Continuing down Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series, The Mark of Athena adds an interesting, though somewhat messy, continuation of the series. Having seven major characters in a story is a difficult task, one I’ve studied and tried to work towards as well. Riordan does a good job in some cases, however its hard not to feel that the attention was lacking on some of the characters.
Seven demigod heroes to focus on is a monumental task. Considering the book is called The Mark of Athena, I imagined Annabeth would be the novel’s main focus. I was excited to read about her as she’s my favorite character within Riordan’s world. However, the attention is split among the cast and feels almost unfocused at times. There are several adventures in their odyssey towards Rome and the story tries to shift the focus and themes from one group of characters to another at an almost jarring speed that it feels a bit disorienting.
Riordan subdivides the seven into two groups with their own internal dynamics and Annabeth figuring out her own situation with her mother and her quest. One group is a kind of awkward love triangle however it isn’t as bad as in other cases. At first I thought this could work as a brilliant way to give Annabeth the majority of focus to develop her story more akin to how Jason and Percy were the main protagonists of their novels. But the perspectives shift so frequently that the reader never feels attached to a central character as they would have in previous books which makes for a rather scattered feeling. Two of the characters feel more like they’re relegated to side characters which is disappointing considering they had interesting character developments in the previous novels.
The main plot for The Mark of Athena appears like it will focus on the contrast of Roman and Greek mythologies and Annabeth’s quest. However, it eventually becomes a bit unfocused as chapters go on. It starts off incredibly strong and absolutely sucks in the reader with the tense action and consequences. But unfortunately, the middle part of the story really drags on and slows down the pace to a crawl before finally picking up again with a burst of excitement in the closing act.
Riordan has a habit of adding mini adventures within the adventure to spice up the story and add in references and exciting moments of drama and action. However, unlike in previous novels, it comes off as almost serialized like it would be in a show. The events in the middle of the book feel a bit random and don’t really serve to develop the characters or advance the narrative in a meaningful way other than a convenient “proceed this way and do this” direction for the main cast of heroes. It’s a bit unfortunate as previous novels do a far better job integrating the odyssey feeling while staying true to the core plotline.
Considering how much of a big deal Rome was made out to be for almost half of the cast, there was not much time spent in Rome itself. It was hard not to feel a bit disappointed that Rome’s importance was not explored as much as it could have been considering how foreboding it had been made in the previous novel The Son of Neptune as well as the beginning of The Mark of Athena. I expected to see Jason, Hazel and Frank have a moment to really question what they’re doing or have some kind of reflection coming to a land they were never meant to go.
A lot of the locations and references to Roman and Greek mythology in The Mark of Athena feel more like throwaway additions rather than crucial to the main plot and the development of our heroes. While these moments allow for the author to insert information or items for our characters to progress the story, it’s hard not to imagine how much better the story would be without these. They don’t quite instill the feeling of awe and wonder that mythological references had in the previous novels.
Balancing the perspectives of multiple characters can be challenging when trying to make each of them unique. Two of the characters, unfortunately, are not explored much and operate more as background characters. This should have allowed for more detail put into the five perspective characters to make their point of view experience more unique and Riordan does a decent job though it could have been a bit better. The perspective of each character feels like a different flavor of the classic self-doubting teen which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Percy and Annabeth are fully established characters and their perspectives show a pretty distinct difference between them. But I can’t say the same for the other three POV characters as they don’t feel very distinct from each other.
What Writers can Learn from this Book
Writing a story to mimic the idea of an odyssey is a challenge. It can come off as a serialized story if the main focus of the story isn’t taking up the majority of the writing. Riordan often does an excellent job of including adventures within the adventure to make for a more exciting and reference heavy story. But The Mark of Athena is an example of a story that starts off strong but eventually slows down heavily with stories that feel as though they could have been cut as they added very little to the overall plot. Whether or not they set up potential plot points in future installments is something to take into consideration, however it affects the quality of the book and what the reader gets out of it.