The Trials of Apollo Book 1 – The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
I have to admit that I approached The Trials of Apollo with some trepidation. While I’ve loved Riordan’s other series – Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, and The Heroes of Olympus – his newest series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, just didn’t click with me. I think it felt too formulaic. Still, this book promised to continue the adventures of the Greek demigods so I was game. Luckily this book was extremely fun to read and I loved it.
At the end of the Heroes of Olympus series Zeus blamed Apollo for the war with Gaea and promised to punish him. His punishment comes six months later when Apollo is turned mortal and thrown into a dumpster in New York, where two thugs accost him. He’s saved by Meg, a young demigod who has apparently been living on the streets. She is powerful for her age, though, and she claims Apollo’s service. They head to Camp Half-Blood, where Apollo discovers that several campers have gone missing, no communications are getting in or out, and that all of his Oracles have been cut off from their power. No Oracles means no quests for the demigods. Apollo and Meg have to figure out who’s behind the missing campers, who is taking over the Oracles, and find a way to get prophecies going again.
What makes this novel work is Apollo himself. He’s a great character to focus on because he used to be a god and now has to contend with being a mortal with no powers, with acne, and with, horror of horrors, flab instead of abs. He’s a funny narrator as he compares his old life to his new situation and finds it very lacking. He has no powers and his memory is fading since his mortal brain can’t contain every detail of his millennia old life. He’s also saddled with Meg, a demigod he finds annoying and endearing. He also has room to grow as he starts to realize that he was a pretty horrible person as a god and his vanity and pride led to a lot of people dying. It makes him a sympathetic character and one that you want to see improve himself and get a better understanding of what it means to be mortal.
Meg is a good addition to the cast of demigods. She’s young but not stupid and pretty brave. There’s also a twist with her character that I didn’t see coming but which is definitely going to make the next novels pretty interesting.
Another thing the novel has going for it is low stakes. Yes, by the end of the novel a major threat has been revealed but the adventure in this novel is kept contained to Camp Half-Blood (aside from the New York opening) and there’s no counting clock to some end of the world doomsday scenario. Apollo and Meg travel into the woods surrounding the camp to find the missing campers, two of which are Apollo’s children. After the world ending stakes of the last series having a smaller, more intimate quest was a breath of fresh air. There was an air of quiet menace to the book since it was the woods themselves that were luring campers away and they didn’t know when someone else might be taken.
Even the ending felt fresh despite it being another attack on Camp Half-Blood. What sets this apart from the other times the camp has been attacked is that the camp is lightly defended. It’s not yet summer, so there are only about 13 demigods in the camp. It’s also being attacked by a hundred foot tall nude statue of Apollo. It’s absurd and tense at the same time since nothing the campers are doing seem to be working to stop the statue and Apollo has sympathy pain every time the statue is hit in the groin.
The book also addresses two problems I had with the finale of Heroes of Olympus. The first is Nico and Will’s relationship. Nico was revealed to be gay and in love with Percy in that series. In the final book he quite suddenly gets over his crush on Percy, which was fine but it didn’t get the resolution I was hoping for. Then, Riordan hints that Nico and son of Apollo Will Solace might hook up. However, it was left ambiguous which annoyed me since the three main heterosexual relationships were clearly defined. Here though it’s quite clear that Nico and Will are dating, with Will calling Nico his boyfriend and the two of them being attached at the hip. They make a cute couple, something Apollo notes on several occasions. I would love to see a novel or e-book or something focusing on those two having an adventure.
Not only are there two prominent gay characters, but Apollo himself is bisexual. He says he has no problem with his son dating another boy (though he was surprised Will went in for that brooding bad boy thing) and mentions on several occasions his previous lovers, both male and female. His daughter, Kayla, is the result of a union between Apollo and Kayla’s dad. Apollo mentions finding fellow camper Paolo cute. He also takes time in the ending battle to mention how son of Athena Malcolm Pace looks in red briefs (he forgot to put pants on when the giant attacking statue showed up). Of course, the fact that there are gay and bisexual characters in the novel has created a backlash, as evidenced by some of the reviews on Amazon stating that the book was a travesty and how dare Riordan push his liberal agenda on them and their kids and how he’s taken a series aimed at kids and sexualized it. Let’s be honest, though. The gay content is kept to a bare minimum. Nico and Will never kiss, and aside from a kiss on the cheek for good luck from Paolo, Apollo never gets any action of any kind. Besides, romance has played a part of Riordan’s book from the start. This isn’t something new. The only difference now is that it’s two young men in love instead of a young man and young woman.
