Its been a while since I’ve written a book review. Publishing my own book was a rather hectic couple of months. But I’m happy to have dived back in with The Heroes of Olympus – The House of Hades by Rick Riordan. It took a moment to adjust back into the groove of reading, thankfully Riordan’s writing is easy for anyone to dive into and deep enough to keep the interest alive. While not perfect, The House of Hades was a fun and exhilarating ride.
Part of the problem of The Mark of Athena returns here as the focus on seven different main characters makes for a difficult task. In The House of Hades, the situation was improved though still had it’s own issues. Separating Percy and Annabeth from the others allowed for parallel storytelling and helped to focus on specific characters rather than try and spread it out too thinly. However, it’s hard not to ignore that Jason and Piper felt largely set aside to focus on the others. This could work well if Jason and Piper have more of a role in book 5 which I’m suspecting is the case.
Percy and Annabeth’s struggle in Tartarus was easily the highlight of this story and I absolutely loved it. Both characters were given time to really shine and support one another. The tension and pain was so extreme, much more than I thought possible from this series. Seeing them traverse what was essentially hell together and keeping each other going was both inspiring and sweet but also tragic and heartbreaking at times. There were so many times where they faced their past, questioned what they had done, and struggled to keep going. It was a roller coaster of emotions that I absolutely loved.
I wish I could say the same for the Argos II plot but it felt like more of the same. The focus felt scattered between the crew with some having more focus than others. It felt like more of the same Odyssey style adventure where it was one mini adventure to another with moments of character development that could have been expanded more. Having so many characters to focus one likely made it difficult to really give them enough time to shine, especially compared to Percy and Annabeth.
The story has two parallel adventures, one with the remaining crew of the Argos II on earth and one with Percy and Annabeth in Tartaros. Despite the majority of the crew staying with the Argos, equal time is split between the two stories. It’s hard to say the Argo II crew’s adventure is as compelling as Percy and Annabeth’s as it is more of the same whereas Percy and Annabeth’s feels like something new, dark and interesting we hadn’t seen before. Percy and Annabeth’s grueling adventure in Tartaros was akin to travelling through constant hell. I was surprised just how rough and excruciating their journey would be.
The main issue was that a lot of the encounters with entities from Greek and Roman mythology came off as disappointing. Beings older than time itself come off as rather dumb, arrogant and easily tricked which makes our heroes seem less impressive than they are. It’s hard to think the main characters are clever if their opponents are easily duped or coerced into defeating themselves. I do understand the need to have antagonists tricked to make the characters look clever, but sometimes it comes off as childish and unrealistic. The Tartaros plot was mostly immune to this problem but the Argos II crew’s adventure had far too much incompetence among most of the enemies to make them feel like a credible threat.
Tartaros, in a more modern Christian interpretation, could be described as the equivalent of hell for Greek mythology. While this isn’t the most accurate description, it’s the closest analogy I can think of to give a general idea of what it was. However, Riordan does a fantastic job of representing just how cruel, painful and horrifying it really was. I was genuinely surprised with how much of an eldritch horror landscape it was. It captured just how terrifying and disturbing it could have been and made Percy and Annabeth’s journey gruelling and painful but also inspiring and touching at times. It was something new in this series and was done so wonderfully.
Not only did Riordan tie in more references to Greek and Roman mythology, he also tied in previous interactions in refreshing ways to revitalize the story. There were a few call backs that I thought were really well done and served to expand the story in a better and more natural way. These call backs were fantastic as it helped to allow Percy, Annabeth and the others reflect on all the mythological entities they’ve encountered and killed. It really helped to show how they’ve grown and changed over the course of both series.
The viewpoints of each character for their respective chapters were done much better than in The Mark of Athena. The drastic difference between Percy and Annabeth’s adventure to that of the others created a stark and, in some moments, painful contrast that kept me hooked the entire time. However, I found the downside to this made the Argos II story a little less compelling, making me more excited to return to Percy and Annabeth’s thrilling tale.
What made the Argos II adventure less compelling was likely the fact that there was so little room for the plot to breathe. Compelling stories usually allow for time to breathe between each action point. While the Tartaros plot had plenty of room for reflection on what Percy and Annabeth had been through, the plot of the Argos II went by so quickly that moments of contemplation felt forced into the small breaks between the action. A lot happened to the Argos II crew and more time for them to reflect on it would have helped.
What Writers can Learn from this Book
Balancing two different stories to converge in one point in a thrilling and exciting way is a challenge that, when pulled off correctly, can create an exciting and compelling story. But to do so successfully requires that the multiple plots feel equally significant. This will vary from audience to audience but a common issue is that one plot is seen as so much more interesting and compelling that the other(s) feel plodding in comparison. I can’t lie, I found the Tartaros plot so compelling that I felt myself trying to read faster to get back to Percy and Annabeth’s story. That’s not to say the Argos II plot was not good, it was just more of the same whereas the Tartaros plot was so very new and compelling.