Continuing the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, I expected more of the same as The Lost Hero. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Riordan broke away from his typical formula and created a trio that were all equally magnificent. Exploring more Roman archetypes and their pantheon, I was happy to see the comparison made to the Greek counterparts. However I wish more could have been done to emphasize the difference. Despite that, The Son of Neptune was a really great story.
Just like the previous book, The Son of Neptune follows the three main characters Percy, Hazel and Frank. Unlike The Lost Hero where it was clear that Jason was the protagonist and the other two were along for the ride, Percy, Hazel and Frank all feel like equally important characters. The way Hazel and Frank’s individual arcs are developed shows a lot of character and attention was given to them. While Percy played the Amnesiac role similar to Jason, Hazel and Frank really came into their own and shined bright.
Hazel characterization and story arc is hard to describe without ruining the plot, however it was fascinating to read. The Greek afterlife is no surprise for anyone familiar with Riordan’s work. Hazel, despite all her fear and uncertainty, felt like one of the bravest characters in Riordan’s works considering all she had endured and sacrificed. Her dynamic with Frank and Percy comes off as guilt ridden but friendly, like a friend with a terrible secret. She didn’t necessarily have as much agency as I would have liked to see, but by the end of the story she really comes into her own as a character.
Frank, however, was a character I really didn’t expect to love as much as I did. I expected him to be another comical character like Grover and Leo. While I don’t hate these types of characters, they typically aren’t the type of characters I like or grow attached to. But he grew to be so much more than that and I loved it. He had a unique and tragic dilemma that referenced an old Greek myth that I had forgotten about until now. I was genuinely surprised how well done the connection to Rome through his Chinese roots were explored. At first, I wasn’t sure it was accurate until I briefly looked into Sino-Roman relations which made me impressed at the references by Riordan.
The action flows smoothly from chapter to chapter and never dulls to the point of losing the reader’s attention. There’s always an underlining tension for each of the characters that, while separate to their own arcs, serve to further the main narrative. What helps even more is the fact that the story is almost purely character driven. I say almost as, similar previous installments, there is godly intervention to guide our heroes to their goal. However the moments where Percy, Hazel and Frank take the initiative and craft their own solutions for the problems they face felt refreshing as it showed a level on intelligence and craftiness expected from Greek heroes of old (even though Hazel and Frank are Roman).
I’m not as familiar with Roman history and mythology as I am with its Greek counterpart, but from what I do know I was impressed to see implemented in The Son of Neptune. Though we didn’t see a full exploration of the Roman counterparts of the Greek pantheon, the gods that were described were done quite well and modernized for the current time. I would have liked to have seen more of the Roman gods to show how different they were from the Greek versions. While there was a general description given, showing is usually always better than telling and I do hope the sequels reveal the differences.
A lot of the locations are, funny enough, places I’ve been to in the past few years and it was nice to read a relatively accurate description. However, because I had visited and/or lived in these areas, I felt the descriptions were almost a bit superficial. It wouldn’t be fair for me to criticize Riordan for this as requiring an author to have visited every location they’ve visited is unrealistic and unfair. But what Riordan does mention about these locations and how he intertwines those defining features to the plot was well done. The excursion to Seattle was one I especially enjoyed and found myself even chuckling here and there at the references.
Perhaps its for The Heroes of Olympus series, but I do miss the comical titles that hinted at the main focus of the chapter. That being said, each chapter is paced well and flows smoothly into the next without too much issue. There are a few chapters that felt like they were separated for no reason. They could have easily been folded into the preceding chapter especially since neither the point of view character nor the scene actually changed from chapter to chapter. It was an odd decision but didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the story.
What was a slight detriment were the dream / flashback sequences. While they are typical to Greek and Roman myths, the way they were used in The Son of Neptune were sometimes out of place. Half of them felt appropriate at the given moment but the other half, mostly the flashbacks, came at rather abrupt moments in the story. It was quite jarring to go from in-the-moment scenes to past events or prophetic messages being sent by a malevolent force. At worse it feels like a way to force plot points into the story without developing it naturally.
What Writers can Learn
While an overwhelming sense of dread hanging above the plot is nothing new to a Riordan story, the weight of it here felt almost suffocating in a way that made success feel almost impossible. But despite all that, the main cast of heroes still maintained a heroic stance despite how scared and uncertain they were. Their emotions felt rawer and more natural as a result of the events of the plot. Dreams crushed, cursed memories returning, and constant doubt plaguing their minds as they pushed through. It’s very easy for a story like this to be overly angsty but this was done very well.