Anticipating a nice slow week at the beach, I set off on Amazon and Overdrive for something interesting. I was craving something Harry Potter-esque without the deep tomes.
Cue Percy Jackson and The Olympians.
The first book in the series book popped up on my Amazon Kindle Unlimited freebies with a heading like “If you liked Harry Potter, you may enjoy Percy Jackson.” Amazon was right. I absolutely enjoyed Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief. It was an excellent beach read that could not be put down. I even got a sunburn because I couldn’t be bothered to move while reading! These books are easy reading and I read the first two in two weeks.
After I’ve finished a good book, I usually head over to Amazon to check out the reviews and see if there were any insights or interesting tidbits that I missed or see if anyone else felt a certain way about this character or that event. When skimming reviews for Percy Jackson, I was blown away by how many people felt Rick Riordan had followed a bit too closely in J.K Rowling’s footsteps. This was interesting, because while reading the book, not once did I think “Wow..this is just like Harry Potter”.
After discussing with my favorite bibliophile, we both agreed the reviewers panning Percy Jackson as a Harry Potter knock off had done a lazy comparison of the two books. Yes, they both involve magic. Yes, they both have a ridiculously smart female character that the male characters depend on. Yes, they both have a somewhat silly sidekick. But honestly, that could be any young adult series in this genre and calling Percy Jackson a cherry pick on Harry Potter is a bit like saying The Hunger Games cherry picked from 1984 or The Maze Runner.
While the Harry Potter books derive directly from the vast imagination of their author who created an engagingly dynamic world, the PJ books overlay classical Greek mythology into modern day life. Riordan does this incredibly well and weaves the Greek myths into a coming-of-age tale while also adding his own spin and a little bit of modernization to the personalities, stories and descriptions of the Greek Gods and mythical creatures. His characterization of Ares, for example, as an aggressive biker thug was spot-on. Riordan peppers the books with ancient Greek phrases that add a little dash of mysticism to the stories, while also feeling a teensy bit familiar. I liked knowing the history and myths surrounding the Greek gods and creatures and seeing how Riordan wove them into this tale. It’s easy to see how this series would inspire young readers to follow the PJ series with something else rooted in Greek mythology.
While there is a fair amount of magic involved in PJ, it is always limited by the original Greek myths; unlike Harry Potter, in which magic itself is a main character capable of many great and seemingly unlimited things.
Unlike Harry, who grew up an orphan with his terrible extended family, Percy has a loving mother and a distant, somewhat disappointing relationship with his father, Poseidon, the Sea God. While Harry’s parents are lodged forever in the story as the perfect loving parents who died battling evil, Percy often grapples with anger, confusion and irritation with his missing father while balancing the usual preteen love and annoyance with his incredibly understanding and supportive mother. Percy’s complicated relationships with his parents are handled incredibly well in an age appropriate manner that kids can relate to. Harry’s parents, on the other hand, are put on a pedestal and frequently out of Harry’s reach, making it a bit harder to relate to that parent-child relationship.
The world J.K. Rowling created for Harry Potter was absolutely unlimited in place, description and location. As the primary setting for the HP books, Hogwarts plays a huge role in the story of Harry Potter and with all of the quirky personality it displays, can essential be considered a character itself. The three friends set off on the occasional adventure elsewhere, but Hogwarts occupies the majority of their adventures.
The PJ books are again limited to Greek myth and the modern world. These books read more like the Odyssey, with Camp Half-Blood acting as a temporary home base while Percy and friends race around the world to ancient places like Mount Olympus, The Underworld, The Sea of Monsters, and the island of Polyphemus which are hidden in modern locations. The description of LA as the secret entrance to the Underworld, for example, was particularly delicious.
And finally, we reach the comparison of Hermione to Annabeth. Both are presented as incredibly smart and capable young ladies who seem ages older than their male counterparts. This frequently leaves them as the voice of reason and in the case of Hermione, the default caretaker of the group. For the most part, Hermione was a bit of a know-it-all outcast and a bit of a show-off with a chip on her shoulder. She was frequently trying to prove herself as a Muggle Witch and maintain her place among her peers.
Annabeth, however, as the daughter of Athena, tends to show more restraint and wisdom for her age. Her knowledge tends to show itself in her extensive planning and unlike Hermione, who tends to always be right, Annabeth has been known to falter, particularly with the Siren’s song. Unlike Hermione who tends to always be the caretaker, Percy and Annabeth tend to share caretaker duties. Their relationship feels a bit more equal than the relationship between Harry and Hermione.
And of course, we can’t forget about the Greek Gods who dip in and out of the PJ stories, interfering and guiding, setting traps and leaving life lines. While Harry Potter has some minor religious undertones now and then, the PJ characters deal heavily with the presence of celestial beings. They waiver between believing in the Gods, being a pawn of the Gods and being part of the Gods.
All in all, the PJ books are enjoyable, quick to read and I enjoyed the incorporation of the Greek Gods. I wouldn’t classify them as anywhere near Harry Potter knockoffs, and hope those shunning this series as an HP knockoff give it another chance.
Until next time, happy reading!
ps. Due to the fact that nectar and ambrosia kills mere mortals, a shot of Greek ouzo will do just fine. Opa!