“If my life is going to mean anything, I have to live it myself.”
The Lightening Thief is the first book in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, a series I am very late to joining in on. It follows Percy, a twelve year old boy living in New York, as he discovers that he is a half-blood (half-human and half-god). After spending time at Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp designed to train demigods, he is offered a quest to retrieve a stolen item that may determine whether or not there is a war among the gods.
What initially hooked me on The Lightening Thief was Riordan’s writing style, a comedic storytelling that speaks directly to the reader. The first page alone consists of Percy telling us to stop reading the book because we might be half-bloods too. The combination of Riordan’s writing style and Percy’s unique first person narration make this such an enjoyable reading experience. Percy’s voice also stands out quite a bit compared to other first person narratives I’ve read, and it actually helps him avoid the wretched main character syndrome I so often experience when it comes to the “chosen one” archetype.
The concept of this series is one that I love, and from the perspective of an adult, I feel that this can be quite an education in mythology for middle grade readers. Without giving away too much, the novel operates on the idea that the Greek gods still exist but transform over time – based on whatever culture appears to be dominant at the time. For the purpose of this series, the Greek gods are incorporated into Western culture, residing in places like the Empire State Building or Los Angeles. This modern twist on classical mythology was not something I’d seen before, and it did provide a number of laugh out loud moments while I read.
Unfortunately, I found the way the plot unfolds to be a bit disappointing at times. I understand that this is a middle grade story that I am somewhat unfairly grading on an adult scale. That’s difficult and messy business, but there are middle grade stories I’ve read and not had these feelings about, so I’m going with it. My main problem with Percy’s story in this book is that obstacle after obstacle pops up, and each of them is defeated far too easily – by a child who just found out that he is a half-blood and has barely trained at all. It was difficult to root for Percy. By the time I’d even thought to try, the obstacle had been vanquished in the span of a page. And many of the obstacles don’t feel relevant to the overarching story – they were just there to name drop more Greek legends and give Percy something to do.
The characters also fell into traps far too easily throughout the book, which began to grind my nerves after a while. I know they’re kids, but you think they’d be more cautious after the first near-death encounter. Maybe not stop at tourist traps in major cities. Percy even acknowledges that he shouldn’t blindly trust people at one point, then continues to do so anyway. Spoiler alert: they betray him! And did no one wonder about the magic shoes toward the end?
The ending is one that I predicted halfway through, though I still think it wrapped up pretty well. If I were twelve and reading this, I probably would have been in jaw-dropped awe, but having read a ton of fantasy stories with similar twists at the end, I was able to see through Riordan’s pretty easily. I do think he does a good job with the execution, though, and he leaves off in a way that makes you want to grab the next book almost immediately.
I gave The Lightening Thief a 3 out of 5 stars, based solely on my adult reading experience with it. Rating it for the age group it’s intended for, I’d probably give it much closer to 5 stars. It’s among the more educational and entertaining middle-grade out there. If you have kids, definitely throw a copy their way. I’ll be continuing on with the series, despite the few qualms I had with it. Riordan really is a captivating writer, and I’m too engrossed to stop now.
What did you guys think of The Lightening Thief? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!