on May 3rd, 2016
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How do you punish an immortal? By making him human. After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disoriented, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus's favor. But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters, and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go... an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.
Rick Riordan returns to Camp Halfblood with The Hidden Oracle, the first book of The Trials of Apollo. Cursed by Zeus for his actions that contributed to the war with Gaea, the god Apollo has become a 16-year-old, acne-ridden, out-of-shape, mortal boy. But becoming human just might be the salvation of Apollo.
I thought a book narrated by the egotistical (not to mention narcissistic) Apollo would be annoying, but it’s actually quirkily amusing, with just a touch of “it’s about time he got a comeupance.” Apollo starts out just as self-centered as you would expect from his appearances in the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series. But the character development is impressive and surprising. By letting us into Apollo’s head, Riordan slowly uncovers Apollo’s regrets, hidden for years behind his massive self-importance. Peel some of that egotism away, and you begin to get a more likeable character—certainly one I could sympathize with. More than that, being human allows, or perhaps forces, Apollo to grow a conscience, develop some compassion, confront his failures, admit his faults, and begin to take responsibility for his past and present deeds. I was even kind of moved by his grief over… (never mind, I guess I should let you find out for yourself.) Somehow Riordan manages all this without losing the things that make Apollo, well, Apollo.
There’s plenty of other stuff to keep Riordan fans happy, too. Will Solace and Nico di Angelo (or as shippers call them, Solangelo) are important secondary characters—and hurray for Nico finally getting a little happiness! Percy Jackson makes an appearance. Other familiar names and faces pop up here and there, either as characters or at least mentioned. I won’t say more because spoilers, but fans of the two previous series will definitely want to read this one.
Of course, Riordan is practically a demi-god himself when it comes to storytelling. He uses foreshadowing to build tension, but still manages to surprise you each time something is revealed. He’s a master of the unexpected twist, and his pacing is perfect for a MG/YA audience. His books read more like oral storytelling than literary prose. Apollo’s narrative voice is different from Percy’s or Magnus’s, but Riordan’s matter-of-fact, straightforward delivery is still evident.
And then there’s the humor. The Hidden Oracle contains the usual terrific one-liners and funny cultural references, though perhaps not quite as many as in the two previous series:
- “His chin was so weak, I was tempted to create a GoFundMe campaign to buy him a better jaw.”
- “They were presently on hold with Comcast customer service and might not emerge for hours, if indeed they survived the ordeal at all.”
Plus, every chapter starts with a haiku. A conspicuously bad one. And there’s at least one limerick involved in the story somewhere. On a more personal note, I had to grin when I discovered that Apollo once dallied with a music theory professor at Oberlin, my alma mater. At least he’s got good taste! (Apollo would probably say that he invented good taste, but that’s Apollo for you.
If I had to sum the book up in three words, they would be exciting, fun, and fast-paced. I will say, though, that The Hidden Oracle is not the place to start if you’ve never read Rick Riordan before. Go read the Percy Jackson books, and then the Heroes of Olympus series. Then you can start on this series.
Boy, are you going to have fun!