The Percy Jackson series continues to surprise me with how much I’ve been enjoying it. I’ve always been a sucker for an Odyssey style of story, one where the heroes travel from place to place and explore the world. In that respect, The Sea of Monsters does not disappoint. While there is some more world building and Greek mythologies references that made me smile, there were some issues that I couldn’t quite get passed.
The same cast of characters return but there’s a bit of a twist. Percy is hit with an uncomfortable complication in terms of family when it comes to being a child of Poseidon. I really enjoyed the fact that Riordan actually addressed this and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone as it’s a central point of development for Percy. It explores the theme of family from multiple angles and it’s an interesting idea when considering the Greek pantheon. There’s only a certain level of complexity it reaches considering it’s a middle grade novel, but the subject matter it touches feels appropriate. I especially liked Hermes in this book and the message he tries to teach Percy.
The only issue I could mark was that Percy was the only character that felt like he grew whereas the others stayed relatively static. We learn more about Annabeth’s back story which does lead to some growth but nothing to the level of the previous novel. Clarissa does get some surprising moments of growth but it never feels as though it sticks. Unlike the first book which was very much an adventure where Percy, Annabeth, and Grover grew to trust each other and grow as individuals, this story is more about Percy and the overarching plot of the series.
The World Building in The Sea of Monsters stays consistent with the world established in the Lightning Thief. References to Greek Mythology abound and once again it surprises me how deep Riordan goes with the references and connections. There is the understandable modification to the original mythology to make it more audience appropriate yet still keeps the core of what the mythological tales are.
There continues the idea of combining current world mysteries to Greek mythology which actually works in a fun and creative way. Without spoiling anything, there were several moments where history was referenced to being influenced by the Greek gods that genuinely made me smile. While I do believe some liberties are a bit questionable, I do think that others who enjoy mythology as much as I do will get some enjoyment once they encounter the references.
This is unfortunately where the book somewhat suffers. There’s a struggle authors and writing books within a series to be its own novel while still contributing to the overall narrative. Harry Potter isn’t necessarily a great example as books one through three are their own separate adventures, but books four through to the end all contain their own stories while progress the series’ arc. Lord of the Rings is a great example though as Frodo and Sam’s adventure is solely the series arc while Aragorn and the others are essentially having their own plot within each book. But The Sea of Monsters feels more like it contributes to the series overall narrative and not so much its own. The pacing is overall quick and rushed for the parts that are focused on The Sea of Monsters while slowing down for the parts that push the overall series narrative. While I do find the overall series story quite interesting and engaging, seeing this specific book’s plot be rushed for it felt a bit lacking.
The self contained plot for The Sea of Monsters is actually not that interesting nor is it terribly exciting. It does allow for some fun and exciting moments but it’s not what I would call an exciting story on its own. The plot is very simple and doesn’t necessarily feel like its character driven as it seemingly feels like random moments push Percy and Annabeth along their story. Though, in a way, that is how a lot of old Greek Mythos actually goes so I don’t quite know how to feel about that.
Riordan does an amazing job of keeping his readers interested. The word choice is restricted to middle grade language, but it’s written in a way that still keeps it engaging for all audiences. Each chapter flows well into the next for seamless reading where it’s easy to read for hours at whatever rate the reader comfortable with.
Just like the first book, The Sea of Monsters has the chapter titles serve as hints to what the chapter is focused on. While it is fun and a bit cheeky, there are times where I really didn’t appreciate being told what was going to happen in the chapter. There were several chapters that were essentially spoiled for me just by reading the chapter title. This is especially true for the final chapter as, while I thought it was great for the overall story, I really didn’t like that the ending was essentially told to me before I could experience and react to it.
What Writers can learn from this Book
Writing the second book in a series is a tough ordeal. I know this as I am currently writing the second book in my own series as well. There’s always a struggle to have both the book’s plot and the overall series’ progression both feel meaningful and satisfying. In The Sea of Monsters, I feel that more attention was given to the overall series story rather than the book’s plot. The book leaves the reader with more of an impression on Luke’s betrayal rather than the story about Percy’s family issues that feel more forgettable. Both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter do a great job of telling self contained stories while also progressing the story of their respective series. It’s hard for me to criticize fully as I haven’t finished the Percy Jackson series yet, however The Sea of Monsters, while fun and engaging, does feel like it does not stand on its own very well.