Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"New Harry Potter Book"

Greetings earthlings, mae govannen, may the force be with you and all that.

So I feel like whenever J. K. Rowling writes anything, the internet does this:

So yes, in July, we will be getting a "new" "Harry Potter" "book" from J.K. Rowling.

OK, the air quotes around "Harry Potter" were unwarranted - the writing actually does feature Harry this time. But it's not exactly a book - it's a script; and while it is "new" in the sense that it hasn't been made available to the general public yet, we've been hearing about it for a while.

Yet somehow, and despite the fact that I knew all of this, I still experienced a split-second of overjoyed, excited euphoria when I saw the headline about the "new Harry Potter book" on a news media site. Then I remembered that J. K. Rowling's been working on this play called "The Cursed Child," which we've been hearing about forever and which will someday be opening in London: not exactly a "new Harry Potter book."

Does any of this make me less excited to read it?

Ha ha ha ha ha. ha. ha. HA.

Of course not.

Much like the internet fandom alluded to above, I will read anything J.K. Rowling puts out. And if it's about Harry Potter? You bet.

Now for the official newscast: the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, comes out in bookstores July 31. The production itself will officially open as a two-part stage play at the Palace Theatre in London's West End on July 30. Apparently the play contains some pretty massive surprises, because J. K. Rowling has started a campaign called #KeepTheSecrets encouraging playgoers to forbear from spoiling the plot's surprises for everyone else. Which makes me wonder: should I buy the script and read it? Or wait until the play comes to Oregon in like, five thousand years? Weigh in with what you plan to do in the comments.

For those of you thinking, "July 31st???? Give me some J. K. Rowling writing NOW!!!!" - The long awaited Pottermore installment on the American equivalent of Hogwarts is now available for reading. The school is Ilvermony, and if the name sounds Irish, that's because it was founded by Isolt Sayre, a witch of Irish descent. And there's a beautiful video on Pottermore to "whet your appetite" for the new writing. Also, you can now be sorted into your Ilvermony house. Though actually I'm not sure how I feel about that.... (#SlytherinForever).

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Rick Riordan's The Hidden Oracle

What happens when Rick Riordan writes a book narrated by Apollo?

Pure awesomeness.

And a lot of haiku.

Title: The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1)
Author: Rick Riordan
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: 3 May 2016
Number of Pages: 361
Purchase: AmazonBarnes and NobleAbeBooksPowell's Booksebay

What Goodreads has to say:

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus's favour.

But Apollo has many enemies - gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go . . . an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

What I have to say:

Some of you may remember my review of The House of Hades that I posted on this blog a couple years back; which I ended with the request that Apollo return to the series. Like most Percy Jackson fans, I first met Apollo in The Titan's Curse (Book 3 of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), and almost immediately he became my favorite character in the Percy Jackson universe. His sense of humor, strong personality, and huge ego endeared him to me as a character, and I loved that he disguised himself as a bum to help Percy and Co. succeed on their quest, because even though the Gods aren't supposed to interfere with demigod quests, Apollo wasn't going to let some Titan kidnap his sister and get away with it.

Plus, I've always liked Apollo as an Olympian, even outside of the Percy Jackson series. What's not to love about a God who single-handedly presides over poetry, music, medicine, truth, and the sun? And I always knew that if I were a demigod at Camp Half-Blood, I'd be in the Apollo cabin.

But I don't recall Apollo playing a prominent part in the rest of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (which is probably as it should be, I mean come on, if he featured in any of the other books he'd just steal the show and we'd have to rename it the Apollo and the Olympians series); and while he did appear briefly in the more recent Heroes of Olympus series, I always hoped we'd get to see Apollo again at some point. 

My request has been honored, and I couldn't be more pleased.

The Hidden Oracle is a masterful piece of artistry that would make Apollo himself proud.

I've heard some people express disgruntlement with the fact that Rick Riordan seems to be going hog-wild writing books all over the place. I don't understand why that would make anyone feel disgruntled. If the quality of an author's books suffer because he's writing too much or is overconfident in his abilities, that's a justifiable cause for disgruntlement. But I don't find that to be the case with Rick Riordan's books. 

Yes, there were moments in the Heroes of Olympus series when I had this impression, but in The Hidden Oracle, I find Riordan to be more in command of his powers as a storyteller than ever before. 

This book may just be the best Rick Riordan book yet (although that first Percy Jackson book was crazy good, and Titan's Curse was amazing, read it in 24 hours I think, but I digress). 

It feels a little like Riordan has matured as a storyteller, but maybe part of that's just the different character: Apollo is an immortal who has lived for - centuries? millennia? He's seen civilizations rise and fall, he's been in and out of love more times than I think even he can count, and he's dealt with tragic loss. Now he's a teenager with acne. And his brain's a little fuzzy, but he still has more knowledge and experience than Riordan's average protagonists.

And I found him more powerful emotionally than the average Camp Half-Blood teenager. His character seems somehow deeper and more genuine than Riordan's usual protagonists. And don't get me wrong - I love the whole demigod team - it's just that I find Apollo to be a deeper character, if only because he's lived about a billion times longer and is, after all, a god.

Can I talk about the haiku now?

When I realized there was an Apollo-authored haiku at the beginning of every chapter in this book, I flipped out (legit - my mom asked what was going on and my sister told her not to worry, I was just fangirling). But oh, the haiku. Seriously, I don't think you're picking up on how awesome this is. Get excited, people.

Now that I've stopped flipping out (hahaha if only) maybe I can finally get down to - you know - talking about the actual book. 

(The dedication killed me).

When the story opens, Apollo is in a pretty big mess. 

Literally: the once glorious Olympian God of poetry, truth, and light wakes up in a dumpster in some back alley in New York. 

