prophecy is being revealed.

The best "twist" of the series is the revelation that there is a parallel Roman aspect to each part of Olympus we've come to think we know through the previous series. Camp Half-Blood is not the only place for demigod children to be sheltered, raised and trained. No, there is a Roman camp too. Natural enemies since the Trojan War (from which Aneas, demigod survivor of Troy, ruined by Greeks, fled and established Rome), the two demigod groups have fought one another off and on until the American Civil War (in which Romans backed one side and Greeks another). At that point, the gods hid the groups from each other through Mist to avoid any future bloodshed. Now in a risky plan, Hera (Juno to the Romans) has switched the leaders of the two camps-- Percy & Jason-- in order to force the groups to work together. Only by working together-- Greeks, Romans and gods-- will they be able to defeat the rising foe; giants, which once nearly overthrew the gods.

I LOVE this twist. If Riordan wasn't planning this all along, he had an amazing brain-wave somewhere along the way, and is doing an amazing job of weaving this new aspect back through his previous story! The opening chapters also draws the reader in, desperate to find out first who Jason is, then why he doesn't remember anything, and lastly why Hera stole his memories in the first place! I truly savored this book, relishing the slow revealing of the parallel Roman aspects.

Cautions? This series seems to be aimed at a bit older of an audience than the prior series, with two of the main characters beginning as boyfriend & girlfriend (plus the Percy-Annabeth relationship). Kissing is mentioned multiple times, and looks are far more central (perhaps due to Piper's being a daughter of Aphrodite?). There's a lot more description of so-and-so's good looks, and how it makes the narrator's heart race, etc. As with the previous series, every child is from a broken home, with one parent being absentee, as well as an unfaithful spouse (with the exception of Athena's children, who are literally brain-children). On the one hand, this leaves the kids with no good examples to follow. On the other hand, this is both a realistic telling of the old myths and a sad reality for quite a few of Riordan's readers. However, despite the lack of good role models, the children inexplicably value loyalty, bravery, kindness, integrity, and hard work. (Benefits: as these books were written to encourage Riordan's son with ADHD and dyslexia, they will encourage kids with academic challenges. This book also brings up why technology is banned from Camp Half-Blood, which might encourage your readers to spend less time with their gadgets.)

Themes? Fate & destiny. Over and over the main characters realize that they have been specifically chosen to do this task. For Leo, this redeems and explains so much of the suffering in his life. As Hera has told him since he was a toddler, "Someday, you'll have your quest. You will find your destiny, and your hard journey will finally make sense." (Chapter 41) He realizes that that "someday" has come, and that empowers him. The power & nature of love. Piper is a daughter of Aphrodite, a goddess that until now hasn't gotten much respect. Most of her children are written off as conceited, obsessed with looks & flirting, and shallow. In a word: selfish. Piper's journey completely challenges those stereotypes and changes the way her half-siblings see themselves. In her, love is revealed to be a huge power; because it allows one to see the best possibilities of every situation, and to believe in those. Piper's power comes as she stands between those she loves, shielding them instead of using them. Piper learns, and teaches us, that love is to be others-centered. Reserving judgement against those we do not understand. The gods' complex natures and myriads of responsibilities are revealed a little more, and their children begin to realize that it isn't as easy as they thought, being gods...or parents.

Bottom line? Be honest with and loyal to your friends, no matter what. Love them no matter what the cost is to you. Don't be quick to judge, especially your parents. Live out your destiny boldly. (whatever that means...) "Aphrodite is about love and beauty. Being loving. Spreading beauty. Good friends. Good times. Good deeds. Not just looking good. Silena made mistakes, but in the end she stood by her friends. That's why she was a hero." (Piper, Chapter 52)

Talking points:
- "[Zeus] decided it was high time we got back to traditional values. Gods were to be respected. Our children were to be seen and not visited. Olympus was closed." (Hephaestus, chapter 29)-- Does Mr. Riordan's description of traditional values match the Biblical model of the family? (insert 'parents' for 'gods,' and you have a caricature of past parenting styles)
- Jason, Leo & Piper each realize that their parents haven't had jobs as simple as they assumed. The more they learn about their parents, the more they come to understand them, and to respect the hard calls they've made. How is this true for most kids and their parents?
- How do you think the differences between Roman & Greek views of the same gods will affect their children? (You may want to read more Latin myths and speculate which Mr. Riordan might incorporate)
- How did Mr. Riordan modify and change the myths of Midas, Medea, Enceladus, and Porphyrion?
- What would it be like to grow up believing that the beings you worshipped lied, cheated, stole, and broke their promises? How is that different from the God of Scripture?
- Where does the standard of right & wrong come from in Greek culture? Not from the gods, nor Mother Earth... where?
- How does a person reach eternal happiness (Elysium) in these books (as in Greek mythology)? (by good works) How is this like other religions? (It is just like all religions, except Christianity, which says a person reaches eternal happiness by the Good Work of Another-- Jesus.)
-Outline some differences between Greek and Roman cultures. What did each value? What were each good at? How might these differences affect the plot of the next books?

Appropriate audience: while the story is very appealing, the romantic aspects lead me to suggest grades 8 & up. With guidance and/or censoring, could be read aloud to grades 4 & up.

Stars: Plot, great. The beginning draws you in, the middle doesn't drag, and the ending is satisfactory enough for a book in a sequel...but leaves you hungering for more. Characters- Leo and Piper are better-rounded than Jason. Of course, Jason spends half the book with less than half his memory, so that might be excusable. The gods are becoming more complex-- nearly human!-- and less mythological-cardboard-cutout-ish. I did still grimace at the monster scene with Medea-- while not as bad as some of the other monster scenes, this still seemed a bit far-fetched (yes, I know, it's a myth). Writing- far better than The Lightning Thief, with many more nuggets of profundity or clever humor. Morals are also more pronounced and thematic, getting a little better than Percy Jackson's general "stand by your friends" theme in every book. However, we still can only discuss the Great Story by its absence in these books. The kids do what is right because they somehow know it's right...but there isn't any standard or even good role model for them within their own world. Creativity's still not quite up to the "Wow" of Narnia or Harry Potter, but Riordan is truly creating a world all his own, full of the nuances, back-story, and new angles that mark reality.

Note-- I'm beginning to notice some similarities between Riordan & Rowling-- the banning of technology in the parallel world our heroes inhabit (Camp Half-Blood; Hogwarts), as well as the inner workings of that parallel world which mirror our own (ex. OW!- Olympic Weather).

Star rating: 

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