Continuing The Trial of Apollo series, book 2 is not as intriguing as I would have expected after reading The Hidden Oracle. There’s a recurring trend that might be forming which is hard to really gauge how beneficial it is to the series as a whole. Time will tell, however The Dark Prophecy, while being a good story does suffer in key areas that make it feel lacking.
Apollo continues to be the center of attention (appropriate for his ego) and it’s the real strength of this series. His growth as a character from arrogant god to less arrogant mortal is a fun and well developed while also not being rushed. It feels like a recurring theme that will carry throughout the series, Apollo gaining some humility and humanity having walked in the shoes of demigods. While the danger of Riordan dragging this growth is present, it does feel like steady progress is being made in each book which is the right approach. By the end of The Dark Prophecy, Apollo has changed in a subtle but noticeable way than at the beginning and is definitely different than how he was in The Hidden Oracle. It will be interesting to see where his growth will take him.
Sadly that can’t be said for the remaining cast of characters. While Apollo is the protagonist of this series, he’s not the only one. Meg feels like she is slowly being relegated to a sidekick which feels very strange considering how The Hidden Oracle made her seem tragic and has a lot of potential to flesh out her character. It seems to be on a slow grow path similar to Apollo’s humility so we will have to wait and see. The other characters are more static than anything else with very little growth. One of them does change and it delivers a positive message while also adding to Apollo’s growth which is great. However, like a lot of Riordan’s books, the antagonists leave a lot to be desired.
Similar to book 1, a lot of focus is placed on Apollo’s introspection and understanding of mortality. But unlike book 1, there’s more characters for Apollo to compare and contrast his loss of immortality to. The comparison offers a glimpse of what once mortal beings sacrificed their immortalities for and, it Apollo, it’s a point of contention as he just doesn’t understand. The disbelief is great and makes sense with Apollo’s characterization and his loss. It’s central to the core of his story and what he’s desperately trying to regain.
The problem is that the story in The Dark Prophet doesn’t focus on this aspect as much as it should. We only get a glimpse at the deeper meaning of losing immortality or what it does to someone whose not a god from the start. There’s so much that could be explored but it’s always kept at a surface level. While the genre might not be appropriate for it, seeing Riordan broach similar topics in his previous series makes it curious he skirts around it here. The main antagonist being one of the Emperors and Apollo’s connection to the Oracle were prime characters for Apollo to compare and contrast his version of mortality to theirs. But neither really felt fully utilized, the former being an over-the-top silly antagonist in Riordan fashion and the latter being ok at best. There were so many potentially interesting plotlines and character moments that could have happened that just didn’t.
Not a whole lot of interesting references nor areas explored which felt rather disappointing considering Riordan’s previous works. The whole story takes place in Indianapolis and introduces a few new things to the world, however the main focus seems to be building upon already established lore set up in the previous series. While the callbacks and references are appreciated for those who have stuck with the multiple series, it makes it difficult for The Trials of Apollo to really stand out from the Percy Jackson or The Heroes of Olympus series. Percy Jackson was the beginning and The Heroes of Olympus added in an interesting twist with the Roman version of Greek mythology but so far The Trials of Apollo feels like a deflated middle ground as it doesn’t bring in new different myths or references to history and mythology. What we get really feels like more of the same and while I enjoy it, it struggles to really cement it’s own identity because of that. There is something hinted during the story that makes me hopeful for something big to be introduced, but that would possibly be in a future book.
Again I have to commend Riordan in how well he wrote The Dark Prophecy from Apollo’s perspective. First Person Narrative through the eyes of a now Mortal god feels like it will never get old, especially with the flavor Apollo puts in everything he observes. It really helps to showcase the slow but steady growth we see in Apollo from the beginning to the end. While some of the commentary the former god makes can be rather corny and off-putting, for the most part it is really well done and helps to add personality to the narrative.
What Writers can Learn from this Book
While the main character in a First-Person Narrative is incredibly important, having a strong cast of supporting characters is needed to really make them shine. While Riordan did an amazing job with Apollo’s narration and characterization, everyone else felt wooden and stiff in comparison. Maybe it’s because we couldn’t see inside their heads as we could in past novels, but what felt like a lack of depth in the supporting cast felt like a missed opportunity. Especially with one particular character that resurfaced from Apollo’s past. I thought she was fascinating and I really wanted Apollo to delve into their connection as, from what it seemed like in his words, she had slighted him back when he was a god.
No more is this point stressed when it comes to the main antagonist of this novel. He was threatening in how he was described but came off as more ridiculous and over the top than actually menacing when he talked and appeared. It was disappointing as I expected something a bit more intimidating and intelligent as he’s supposed to be on par with Nero from the previous novel.