Thursday, May 15, 2014

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan 
Title: The House of Hades
Author: Rick Riordan
Series: The Heroes of Olympus
Date of Publication: October 8th 2013
Publisher: Hyperion Books

What Goodreads has to say:

At the conclusion of The Mark of Athena, Annabeth and Percy tumble into a pit leading straight to the Underworld. The other five demigods have to put aside their grief and follow Percy’s instructions to find the mortal side of the Doors of Death. If they can fight their way through the Gaea’s forces, and Percy and Annabeth can survive the House of Hades, then the Seven will be able to seal the Doors both sides and prevent the giants from raising Gaea. But, Leo wonders, if the Doors are sealed, how will Percy and Annabeth be able to escape?

They have no choice. If the demigods don’t succeed, Gaea’s armies will never die. They have no time. In about a month, the Romans will march on Camp Half-Blood. The stakes are higher than ever in this adventure that dives into the depths of Tartarus.

What I have to say:

Last night I finished The House of Hades, Book 4 in The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. And yes, I know that every Percy Jackson fan on the planet has probably already read The House of Hades, but I've heard surprisingly little about it, so I'm going to review it even though I'm a little late. Also, IT WAS AWESOME!

I think this is possibly Rick Riordan's best book to date. But then I remember how much I liked The Lightning Thief and The Titan's Curse, so I'll just say that The House of Hades was definitely among the best of Rick Riordan's books so far. Here are my reasons: This book was surprisingly complex and heavy for a teen book. There were so many different stories, but I was pretty invested in all of them, unlike some of the previous books in the series. And the narrative dealt with some fairly heavy concepts. There were also a couple of threads or themes that ran throughout the book and helped to unify all the different plots and characters. And there were a few of those really great moments in the story when something you never saw coming happens suddenly and unleashes its full force upon you. These are the main reasons I felt this book worked so well. Let's go into specifics.

I loved The Lost Hero, but was pretty disappointed in Son of Neptune. While I like Percy (who doesn't?) Hazel and Frank were just lame, and so I had trouble investing in the story. I also felt that the writing was not as good as Riordan's other books, and Ella the harpy was super annoying (sorry if anyone likes her, but not really). The Mark of Athena was better, but I feel that with The House of Hades, Riordan finally delivered. It was fast-paced, multi-layered, and surprising, with fairly endearing characters and the fate of the world in the balance (hey, look - a pun). The characters really worked - at last. I like Frank now; I can stand Hazel; and I'm thinking Coach Hedge is pretty cool. I already liked all the other protagonists, but I probably like them more now than I did before, especially Leo. I think seeing all of the characters really get tested helped with this. It was cool how Hazel learned to manipulate the Mist, how Piper really stepped up when all of her companions were suddenly rendered helpless, how Jason had to make a hard decision, and also had to protect a secret for someone else, how Frank had to lead - something he was never good at, and of course, how Percy and Annabeth got through Tartarus. Percy kind of had to overcome his fatal flaw, and Annabeth had to cope in situations where her usual wisdom and cleverness wouldn't be enough. So, I really liked all the different story lines and felt that they worked well together throughout the book.

This book dealt with some heavy topics, such as the persistence of evil and suffering: it seems like these things are always there (because they are) and that they will triumph over virtue and happiness in the end. Percy despairs in Tartarus when he realizes that the monsters he keeps fighting will always regenerate and come back, wondering if it's pointless to keep fighting. Percy and Annabeth also encounter some pretty dark and depressing things in the deepest region of the Underworld, and are often filled with sorrow and despair as they make their way to The Doors of Death. I found that the narrative's wrestlings with these topics made the whole story deeper and better. I think this is because in these moments the story cut to the heart of the whole struggle of humanity, and I know that sounds cosmic, but isn't the struggle of light against dark and the pursuit of happiness in the face of suffering the ultimate story underlying everything ever written? At least it seems to be at the heart of most stories.

