Review: One of the most anticipated young adult releases for this year has arrived in the form of a shiny new book by Rick Riordan entitled The Mark of Athena. Rick Riordan, if you haven’t already heard, is the renowned author of anything Percy Jackson related. From Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to the ongoing Heroes of Olympus series, Riordan is a master at mashing together Greek and Roman mythology into a narrative set in our world. Riordan is so good at his job that he has sold millions of copies, and his most recent release of October 2nd, The Mark of Athena, has been a New York Times #1 Best Seller. It has also sold a quarter of a million copies in its first week. Rick Riordan is also the author of the ongoing Kane Chronicles which utilizes Egyptian mythology and may or may not be set in the same universe as Percy Jackson.
The Mark of Athena is the third book in the five part series The Heroes of Olympus that follows the exploits of a septet of heroes who are destined to bring the conflict between the Roman and Greek pantheons to a resolution. This series takes place after Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The specific narrative of The Mark of Athena utilizes the third-person point-of-views of Greek demigods Annabeth Chase the daughter of Aphrodite, Leo Valdez the son of Hephaestus, Piper McLean the daughter of Aphrodite, and our original hero Percy Jackson the son of Poseidon. The first two books in this series The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune forged an unlikely alliance of seven Greek and Roman demigods. The Greek and Roman camps of demigods have historically been in competition and distrust of one another, and only in bringing the two groups together can they save the world from an angry and awakening Gaia. The seven heroes must face all opposition and their fears in order to be the heroes they need to be. During their quest in The Mark of Athena, the seven face ancient heroes, gods, and monsters that challenge their strength, resolve, and what they think they know in the course of rescuing a friend who may be crucial to the outcome of their fates. This year has been a great year for young adult books and The Mark of Athena can be added to that top-shelf.
Rick Riordan lovingly and masterfully continues to knit an overall narrative that becomes a silk spider web that catches unaware prey. His character development is particularly great, but extends to the plot as well. It is often difficult to recommend a book that is so late in a series. For people who have already read and loved these novels, they have probably already committed themselves to reading The Mark of Athena and don’t need further encouragement. For people who have not read a Percy Jackson book, the endeavor to review the eighth book in a universe becomes a review of the entire series. I cannot recommend Percy Jackson books enough, and The Mark of Athena is a very satisfying contribution to the series. It provides exactly what readers expect. It weaves romance sub-plots with the over-arching plot of the current Heroes of Olympus series. It gives fans what they like about the series while creating new scenarios and challenging tension-filled dramas for forthcoming books.
The character development is what drew me into Percy Jackson’s world in the first place, and is most prevalent in The Mark of Athena. In it, Riordan specifically chooses four characters to focus on instead of all seven of the main heroes from The Heroes of Olympus to give readers a more frequent point of view of one of their favorites. Each of these demigods has a very specific personality that they have inherited from their respective god parents. Annabeth inherits wisdom from Athena, Piper is very beautiful and persuasive like Athena, Leo has a potent connection with technology and fire like his father Hephaestus, and Percy Jackson is like his father Poseidon by being able to control water and communicate with horses. These essential attributes have been the characters’ trademarks from their introduction. What makes them who they are forces each of them to deal with fears that are highly specific to their personal mythologies. For instance, Annabeth is required to use her wisdom and cleverness to find the lost Mark of Athena that will restore ties between the Greek and Roman camps as only a child of Athena can. She also must deal with her fear of spiders as part of an intriguing plot device that draws upon the existing myth of Athena and Arachne the mortal weaver. Previously, the characters had to deal with mostly external threats from monsters and villains, yet in The Mark of Athena, they are brought to deal with their own personal weaknesses and fears which ultimately provides the narrative that engrosses readers more intimately with the characters’ internal conflicts even more so than before.
What I constantly cite as a great reason to love Riordan’s work is his particular focus on using actual Greek and Roman mythology to influence the story and setting of his books. He makes great effort to use specificity and accuracy to form the backstories of the characters. When I took a college mythology course, I happened to be reading Percy Jackson books and what I was learning in class was very often mirrored in the books and even helped me remember material for tests. While there are several myths from mythology that are risqué, Riordan is able to skirt around those to keep his books socially acceptable for young adults while still remaining true to the mythological source material. Riordan does take fictional license, but he remains true to such a high level that I am comfortable in saying that the books actually help to learn mythology. In each book, actual myths influence the motivations of enemies encountered by the heroes. In The Mark of Athena we encounter mythological figures such as the aforementioned Arachne as well as Phorcys, Keto, Achelous, Deianira, and the famous hero Hercules. To most people, these names are probably not familiar, yet the book incorporates their stories and presents them in entertaining ways, so that readers learn about them as they read. The books stand on their own as page-turning delights and The Mark of Athena is a great addition to the lineup. Learning just happens to be a nice by-product.
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