The Lightning Thief: A Review

The Lightning Thief by Rick RiordanPercy Jackson is used to getting in trouble at school and missing details about his surroundings. It’s kind of part of the territory when you’re dyslexic and have ADHD besides. Then there’s the fact that Percy isn’t just any twelve-year-old. He’s a trouble magnet–which might be how he wound up a private boarding school for troubled kids (his sixth school in as many years).2005

So, really, it probably isn’t that surprising when his evil math teacher blames Percy for a fight he didn’t even start.

What is surprising is when she sprouts wings and tries to kill him on a trip to the Metropolitan Museum to look at Greek and Roman artifacts. And his accidentally vaporizing her with a pen that turned into a sword is a bit of a shock as well.

Things only get worse from there.

It turns out all of the Greek and Roman myths Percy has been learning about aren’t so much myths as real. And kind of angry. And maybe ready to start a war over a suspicious theft.

With the help of some unlikely friends, Percy has ten days to find the stolen property, return it, save the world from the wrath of the gods, and figure out where he fits in this whole crazy mess in The Lightning Thief (2005) by Rick Riordan.

This book is the first in Riordan’s series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” With its episodic chapters, snappy narrative voice (courtesy of Percy), and non-stop action, The Lightning Thief is an obvious choice for reluctant readers. Although the story is slow to get to the core of the story (or the Olympians of the series title), the plot does move along at a steady pace that will work for readers of any ilk. The plot’s twists and turns (and a surprise ending that fooled this reviewer) are also nice additions to a fun story.

On the other hand, readers might wonder how a twelve-year-old who is not a big reader himself or a fan of school will know words like “debunct” and “mournfully” and choose to use them in his narration. This incongruity was particularly vexing since Percy has such an authentic voice otherwise. Despite his exceptional circumstances, it’s always clear that Percy is thinking and acting (and talking) like a real twelve-year-old boy which is one of the huge strengths of Riordan’s writing. Except when he pulls out words like “debunct” of course.

While some of the mythological figures come across more as caricatures than characters, Riordan does present figures and facts from the ancient Greek (and Roman) mythology in an original way. This might be a New Yorker’s point of view, but there is something very fitting about New York City being the portal to Mount Olympus and Los Angeles leading . . . well, elsewhere. Nitpicks aside, The Lightning Thief is an interesting blend of mythology and a fun, exciting story with a lot of humor and heart. A promising start to a clever series.

Possible Pairings: Temping Fate by Esther Friesner, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Exclusive Bonus Content: I’m 99% certain that this is just me, but I was a little put off by the term “half-blood” being thrown around to describe all of the demi-gods even if it does kind of make sense and doesn’t really have the negative connotations it might in a different context. I also didn’t love the rampant idolization of parents who abandoned their children (even if they had to because they were gods)–it just didn’t work for me as the daughter of a single parent.

Unrelated, but I really like the cover art here by John Rocco. I like how it picks up specific details from the story and also shows Percy as a young boy. It’s very evocative of the story itself.

2 thoughts on “The Lightning Thief: A Review

  1. I’m not sure I agree with your idea that the gods are idolized as parents in this book–or at least in the series. Having read the series, I can say that Percy does struggle with the fact that his dad has been missing his whole life and really isn’t much of a father anyway–he doesn’t make contact with Percy unless his son is about to die. Sure, the half-blood kids use and study the powers and skills of their parents but to me it felt like that was the only way these kids could be in touch with the parent who ultimately abandoned them.

    All of this may not have been made clear in The Lightning Thief, but I think it becomes clear as you get to know Percy the rest of the kids at Camp Half-Blood.


    1. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, so I can’t speak to anything but this book. That said, idolize may not be the right word. I’m thinking more of the beginning when Percy talks about the “warm glow” he remembers and seeing the other kids talk about their parents or the gifts they receive. It’s sort of like the parents are romanticized although that isn’t right either–like when Annabeth says the parents can’t be present because heroes have to be raised by their mortal parents.

      It didn’t bring down the book but it was just something that . . . nagged me I guess because it’s a push button topic in my own life. And I agree 100% that Percy is very ambiguous about his father as the story progresses but in the beginning is more where I was picking up on that (and I say that in a loose sense since I suspect I’m overly sensitive to the matter).

      Whoo, sorry for the long explanation here!


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