The other problem I had with the end of Heroes of Olympus was Leo’s incredibly selfish act to let his friends think he was dead so he could fly off to Calypso and have some alone time. That action really made me dislike the character. Here it’s revealed that he did send a message several days later letting everyone know he was alive, and he and Calypso got lost in the Sea of Monsters and that’s why he hadn’t returned yet. Still, all of the campers line up to punch him for doing that which I think is what he deserves.
For those wondering, Percy Jackson is in the book. He has a small role, appearing at the start of the novel to help Apollo get to the camp, and then returning at the end to help fight the giant statue. He refuses to go on Apollo’s quest to free the Oracles because he promised his mom and Annabeth that he would focus on his studies, pass the SATs, and get accepted into the Roman college. Annabeth herself is absent because she’s making her appearance in the first Magnus Chase novel. Jason, Piper, Frank, and Hazel are not in the book either. Leo shows up at the very end. I have to say, that didn’t bother me. I liked the focus being put on the lesser known campers and I liked Nico and Will having bigger roles.
The villains introduced here, the Triumvirate, might not be the giant threat that Kronos or Gaea were, but they were the ones helping to bankroll those operations. The Triumvirate has been around for centuries, slowly building up power and making plans to weaken the gods and their offspring. They supplied Luke with his ship and weapons and did the same for Octavian and the Roman army. They are now ready to make their move and they do that by taking over the places of power for the various Oracles, cutting off the demigods from the prophecies and using that power for themselves.
In the end, this first book in The Trials of Apollo series was a home run. It’s a good continuation of the story Riordan has been telling since the first Percy Jackson book, but it’s also a good stand-alone novel that sets up its own story. I highly recommend it to fans of Riordan’s other books, or just anyone looking for a good adventure story.
Hardy Boys Adventures #1 – Secret of the Red Arrow by Franklin W. Dixon
I’m not sure why I decided to buy a Hardy Boys book since I haven’t read a HB book in many, many years. I think it popped up as a recommendation on Amazon or on my tablet or something so I decided to give the Hardy Boys a try. I decided to start with the Hardy Boys Adventures because it was the newest series to feature the brothers and was described as a soft reboot. I did a little bit of research just to get familiar with the characters again and then bought the book. Overall it was pretty good.
SotRA finds the two brothers, Frank and Joe, forcibly retired from being teen detectives. They’ve received too many lawsuits and angered one too many police officers of late and so a Deal was struck. The boys would stop investigating and just be regular teens again or they’ll be sent to a particularly nasty reform school. They’ve stuck to the deal but are about to be tested when they’re asked to help a fellow student who seems to be on the receiving end of some nasty pranks. They decide to help him covertly, and end up stumbling upon a criminal organization called the Red Arrow that has been operating in Bayport unchallenged for years.
This was a good first book to start the series on, and a good one to be re-introduced to the characters. The book is told in first person, alternating between Frank and Joe. Their inner voices are distinct enough that it’s easy to tell who is narrating. They offer enough information about the people and places around town that I never felt completely lost.
The Red Arrow was a pretty formidable opponent for the brothers to tackle because the group has just about everyone in Bayport scared to speak up for fear that they will find themselves targeted. Even the boys’ father is scared of this group. I liked the mystery behind the Red Arrow but did have some complaints. The first is that this group has operated in Bayport since probably before the brothers were born but in all their years of being teen detectives they never once heard about it. Then, once they do find out about it, they see signs of Red Arrow influence everywhere. The second problem is that the boys discover the culprit behind the organization rather quickly. This probably should have been a threat that extended beyond a single book. I’m sure the series is more or less intended to be stand-alone novels but for a threat that’s built up this much it either needed two or more novels or just a longer novel.
The Deals adds some tension to the book because the brothers have to hide their investigating from everyone, including their parents. They have no desire to be sent to reform school but they also can’t stop helping people in Bayport.
The cover is misleading which sucks. It shows the boys tied up to a crane and about to be drowned in the hold of a ship while someone watches. The boys do find themselves trapped in an enclosed space that is quickly filling with water in the book but it’s nowhere near as exciting as what the cover promised. I know that many covers can be misleading so I’m not really complaining about that but it just sucks that the event was so different in the book.
I enjoyed this novel enough that I bought the second in the series already. I also have ordered the first few Hardy Boys Casefiles novels which were apparently aimed at an older audience and were more action packed. It will be intriguing to see the differences between the two series.