The Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan feels more like what was to be expected from this series after The Heroes of Olympus series. The book takes a significantly darker tone and, in some cases, rather gruesome and unexpected. There were some genuinely surprising moments that, had it not been spoiled for me previously, would have shocked me even moreso. Even knowing what was to come, I still found myself engrossed and couldn’t stop reading.
I didn’t expect the amount of development and growth in not only the main characters but the side characters as well. Even though the story employed one of my most hated writing tropes, the way Riordan incorporated it felt natural to the development of the characters involved. I can’t say exactly what it was or who was impacted as that would be too much of a spoiler. But the resulting character growth was really well executed and, for once with this trope, actually fit the character’s growth, development and background.
Apollo’s growth, as in the previous novels, is the focus of the majority of development however this time more attention is given to the side characters as well. Meg has far more development in this book than the previous and possibly even the first book as well. There’s so much more strength to her motivation and goals now rather than her just being there. She now has a purpose to her role in the overall narrative rather than “Apollo’s Master” and it makes her far more endearing.
Also one of the most satisfying elements of The Burning Maze is the fact that the main antagonist is actually threatening and dangerous. Rather than just being told how dangerous he is and that the main characters should be afraid of him, we’re actually shown and given very good reason for our heroes to fear and loathe him. Unlike previous novels, he’s a constant threat and a developed character rather than someone who feels like a generic evil antagonist.
The overall narrative feels very character driven and motivated by both Apollo and Meg. Rarely does it ever feel like the plot is guiding the characters from one scenario to the next which helps to make the story more organic. The decisions that Apollo and the gang make are thoroughly discussed and agreed upon based on the facts that they know and what needs to be done. There’s still a few moments that come off as convenient, but it doesn’t deter from the character choices made.
While the plot for The Burning Maze has a clear beginning and end, it comes off as more like a connective story between books 2 and 4 rather than it’s own standalone story. The story doesn’t feel like it has a conclusive end save for the end of one plot point which, technically, is the underlying plot of the book. When the story ends, it doesn’t quite feel like an end. While it does encourage readers to read book 4, it doesn’t necessarily create a satisfying end.
The setting in a story is often more than just the location. It involves the extensive worldbuilding of the world however in The Burning Maze the locations are so much more visceral that it’s hard to ignore just how impactful it is to the overall story. It plays a key roll in the motivation of our characters and their pursuit of the oracle. It adds to the dire sense of urgency and references the current climate change crisis that any modern North American reader would be well aware of. It adds as sense of desperation and urgency.
The worldbuilding as well is quite intriguing as more is added to the overall world. The mythological references are expanded upon, albeit slightly, to incorporate more diversity. It’s a good step in expanding the universe of Riordan’s world (not sure if it’s still referred to as the Percy Jackson universe) and allows for a slow cohesion of different mythologies to co-exist.
Apollo’s narration of the story, while still incorporating his comical takes, adds so much more emotion to the book. There’s a continuing focus on developing the humanity of Apollo’s character and it comes to fruition in The Blazing Maze. Without spoiling anything, there’s a specific moment that hammers home the reality of Apollo’s situation and what exactly is at stake. The story takes a very dark turn and seeing that reflected not only in Apollo’s narration but also in how the other characters talk and interact, it makes it feel like a real development in the overall story.
What Writers can Learn from this Book
Among all of Riordan’s books, I really feel like The Blazing Maze is one of the best examples of an intimidating antagonist that is shown and not just told. In previous novels of Riordan’s work, the antagonists often come off as more cartoonish rather than a dangerous threat. But the third of the triumvirate in this story feels far more threatening than the previous two and I’m excited for book 4 to see what the consequences are. The quality of a cast of protagonists is heavily influenced by how threatening the antagonist(s) are. If the threat isn’t very serious it makes the whole story feel less substantial.
P.S: I apologize for the late book review! I started a new job and my schedule is a bit all over the place. At the end of this week I may announce a brief hiatus to re-organize my schedule (and life) .