Continuing The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan after a long break, I thought it would read very different or offer a new take on his work. But as I read The Tyrant’s Tomb, I couldn’t help but notice the feeling of familiarity to the previous book The Burning Maze. While the narrative structure and beats are different, the overall story feels more like a continuation of the previous book rather than it’s own. In some cases this can be a negative but here it’s very appropriate as The Tyrant’s Tomb continues Apollo’s reflections, character growth and ultimately changing the world of the Percy Jackson universe.
This may be a strange criticism to make, but The Tyrant’s Tomb continues Apollo’s character growth in an interesting and intriguing manner, however it doesn’t feel like enough has changed. In the previous books, Apollo recognized that he was a terrible person and develops a more human conscience. In The Tyrant’s Tomb, Apollo continues this trend but it doesn’t really add anything new or different to the series development of Apollo. He continues to feel bad about his past transgressions against people he was supposed to care about and guide while also gaining a sense of humility. There are a few interesting moments where Apollo is genuinely puzzled by things he can’t fathom and it’s interesting to see. Unfortunately though Apollo and Meg feel more like vessels to progress the plot than developing characters.
The real stars of The Tyrant’s Tomb are the supporting characters. Returning heroes Reyna, Frank and Hazel show a real growth from their incarnations in the previous Heroes of Olympus series. Especially Frank and Reyna as their roles as praetors weighs on each of them in different ways. How they each approach the position is shown more in their dialogue and interactions than just stated by a side character. It’s side character development without overshadowing the protagonists or the main plot that’s a bit subtle but overall effective. It’s great to see throughout the novel and does contribute to the overall story which is always satisfying. The rest of the supporting cast, both old and new, breathe a new and fresh life into the story that keep it fun and interesting.
The siege of New Rome is the main threat our heroes face but the story still takes the time to carry on the events of The Burning Maze through. The death of Jason Grace weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of Apollo and the others. Rather than speed along to the next adventure, we get to have a moment where the characters grieve and discuss what’s happened. It might seem like a small thing, but in a series like this that has a very “adventure of the week” feeling, it’s great to see the story take a moment to breathe and develop.
Regarding the actual narrative structure, despite the very inevitable climax, the story has a very character-driven feel to hit. Even though it feels like a tangential adventure Apollo goes on when a grand battle is coming, it feels appropriate and well thought out as to why they do what they do. Just like in Riordan’s previous works, the plot is very prophecy driven and guided in a sense. But Apollo and the others discussing it and how to approach the prophecy while also balancing an imminent battle coming to their door showcases real growth in the characters.
While the story was surprisingly unpredictable in a delightful way, there was one moment that felt a bit cheap. It felt like a moment that maybe should have been thought out a little better or not included at all. The resolution of it left a rather bitter feeling that, while not spoiling the overall story, still left an undesirable feeling. Some readers may not have an issue though and ultimately I did prefer how it played out, I just didn’t like how it was handled personally with what was already established.
Similar to The Burning Maze, there was a slight nod to mythologies outside of the Greek and Roman pantheons which helps make the universe feel more expansive. But while this inclusion is nice, the overall worldbuilding of the Percy Jackson universe stays mostly the same. But while this may seem like a criticism, in this case it feels more appropriate rather than detrimental. Considering how much worldbuilding has been done in the previous series, it can be hard to add on to that without contradicting what has already been established. In that perspective, The Tyrant’s Tomb really focuses on building on top of the worldbuilding already established and working within the confines of that rather than breaking it with something new. It helps to make the world feel grounded, while it may not make the setting feel different or interesting, it helps to make the focus on the plot and characters while everything else is familiar.
It’s another of Riordan’s works so the writing feels very familiar at this point. Similar to the character development and the plot, The Tyrant’s Tomb carries over the writing style of The Burning Maze in how it focuses on Apollo’s reformation and humanity. It adds on to the growth and development in Apollo’s dialogue and thoughts established throughout the series. Similar to the impact of Jason’s death, there are several moments that hit Apollo hard and really show how less of a god he is and how he’s so much more human now than he’s ever been. It’s developing a strong contrast to his old self that really questions what will happen when or if he’ll become a god again.
What Writer’s can Learn from this Book
The Tyrant’s Tomb feels like a true sequel to The Burning Maze than a lot of sequels often do, especially in series that follow a formulaic adventure series style. While the first two books in The Trials of Apollo have a very self-contained feeling with only an overarching plot connecting them, the story of The Burning Maze transitions directly into The Tyrant’s Tomb. Neither book can really be standalone without the other as the story starts in the third book and concludes in the fourth. It can feel like a bit of a detriment as finishing The Burning Maze can leave a longing for conclusion where the fourth is needed to finish it.