Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Not too long ago I saw a movie trailer for the upcoming Lightning Thief, coming to theaters in February 2010. Knowing it was based on a YA book, I thought I'd check it out.  Unfortunately, while I'm looking forward to the movie, I wasn't as enamored with the book as I thought I'd be.

The Lightning Thief is written in the first person, from the vantage point of Percy Jackson, young 6th grader in New York.  Over the course of the story he discovers that he's actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon.  His mortal mother has always kept this fact from him and has taken great measures to keep him safe from Poseidon's enemies.  Percy is eventually drawn into a fantastic, mythological-yet-real world of Classic gods and monsters, taking on a quest to prevent a massive war amongst the gods.

While many fantasy tales take on familiar themes that have been told time and again throughout the course of history, I found this one to be a little too derivative.  The similarities to the Harry Potter books were so many I eventually quit counting them all.  I almost felt like this author was simply telling his own Potter story and just changing a few of the basic tenants around.  Like Harry, Percy was informed several years into his life that he was special.  The notion of half-blood people (one parent "normal", the other wizard/god) is an important point in both novels.  Harry and Percy have been living with one or more guardians who despise them. Both boys go off to a special school/camp for kids like themselves. There they train and learn the lessons of being who they are.  There are separate houses dividing up the students into separate types of groups.  Harry's got a magic wand, Percy has a magic sword.  Both boys fight beings that would normally be too overwhelming for their abilities and they overcome.  I could go on , but the point is made.

However, unlike Potter, this story wasn't able to get me to suspend disbelief in the reality of the tale.  I can believe there's a Hogwarts School of Wizardry.  I can believe there's a magical land of Oz and that Superman can fly.  These stories have a way of getting me to believe their realities within the confines of their stories.  But for some reason, I frequently was drawn out of the story in Thief and just couldn't accept its premises. Monsters in the St. Louis Arch? The entrance to Olympus in New York and the entrance to the underworld in California?  Riordan gives reasons for these locations, but I still couldn't buy it as a reader.

Having said all that, I still enjoyed the story enough to finish the novel.  There were many chapters that ended with cliffhangers that compelled me to keep reading.  While I couldn't buy the premise of the story, I still wanted to know what happened.  Ultimately, I was entertained and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie as well.

Whether I'm going to read the other books in Riordan's series is a question I haven't answered yet.  I might give Book 2, The Sea of Monsters a shot, if for no other reason that I know it'll be a somewhat fun (if unbelievable) read.



  1. Interesting review....I too purchased a copy of this book not long after seeing the movie preview (looks good, doesn't it?). I have yet to read it, but I was wondering how they would spin the storyline itself. The fact of the similarities..well, not an excuse, but sometimes they use the similiar events to give the character the background needed to provide them with the proper personal motivations (or at least that's my thought)...bad life = striving for better world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Yes, the movie trailer does look interesting! Looks like they got a nice budget for all the special effects.

    I see what you mean about the use of similar themes. I guess since I've read most of the Potter books (going through Book 7 now), those details are in the forefront of my mind. They were a distraction, but not enough to get me to put the book down. It's fun. I did enjoy it enough to want to read the next book. I've even entered to win it on some blog out there; the URL escapes me.

    Feel free to come back and post your thoughts on the book and/or movie after you enjoy them!

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Great review! A girl I babysit has read this whole series and when we went to B&N and I read the first couple of chapters of it... I agree with what you said about it mimicking the Harry Potter series. These sci-fi and paranormal books seem to be all the rage in the YA section, don't they? I didn't know they were making a movie of it. Thanks for the info!


  4. Meredith:

    Thanks for stopping by! Yes, these books are "the thing" right now, or at least have been for the past decade. It'll be interesting to see what'll be the next trend after this one burns out.

    Yes, the movie looks like it should be interesting at least. Check out the trailer, cast listing, etc on IMDB: There are alot of big stars, like Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan and Sean Bean for starters. I'll be sure to post a review of the movie after I see it, too!



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