The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief

Since its release, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series has been published in over 35 different countries and sold over 20 million copies. The series consists of five novels: The Lightning Thief (2005), The Sea of Monsters (2006), The Titan’s Curse (2007), The Battle of the Labyrinth (2008) and The Last Olympian (2009). It has since been followed by a sequel series titled The Heroes of Olympus which also ran for five books. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at The Lightning Thief only.

Twelve year old Perseus “Percy” Jackson is a problem child. Suffering from ADHD and dyslexia, he has difficulty focusing in class and has been expelled from six schools in as many years for his poor behaviour. His teachers don’t understand him but Percy can’t blame them. How can he explain to them that he is reacting to monsters that they can’t even see? Although Percy has always been lead to believe that the creatures are hallucinations brought on by his condition, he has recently begun to doubt the truth in this. Both his Latin teacher and best friend Grover seem to know more about him than they are letting on but they will not tell him anything.

Following his most recent expulsion, Percy and his mother take a trip to a cabin by the sea but while they are there they are attacked by the Minotaur. Although Percy manages to escape with help from Grover, his mother is taken by the beast and disappears in a flash of light. Percy wakes up to find himself in Camp Half Blood – a summer program for the half-human children of Greek gods. As Percy has managed to enter the camp it means that he is also one of these demigods.

As Percy settles into life at the camp and tries to discover the identity of his father, he discovers that all is not well on Olympus. The master bolt, template for all of Zeus’s thunder, has been stolen and he blames Poseidon. Their argument shakes the heavens and threatens to spark a war between the gods. On discovering that the true thief may be Hades, Percy is sent on a quest to the Underworld to receive it. Travelling with Grover and Annabeth – a daughter of Athena – he braves attacks from monsters and vengeful gods. They know that they must find the master bolt before the summer solstice or Zeus will unleash his wrath on his brothers.

Since its release, The Lightning Thief has frequently been compared to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and it’s easy to see why. The main character of the novel is a brave and resourceful pre-teen with black hair and green eyes who hangs around with a brainy girl and a boy who exists primarily for comic relief. They attend a school/summer camp that ordinary humans cannot reach. The villain is an evil creature who was once utterly destroyed and looks to regain his physical form. There are even a few smaller similarities such as Annabeth’s invisibility cap and the appearance of a three headed dog. I can see why people compare these two books but I think that this critique seems a little unfair.

Yes, the novel shares some notable similarities with Harry Potter, but these ideas were hardly original before J.K.’s magnum opus. Although it’s fairly obvious that Riordan has taken some inspiration from the boy who lived, it’s clear that the primary source of his inspiration was Greek Mythology. I, like many other children, loved reading stories about Greek heroes. The Lightning Thief reads as a love letter to these stories, breathing new life into the old legends by bringing them into a modern setting. Olympus now rests at the top of the Empire State Building, Procrustes owns a store selling water beds and the lotus-eaters have left their island and moved to Las Vegas to run a casino that people never want to leave. It’s a very nice idea and makes for wildly enjoyable reading as it’s just fun to see how Riordan appropriates the legends into the story.

The story is fast paced and very easy to read – aimed at a younger audience but still packed with plenty that will appeal to a teen reader. Percy is very quick witted, both in his narrative and dialogue, which leads to a lot of humour within the text. I particularly liked his attempt to mail Medusa’s head to Mount Olympus (and the eventual function this object served later in this story), as well as his negotiation with Charon as both did make me chuckle. The mystery concerning the theft of the master bolt was also deeply engrossing and far more complex than I was expecting. As Percy, Annabeth and Grover make their way to the Underworld, they are forced to overcome many different obstacles that they have to work together to overcome and as they do so they gradually discover that their mission is not as clear-cut as it first seemed. Although the novel wraps up to a very satisfying conclusion, it also leaves much open for the second book which left me really wanting to read more.

The only thing that I was not really sure about with terms to plot was the attributes of the demigod. Percy tells the reader in his narrative that ADHD and dyslexia were signs that a child was a demigod – a combination of increased fighting reflexes and a brain that was hardwired to read Ancient Greek rather than English. He then continued to say that people who suggested that these kids take medication were actually monsters who were trying to harm them. Is this really a good message to give your kids? If your parents suggest that you take medication to help with your condition, you should refuse because they are actually monsters in disguise? I think I may be reading into this a bit much but I know that kids are impressionable and have vivid imaginations and I’m not really sure that this is a great message to take away from this story.

By far the strongest aspect of the story was its characters. Percy Jackson is an incredibly likable protagonist and I thoroughly empathised with him throughout the story. His priority of saving his mother over finding the master bolt was very understandable given the fact that he had no reason to want to save the gods. In fact, I found his whole attitude towards his situation to be quite relatable. While Harry Potter took solace in being a wizard, Percy took the opposite stance. He had lived a difficult life and the gods had never done anything to make it any better. There really was no reason why he would feel any loyalty to them at all.

While Percy was the most physically powerful of the protagonists, I liked the fact that his strength was not enough to enable him to reach the Underworld. The quest was only successful because each of the principal cast members had something unique to contribute – Percy’s bravery, Annabeth’s intelligence and Grover’s compassion. While his friends did not contribute quite as much as I would have liked (at the end of the day, it is Percy and Percy alone who faces the final challenge), it was great to see that each of them did have their own goals to work towards, and very different attitudes to their situation.

Beyond the principle three characters, the story has a huge cast of gods and monsters, each more vibrant and memorable than the last. Although some of these characters (particularly the monsters) appear very fleetingly, they are so creatively incorporated into the story that they are unforgettable. I love the image of the Fates as old ladies, knitting socks at the road side in particular. They only appear once within the story but it is just such a funny (and strangely appropriate) image that it has stuck in my mind ever since.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I’ll wrap up. The Lightning Thief is a fantastic starting point for a series and I really enjoyed every moment of it. Although it does share some similarities with a certain series about a boy wizard, it’s funny, creative and very well written. The story succeeds in being easy to read without sacrificing any of its complexity and is fleshed out by a primary cast who are very strong and memorable. This book really is essential reading and can’t wait to get my hands on its sequel.

The Lightning Thief can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on

4 Comments (+add yours?)

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