I can’t lie, I’m on a bit of Rick Riordan binge with his books. A bit unsatisfied with the conclusion of The Heroes of Olympus, I thought to go on to The Trials of Apollo as there was a spoiler for it in The Magnus Chase series. I don’t want to risk being blindsided once more and, in an effort to finish The Magnus Chase series, I thought to read The Trials of Apollo. What I didn’t expect was a strange return to form that Riordan’s first few books had. It was a bit jarring to say the least but still an enjoyable read.
A god becoming mortal is not necessarily a new concept, it’s happened in many stories throughout history. However, in the Percy Jackson universe, it is an interesting thing to see one of the gods that had caused so much misery to be cast low to mortality (low in the sense of becoming the same as any other demigod). Apollo’s god complex takes a huge blow and it’s done quite well throughout the series. To see him humbled time and time again and grow (albeit slowly) a sense of humility is pretty well done. I’m happy to see that his growth is not finished in the first book, that it will be something that hopefully persists throughout the series.
What’s different here than in the previous series is that, funny enough, it’s all about Apollo. There’s returning characters and new characters introduced but the focus is almost exclusively on Apollo. While this isn’t uncommon in a first-person narrative, it is a bit surprising with how team focused the previous series had been. Even in the original Percy Jackson series there was a lot of attention on Annabeth and Grover as well. I think this is a refreshing take as Apollo is whimsical and genuinely fun to read.
Maybe it’s the length of what I’m used to seeing from Riordan, but the story felt a tad bit short. Looking back on what actually happened, it felt very quick and not a whole lot actually happened. At least it feels like that as the story is more focused on Apollo’s introspection rather than the events of the story. I can’t quite say it’s character driven as, like the previous novels Riordan has written, our protagonist is either forced along or happens to be where they need to be. But all of what happens feels like it was constructed to force Apollo to self-reflect on himself and his actions during his godhood. While a tadbit predictable, it still made for an interesting story.
Expanding on the universe established, The Hidden Oracle takes a smaller and more focused lens on Apollo and his mythologies. While it’s not as much information being bombarded onto the reader, it does feel far more focused and less random than the previous series. Everything that happens is purely related to the central plot and is focused on Apollo, his real life mythological connections, and his problems in the story. I far prefer this over the previous stories jamming in seemingly random events and figures from mythology to throw a wrench into the heroes’ journey. While those events did relate in some way to the overarching plot, they didn’t feel as focused and more like a detour than a plot point. In The Hidden Oracle, I was pleasantly surprised to see that everything that happened was either directly related to Apollo and his mythologies or the overarching plot taking place. It made for a far more cohesive and engaging story.
I never thought I would say this, but I really appreciate the return to the whimsical form Riordan had in the beginning of the Percy Jackson series. The entire story is a first-person narration from the point of view of Apollo and it’s fun to see his personality strewn about the text. It makes the writing feel more unique and livelier. Each chapter also begins with a bit of poetry (forgive me, I don’t really know forms of poetry very well) and it gives a fun preview as to what expect from the chapter. It reminds me a lot of the Percy Jackson novels where the titles gave a fun hint at what to expect from the chapter.
What Writers can learn from this Book
Writing an effective first-person narrative is made or broken by the tone and language used throughout the novel. A lot of times a story told in the first person could easily have been written in the third person and nothing would have been lost or gained. The true strength is inserting the character’s personality into the description and their thoughts into the story seamlessly. In third person it can be done but it’s still kept as somewhat separate, giving a more limited omniscient feeling whereas first person is more intimate and narrow in its perspective. It forces the author to really utilize the point of view character’s senses to illustrate what is happening. It’s especially useful in a story that focuses on self-reflection and personal growth like The Hidden Oracle focuses on.