A few days ago, I spent some time with a friend in the library. We did exactly what you’d expect: we caught up, made fun if kids playing Fortnite, and looked at books. In this process, we stumbled upon a series neither of us had read in quite some time.
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.
I love these books. They’re super well written, with great characters, fun adventures and a simple but fascinating world. Riordan has a wonderful creative voice. He gives you just enough to paint a clear picture, and his dialogue is witty enough to put a smile on your face.
Ever since the first Percy Jackson came out, Riordan had written many books with the ‘Gods in modern times’ template. The original five Percy Jackson books, the Red Pyramid trilogy, the five Heroes of Olympus books, and the new Magnus Chase and Oracle books. And I’ve read them all up until the first Magnus Chase and the first Oracle.
Why’d I stop there, you ask? Because that’s when things started to rely more on nostalgia then quality.
Don’t get me wrong. In terms of writing, these books are still great. In terms of characters and story? They’re really starting to lack.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the plot of the first Trials of Apollo book. Let me ask you: how many major plot developments are there in that book? Well, there’s Apollo meeting the little girl (who’s name I genuinely can’t be bothered to remember), they discover the Oracle ain’t working anymore, Apollo gets betrayed by the kid, and Leo shows up with Festus and his girlfriend (I think it was Calypso? Again, I can’t remember.) And that’s it. That’s the plot of the whole book. So how do they fill time, you ask?
Simple. Fan service.
Trials of Apollo spends more time with the old characters than it does developing the new. We see Percy, Nico, Rachel, so on and so forth. Hell, a huge chunk of the story is just Apollo hanging out at Camp Half-Blood! Doing nothing! This isn’t a plot, it’s fan service!
You’re probably thinking “But Jonah! Magnus Chase doesn’t have that problem!” And you’d be mostly right.
Magnus Chase does have it’s own plot and a cast of original characters (even if Magnus is just a copy-paste of Percy for the most part). And it’s a solid plot. But let me ask you this.
Why is Magnus a Chase? Why does he need to be Annabeth’s cousin? What is the purpose of dragging the old characters back again for this new plot?
This may seem like a minor nitpick, but it isn’t. Magnus being related to Annabeth is a lazy way to drag the old cast back so that people will say “Oh hey, it’s Annabeth!”, which will likely stick with them more because it’s a character that they’ve spent roughly ten books with up to this point. Instead of getting to know and love a new cast, we get constant references to the cast of the old books.
Now, how come I’m not picking on the Heroes of Olympus series? That’s also one that drags Percy, Annabeth, Grover and all the rest back! Well, there are a few reasons for this.
One, it directly ties into the plot. Heroes of Olympus is all about bridging the gap between the Romans and the Greeks to defeat a greater foe, which is also a smart decision as the Greek and Roman gods are essentially the exact same. In this case, bringing the old cast back makes perfect sense.
Two, we get a whole new cast of characters to follow. Between the Lost Hero and the Son of Neptune, there’s only one old character that is extensively focused on: Percy, and he’s not even in the story until Neptune. It’s not until book three that Annabeth becomes important.
Three, the old cast still had room to grow. Annabeth and Percy had plenty of things left to work out, so they had perfectly fine character arcs ready for a new series. Plus, forcing them to face an enemy even deadlier than Kronos ups the stakes and feels like a natural progression for them.
After they defeat the Giants and Gaia, though, that’s it. The end of their story. There’s no enemy greater than her. Percy and Annabeth move on to college and their story ends.
Nope. Turns out Annabeth has a cousin (who’s father is a Norse god, so her family tree must be really confusing) so we can drag her back into things. Apollo’s mortal now, so let’s have him go to Percy for help! That way, we can drag him into it to!
This constant reuse of old characters stinks of desperation. Expanding the world is fine, yes, but you only say “I’m not confident this’ll work!” if all you do is shoehorn in cameos rather than focus on new characters.
Leave the old ones alone. They’re part in this world is done. Let’s focus on the new characters! We don’t need Magnus to be related to Annabeth! Just let him be his own person in his own story!
As indifferent I am towards the Red Pyramid trilogy, I can at least credit it for not dragging the Percy Jackson characters into it. It was it’s own self-contained story in this world. Sure, they reference Percy’s Pegasus, but that’s it. It was it’s own thing, and it was just fine.
Still, as frustrated as I am with Riordan’s more recent works, I can’t deny the impact they’ve had on my life. Hell, I don’t know if I’d be a writer today if I’d never read them. They have had the single greatest impact on my life out of any book I’ve ever read.
And then they were ruined momentarily by the two movies. But we don’t talk about those.