I am sure that very little has to be said about The Lost Hero. Author Rick Riordan is rightly beloved of readers from 8 to 18 and beyond - I know many moms who have read the Percy Jackson books with their kids only to become slaves themselves to the exciting plot, likeable characters, and imaginative scenarios. I myself considered buying The Titan's Curse at Target one Sunday even though I knew the book was waiting for me at the library and I could pick it up when I went to work the next day. I needed to find out what happened next.
But something happened at our school's Lost Hero release party that made me appreciate Rick Riordan anew. Not a big thing, but an important thing to me.
Our family had listened to all five Percy Jackson books on CD, during a 2600-mile road trip two summers ago. An actor named Jesse Bernstein reads those books, and by the end of the summer - sorry, son, if you're reading this review - but if we had run into that guy at some Alabama rest stop, I would have stabbed him in the Adam's apple with whatever plastic drive-through utensil I could find in the glove box. Kid performed with a wicked Queens-ish accent that grated on my last nerve. And nobody took the time to help him look up the pronunciation of Greek words. It's not "icker" that flows through the veins of mythological monsters, it's "eye-kor".
So, I didn't think of it at the time, but I should have noticed that despite a somewhat inadequate reader, despite his intermittent inability to find the emphasis in a sentence, we never lost the thread. The prose was, in addition to funny and exciting, clearly written. I didn't discover this until the night of October 12, Lost Hero Release Day, when we couldn't get the laptop to run the streaming feed of Riordan reading aloud from the new book, and the school's Reading Specialist (whose blogonym will hereafter be The Oracle) asked me to fill in.
So. In front of thirty kids and adults, never having seen the book before and dressed as Ares (that's my friend Lisa as Persephone, note the pomegranate), I stood up and read the first seven pages. I never stumbled once. I didn't need to read ahead. Each and every sentence was so naturally, so gracefully written, that emphasis was automatic. Characters announced their traits and style in only a couple phrases of dialogue. Humor and tension were delivered not only via word choice, but also in the structure of the sentences and paragraphs. I could have read all night. I was like some heavy metal Eliza Doolittle - sure, that Professor Higgins is a talented linguist, but who knew he could dance? I have always praised Rick Riordan for his humor and imagination, but I think I never knew how smoothly he wrote.
This is undoubtedly one of the reasons these books are so successful. There simply are no awkward sentences. At no point does a young (or an old) reader have to go back and re-read because he or she didn't quite get what happened there. The reading experience itself is well paved and smoothly graded. That's not just talent, that's consideration. For a lot of kids, reading is work. Clearing the path for those kids is just as important as making sure that that path goes to exciting places. And doing that without dumbing the whole thing down until you're driving along a featureless interstate past a series of increasingly irritatingly themed malls? Well. If just anyone could do that, we'd have a whole lot more blockbuster middle grade novels, wouldn't we?
And there's a sweet epilogue to this story: a few days later I was talking to the Oracle, and she told me that some of the kids who had attended the event were still waiting for their copies of the book. In the meantime, they were occupying themselves by speculating the plot based on the few pages that I had read. "I bet Leo's a Cyclops because he's so good with machinery!" "I can tell already Jason's a son of Zeus!" "He can't be a son of Zeus - what about the promise the Big Three made?"
I hope they're not disappointed. I can't imagine they would be - there are adventures and peril, suprises, great scenery, fabulous beasts, a couple of well-placed punches, mystery, and beautiful, loyal friendships. Sigh. I can't believe I have to wait until next fall for the next book.