Book Reviews, Raising Readers
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House of Hades

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan. Hyperion Books, 2013, 583 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 11 and up
Maturity Level: 6

My younger siblings adore Percy Jackson. When I finally checked out the latest installment in the Heroes of Olympus series, House of Hades, they were itching to borrow it. Until House of Hades, I had read every book ahead of them. But, busy with summer, I made an exception. I wish I hadn’t.

Mark of Athena finished with a cliff-hanger so action is ready and waiting for House of Hades. As conflict continues between the Greek and Roman demigods, Jason and his crew on the Argo II continue their mission to close the Doors of Death. Meanwhile, Percy and Annabeth move through Tartarus with the same goal.

Despite the promise of adventure, the plot drags. Moreover, Rick Riordan introduces a new element that will trouble Christian parents. Nico di Angelo, one of the minor characters, is revealed to be homosexual. Until now, Riordan has avoided the other, darker side of Greek mythology, but now he both refers to the story of Hyacinthus and has a character “come out.”

“I had a crush on Percy,” Nico spat. “That’s the truth. That’s the big secret.”…Jason couldn’t imagine what it had been like for Nico all those years, keeping a secret that would’ve been unthinkable to share in the 1940s, denying who he was, feeling completely alone—even more isolated than other demigods.

Riordan’s treatment of Nico emphasizes that this a normal life experience and having a crush on a boy is treated as casually as having a crush on a girl. Thankfully, the book’s homosexual references and dialogue went over the head of my younger brother, but due to their inclusion, I cannot recommend this book for younger readers. As for older readers? There is nothing here that a teen aware of current culture will find surprising. For a middle-grade reader, I would recommend that parents preview chapters 35-36. Only you know what your child can handle.

Janie reviewed Vol. 3, The Mark of Athena.

Cautions: sexuality (homosexuality, occasional heterosexual kisses), violence (fighting scenes), supernatural (dark beings in Tartarus)
Audience: boys, girls, reluctant readers
Recommended use: entertainment, literary supplement

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you for this review! Since I was a classics major in college, I enjoyed the Percy Jackson books for the light entertainment they were. But I was also disturbed by this last book. It felt like we suddenly left the lighthearted tone of the overall narrative and dived into a pedantic middle school lecture on why it’s fine if you have homosexual attractions, and that those attractions are your new identity, etc. etc. etc. I still kind of want to finish the series, but I thought with this last installment both the tone and overall writing quality took a serious turn for the worst.

  2. Danielle says

    As a longtime reader of Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, I found the twist regarding Nico frustrating, to say the least. My issues with it are many, but one of the worst is that it came out of nowhere. For the original five books, Riordan played it as though Nico had a crush on Annabeth and was jealous of Percy. In HoH, it turns out Nico had a crush on Percy and was jealous of Annabeth. Fine—IF he had acted that way. But no, for the last eight books, Nico had acted as though he were jealous of Percy. Not Annabeth. Riordan attempts to cover this by saying that Nico is “mentally” 70 years old. Again, fine—IF he had spent the last eight books acting that way!

    Did he? No. In his first introduction, he is twelve and acts like it. In the next book, he is thirteen and acts like it, and so on. He didn’t act like he was mentally seventy, he acted his age. Which only makes the level of self-awareness he shows in HoH all the more baffling. He’s 14. A fourteen-year-old should not be aware of the fact that he’s covering his jealousy for a guy with a false crush on a girl. Riordan didn’t foreshadow this twist at all; he retconned an entire character for the sake of adding a Well-Meaning Lecture™.

    Finally, what frustrated me the most about that “twist” was that Nico’s revelation is what finally convinces Jason that he needs a friend. Fine. Wonderful. Nico has been isolated from the other demigods his entire life, by simple virtue of being a child of Hades. I love the idea of a son of Jupiter realizing that this boy he’s always considered a rival, if not an enemy, has had a rough time and needs his friendship. Except: Why must his homosexuality be a precursor to that? Why can’t Jason just decide to be his friend? Why must he have a Big Terrible Secret™ that finally convinces Jason he’s worthy of friendship? I’m all for the anti-isolation message Riordan was trying to get across here, but there are plenty of straight kids who feel isolated. I would have loved it if Riordan had given them a shout-out instead. The way it’s written comes across like “Yes, if you’re straight and feel like you don’t have any friends, that’s very sad, but gay kids have had it worse. Stand back and let them get a hug before you do because they need it more.”

    Sorry this turned out so long. This “twist” just really bugged me.

  3. Cheryl says

    Thank you for bringing that subversive twist to our attention. Oblivious to this content, I had already allowed my son to read it. At least now, I can address it somehow.

  4. Thank you, Kara, Danielle, and Cheryl for your comments!

    Kara, like you, I was disappointed in the overall story. It’s not at all as good as the earlier books. Danielle, I share your frustration! Though, realizing Greek mythology, I guess we’re lucky Riordan didn’t rake it up earlier.

    Cheryl, I know my younger brother didn’t notice the whole Nico part. (Since it didn’t happen in the middle of a battle, I think he was skim-reading the conversations!) I hope your son missed it, too!

  5. Michelle Gr says

    I read this ahead of my son last year, and was able to alert the parents of his friends that it was in there and gave them the chapters to review so they could speak with their children about it. You may want to follow this up with the resolution of the series and how it’s handled. It comes up again (of course) in The Blood of Olympus. And while I was shocked and a bit dismayed at the inclusion of homosexuality, I thought that the way Riordan treated it allowed me to speak to my son in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to before. We used it as an opportunity for discussion.

  6. I agree with the other commenters here – I grew up reading and loving the Percy Jackson series, so to have this thrown in really disappointed me. Just as Danielle was saying, prior to House of Hades, there was no indication of Nico having a crush on Percy! I’m so glad I found this website and some commiserators.
    Thank you!

  7. Nikolai Jasper says

    Wow. America the brave. Fearing what it doesn’t know. My nine year old sister read it. She thought it was adorable. She asked why a boy liked a boy and I told her it’s because people can love whomever they please. Have you people forgotten god loves all his children? Or how about thou shall not judge? How about love thy neighbor? How have you forgotten. You pick and choose sins from a book that says all sins are equal because you don’t want your children exposed to what… Love? Love is love is love. The bible says love conquers all. The bible was also written 35 000 years ago by humans. Don’t be bigots. Let people love who they want. ~ A trans, bisexual, athiest.

    • Janie says

      Nikolai,
      Thanks for communicating with us. You make a number of assumptions I would like to address. We don’t believe sexual sins are the only sins, or even the worst, but if we see sin exalted, normalized, or misrepresented in a children’s novel, we will call attention to it. The Bible doesn’t say that “love conquers all,” but I’ll grant you that the Bible is about love: 1) Creative love, where God creates a beautiful world and humans in his image to enjoy it; 2) tenacious love, holding on even when they figuratively spit in his face by disobeying or ignoring him; 3) redemptive love, working through the ages to bring about salvation; 4) sacrificial love, by being born as a human, bearing human burdens, and suffering a horrible death to pay for his people’s sins; and finally 5) triumphant love, returning as king and judge. This kind of love bears no resemblance to the emotional, erotic, tentative, fleeting attractions we call love today. Finally, the Bible wasn’t written 35000 years ago because writing wasn’t even invented until around 3000 B.C. I assume that was a typo–extra zero.
      We believe that if God created the earth and the humans in it, he had a purpose in creating them, he has a stake in how they live, and he knows the best ways to live. We’re not stopping people from loving who they want–how could we? But we believe God shows us what real love is, and he invites you to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

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