This storyline of the series, which focuses on the now mortal god Apollo, is great in theory, but the first book is lackluster and inappropriate for younger readers.
The Trials of Apollo Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. Disney-Hyperion, 2016, 376 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, 10-12
Recommended for: ages 12-15
Apollo’s pride and lack of discipline caused the Oracle of Delphi to fall to his deadliest enemy, Python. As punishment for his arrogance, Apollo was banished from Mount Olympus and stripped of his powers. When he wakes up in a New York City dumpster, he’s mortal, alone, and a target for his enemies. If that weren’t enough, his gorgeous looks have turned strikingly average and he even has a (gasp) bad case of acne. Apollo knows he must reclaim the Oracle in order to return to Olympus, but after a run-in with a dirty street waif, Meg, he realizes he needs help. Apollo and Meg journey to Camp Half-Blood for answers, but when campers begin to disappear, they soon realize they’re up against an enemy worse than any they’ve faced before.
Riordan’s latest Percy Jackson installment brings the story back to its roots: an adventure surrounding the demigods of Camp Half-Blood. What should have been an engaging new story, however, turned out to be poorly paced, tedious, and inappropriate for the middle grade market. The plot dawdles along until speeding toward an abrupt conclusion during the final chapters. Under developed characters function more like caricatures than real people. Apollo’s first person narration tiresomely portrays him as a spoiled, selfish character. The level of violence is too severe for younger audiences. Gone are the days of monsters evaporating in gold dust (as in the original Percy Jackson series). Rather, the human villain nearly claimed the life of several characters by making them into human torches. (Thankfully, all were saved).
Fans of Riordan’s work should also be aware of the focus on romance and sexuality. Apollo is bisexual. He seamlessly discusses his past loves, both men and women. He is thrilled that his son, Will Solace, has a boyfriend, and notes that “we gods are not hung up on such things.”
Riordan excels at giving a voice to those who feel different than the norm, and his books are beloved with good reason. In this latest novel, however, Riordan seems to be daring the reader to disagree with the ideas in the story and focusing primarily on sexuality and romance. There are other aspects of life that middle graders need to read about, understand, and relate to. That’s what made Riordan’s first Percy Jackson series excellent: themes of selflessness, friendship, family, and honor were explored with humor, grace, and beautiful writing. This story missed the mark and will likely cause many fans to bid farewell to Camp Half-Blood.
Cautions: Character Issues (Apollo’s selfishness); Violence (physical wounds, human torches–see above, discussion of wars); Sexuality (Apollo’s professed bisexuality/homosexuality; a nude statue functioning as a villain); Worldview: Bisexuality and homosexuality portrayed as the norm.(See Above)
Overall rating: 2 (out of 5)
Categories: Adventure, Middle Grades, Fantasy