3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable
The House of Hades is Book 4 in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. This series follows the five-book Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, but it incorporates the Roman mythology alongside the Greek. In this adventure, Percy, hero of the Greeks, and his team must join forces with Jason, hero of the Romans, and his own team in order to stop Gaea and Tartarus from rising and destroying the world. The awakening of these ancient gods is causing an identity crisis, of sorts, among the “new” gods (like Zeus). It is essentially blurring the lines between Greek and Roman mytho-worlds, so that at any given moment a god might switch personalities. Needless to say, these split-personalities leave the gods relatively helpless, so the demi-gods, their half-human/half-god offspring, must take charge. In this fourth installment, Gaea and Tartarus have opened the Doors of Death, which means hundreds upon hundreds of monsters are slipping out of the underworld. Percy and Annabel are in the underworld, while Jason and the rest of the gang are fighting their way to the Doors of Death, as the team must work together to close the Doors from both sides, or else certain doom awaits the planet and all life as we know it.
3.75 – Characters very well-developed.
One of the criticisms I have for the Riordan series’ (including Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, and this one) is that the character depth is always a bit lacking – although the books typically cover about a year (though sometimes quite a bit less, as has been the case with this particular series), still there is little growth & development for any of the major or minor characters. This is a “Middle Grade” series, so perhaps character depth isn’t too be expected, but in any series that spans a certain amount of time – a few years or more- I would hope to see some. Riordan has taken steps in this one, though, and as many have noted, even makes quite a bold decision (one I have been waiting for, for years!) to reveal personal information about one of the cross-over characters from the Percy Jackson series. In addition, many of the other characters, such as Jason, Leo, and Frank, all face crucial turning points in this book, moments of decision which will help to define them possibly for the rest of their lives. This attention to characterization and willingness to allow these characters to grow beyond their cookie-cutter “action/adventure hero” roles thrilled me quite a bit and truly makes me feel that this is possibly the best book of all three mythology series’ thus far.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Rick Riordan’s books are so easy to read, partly because they are fun and entertaining, but also because he knows how to construct a fast-paced, logical, episodic storyline. In The House of Hades, Riordan’s heroes are constantly meeting new friends and foes, mythological deities, monsters, and creatures of all sorts, from the Roman and Greek worlds. All of this could be confusing and overwhelming, if not for Riordan’s adeptness at giving his readers just enough new information at manageable intervals, while advancing the story and also allowing his primary characters, those who have been with us since Book One, enough page time of their own. Many have said this book left them breathless because of its pace, and I agree that it is certainly one of the more action-packed installments of his always action-packed series’. It is hard to stop reading, hard to quit even after finishing a character section (the books are broken up by character perspective, each character getting about 4 chapters from their point of view, before moving on to another main character). Ultimately, though, despite the whirlwind ride this book can sometimes be, it manages to remain consistent – going just far enough and just fast enough, without falling apart. There are natural breaks, places where a reader can logically pause and step away, but the problem is – you won’t want to!
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
What I always love about the Riordan books is how slyly educational they are. Readers will learn so much about ancient Greek and Roman mythology (or Egyptian, if you’re reading The Kane Chronicles), without noticing they’re learning anything at all. This is because the mythology, the original stories and the original characters, are re-imagined so brilliantly, revisited so expertly, in this modern setting. Gods using cell phones? Demigods eating fast food? Sure, that’s all current – but the events that take place, the rivalries that exist, the personalities of the heroes, the gods, they remain wonderfully true to the original epic stories of Homer, Ovid, and others. Believe it or not, I can credit Riordan’s books, this particular one as well as others, with helping me to enjoy James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is because, though I have read Homer’s Odyssey, revisiting the old tales through this contemporary lens has helped me to keep in mind the original epic and the string of events, the gods helpful to or antagonistic of Odysseus, which are paralleled in Joyce’s Irish epic. In addition, in House of Hades especially, Riordan takes some steps which have been made in young adult and contemporary literature, but which have been left relatively unexplored at the MG level. J.K. Rowling allowed certain things to happen but which were revealed only through unspoken allusion; here, Riordan allows one of his characters, Nico di Angelo, to develop fully and completely, and exposes the raw nerves that come with it – it is a breath of fresh air for the popular fantasy genre and for this reading level.
Suggested Reading For:
Age Level: MG+
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Young Adult, Action/Adventure.
“Magic is neither good nor evil. It is a tool, like a knife. Is a knife evil? Only if the wielder is evil.”
“I figure the world is basically a machine. I don’t know who made it, if it was the Fates, or the gods, or the capital-G god or whatever. But it chugs along the way it’s supposed to most of the time. Sure, little pieces break off and stuff goes haywire once in a while, but mostly… things happen for a reason.”
“Love is no game! It is no flowery softness! It is hard work- It demands everything from you- especially the truth. Only then does it yield results.”
“I’m not choosing one of your paths. I’m making my own.”
“It’s natural to feel fear. All great warriors are afraid. Only the stupid and the delusional are not.”
“It is a costly thing, looking on the true face of Love.”
“The dead see what they believe they will see. So do the living. That is the secret.”