Another thing I really liked about this book was the way that it brought everyone's different stories together under a unifying thread. The main thread that I picked up on was choice. The very first chapters of the book have Hazel standing at a crossroads seeing the different paths she could take. At the end of this encounter, Hazel tells Hecate, "I'm not choosing one of your paths. I'm making my own" (29). In retrospect, this encounter sets up the whole book. Almost if not all of the characters have to make their own choice at some point in the story, abandoning the paths that others have already laid down for them. Hazel has to choose which way to go in order to reach The Doors of Death, and she has to choose to successfully manipulate the Mist. Jason has to choose between Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood. But I think the most prominent examples occur towards the end of the story, returning to Hazel's opening dilemma and echoing her words to Hecate. So....


Bob/Iapetus chooses which identity will define him. He tells Tartarus, "I am Bob...I choose to be more than Iapetus...You do not control me" (518). Damasen chooses to throw off his punishment, telling Annabeth, "I chose myself a new fate" (524). It was very powerful for me that he came in riding on the Drakon - the instrument of his servitude. He took the thing that was being used to control his destiny and turned it to his own use. He made his own choice. Finally, when Percy and Annabeth ride up through the Doors of Death, they choose to succeed: "'We can do this,'" Percy said. 'We have to.' 'Yeah,' Annabeth said. 'Yeah, we do'" (531). I found it very powerful that all of the characters chose to succeed - and then did. It was as if they realized that all that was needed to succeed was for them to decide to succeed. No matter what anybody threw them, they made their own choices. They were "the master[s] of [their] fate:" they were "the captain[s] of [their] soul."

And then, of course, there were those awesome moments when Rick Riordan threw me a curve-ball. There will probably be more spoilers throughout the rest of the review, because some of these moments were: finding out that Nico was gay! That took me surprise but then made perfect sense. The way that scene was done was pretty masterful, with the barrage of images all leading up to the final revelation; I felt like a wave had crashed over me. Well done.

The second of these moments was when Leo crash-landed on... guess whose island??? Calypso!! Ding! Ding! Ding! OK, so you can probably tell I was pretty excited. I always liked Calypso; she was so sweet and her story was so tragic, but she never got a happy ending and we never saw her again after Percy left her island. So when Leo crashed onto a dining table on the beach of a very isolated island - I freaked out. 

Damasen riding in on the drakon was pretty powerful, but I already covered that.

Also, I was pretty surprised by the appearance of Bob. I read The Demigod Files several years ago, and noticed that Rick Riordan never refers to the stories in that collection in the actual Percy Jackson novels, in fact, he acts as if they never happened, which is absolutely fine, but which caused me to be very surprised when he brought in a character from one of those stories. With Bob and with Calypso, Riordan drew in things from some of his older writings, and I found that very effective and exciting.

I also liked it when Hecate suddenly showed up at Hazel's side in the final confrontation. That was cool.

I have only two criticisms of The House of Hades. The first is Riordan's tendency to interrupt an extremely tense moment with a funny, off-the-wall line. Not that I don't love these lines, because I do; one of the best things about Riordan's books are these off-the-wall lines from teenage characters. But when you've been building up the tension for several chapters, and all the characters are facing their darkest moments so far, and Percy and Annabeth are face to face with Tartarus, and Frank is rallying an army of the dead, and Hazel and Leo are running through the labyrinth - a line telling me that Frank was hoping for fireworks just ruins it. It's as if the book suddenly spit me back out and reminded me that I'm just reading a story. So while I appreciate the humor, I think sometimes Riordan uses it in the wrong places.

Here's the second criticism: I've been informed that published authors have an editor who reads through their manuscript before publication and fixes all the grammatical and spelling errors. I don't think Rick Riordan has one of those people. There are a lot of typos in the book, sometimes three or four in a single chapter. There were several times when a word was omitted, or the wrong word was used, or a word was repeated. And once again, this takes me out of the story and reminds me that I'm just a person reading a book. I can understand and forgive an author missing a few typos in his manuscript; we're all human, after all. But I assume that there are several good editors working for a number one bestselling author over at Disney Hyperion press, so what happened? 

Anyway, all in all it was a great book. I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to The Blood of Olympus on October 7th, the cover for which has already been released - go look it up. In the meantime, can I make a request of the author? Could we see Apollo again sometime? He was my favorite character, and as his name is the same in both Greece and Rome, I'm thinking he doesn't have to deal with the split personality thing that's incapacitating all the other Olympian Gods. 

Where is Apollo?
Haven't seen him since Titan.
He is so awesome.

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