The context: due to his father Zeus's perception that the recent war which almost destroyed the Gods was mainly Apollo's fault (come on, he was barely involved and completely innocent), the King of the Gods decides to punish his son by turning him mortal until he has proven his worth anew. Luckily, Apollo befriends some demigods, among them a street urchin named Meg, the famous Percy Jackson, and some children of Apollo (try rooming with your own kids who are suddenly older than you and better than you at all the hobbies you invented); with the help of his demigod friends, Apollo seeks shelter in Camp Half-Blood and tries to begin the process of making things right again. There's a prophecy (there always is, right?), some mysterious backstory, and some run-ins with mythological beings. Ultimately Apollo must find and save the ancient Oracle of Dodona, the most powerful and sacred of all the oracles belonging to Apollo.

From here on out there might be some spoilers, but I won't give away anything big, just stuff like who dies, who comes back to life, and who kills the main character. Kidding, none of that stuff actually happens in this book.

Meg McCaffrey, the street urchin demigod who serves as Apollo's counterpart throughout most of the novel, is a child of Demeter, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think we've seen a child of Demeter before in the Percy Jackson universe. 

At first I thought having a child of Demeter - goddess of nature and harvest - as the secondarily main character was kind of boring, but then I got to like it, and now I think it was a really cool move on Riordan's part. Of course it's glamorous to be the son or daughter of Zeus, and it's cool to be able to control water because your father is Poseidon, or to be blessed with great wisdom because your mother is Athena, but having a deep affinity with nature because your mother is Demeter definitely has merit. Aren't the forces of nature the most powerful forces of all?

And the antagonist - if you want to be surprised, skip this paragraph - but he's Nero. As in the insane Roman Emperor who reportedly "fiddled while Rome burned" (though as he reminds Apollo, that's crazy talk; they didn't even have fiddles in ancient Rome). And what better antagonist than Nero, the insane Emperor who built a colossal statue of himself in the nude, could there be to Apollo's protagonist? The two characters are both reflections and polar opposites of each other. Apollo represents light, truth, and beauty; while Nero personifies disorder, corruption, and twistedness. And yet, at the same time, even Apollo has to admit that the two share an exaggerated sense of ego and have willingly let others die to serve their own "higher" interests. This is just one of the signs that Riordan has come into his own as a storyteller.

Another is the way in which Apollo's backstory slowly unravels: the author teases us with hints of things that have happened in the protagonist's past, pulling us along by giving out just a little at a time until, finally, we know the whole backstory and it so perfectly illuminates the present.

There are certain things you can do when the main character of your story is Apollo that you can not do with any other character. One of them is that you can throw out historical and pop culture references like there's no tomorrow - because Apollo has inspired all great artists, and some inventors as well. Also, he's been around forever. As an English major and a history nerd, I ate it up. 

Another thing you can do when your protagonist is the god of music and poetry is showcase the power of music in its purest and divinest form. The way Riordan writes about music as performed by Apollo is beautiful. It stands out from the rest of the novel by simple virtue of that beauty and power. One of my favorite scenes occurs when Apollo attends Camp Half-Blood music lessons only to wind up making everyone in the class cry because he's the god of music and he'll make you sob just by tuning his guitar.

I also loved seeing Apollo as a father interacting with his demigod children. Some of the other Olympian parents obviously care about their children, but they always seem rather distant, and sometimes they're just plain negligent. Not saying Apollo has never been a negligent father, but he seems more emotionally connected to his children than the other Olympians do. It's one of the things that makes him more real as a character.

Towards the end there was a plot twist that I never saw coming. Masterfully done, Rick Riordan.

And kudos to Rick Riordan's proofreaders!!!! If you remember the aforementioned review of The House of Hades, you'll recall that I expressed some frustration with the book's editors who failed to catch about six dozen typos throughout the manuscript. I only counted one or two in The Hidden Oracle. Good job, guys!

And that brings us to the end of the story, which was - it was good, people. It was good.

If I had any criticisms of the book, this is what they would be:

There's still that slightly frustrating tendency of Riordan's to make light of a desperate and/or emotionally tense moment in a book at the expense of destroying all the tension with one off-the-wall comment. I think it was less prevalent in this book than in the Heroes of Olympus series, but there were still a couple of times when I was really invested in the situation, and then the narrator said something kind of silly and lost my undivided attention. Part of the appeal of the Percy Jackson series was the zaniness, off-the-wall observations, and sarcasm of the protagonist. It worked brilliantly in that series, but I'm not sure Riordan has to put it on twenty-four seven in all of his other books, and I'm also not sure he knows that he doesn't have to. 

This brings me to an observation about the style of the novel. It's almost like the author is trying to straddle two different age groups. One is the group that understands the references to Woodstock, Heart of Darkness, and Irving Berlin and knows the expression "fiddled while Rome burned"; the other is the group that was the intended audience of the first Percy Jackson books. I am NOT trying to dis the original Percy Jackson books or be condescending towards younger readers and/or people who enjoyed those first books (I'm one of them, remember). I'm just trying to convey the only thing that I felt was a little off about this book. It's like Riordan is trying to cater to two separate crowds. Maybe it's because the original readers of his books are older now. I guess the fact that we're still reading him means he must be doing something right.

About halfway through reading this book, I realized how awesome it would have been if I'd haiku-tweeted my way through the novel - meaning I would post my reactions to certain parts of the novel in haiku form at regular intervals. But by the time I had the idea, it was kind of too late. Learn from my mistake.

There's not really anything left to say except to once more point out the pure awesomeness of The Hidden Oracle and express how much I am looking forward to the second book in The Trials of Apollo series. So have a look at some of my favorite lines from the book that will definitely not give away any spoilers except just one about that person who dies on page 302 (kidding again):

I took a deep breath. Then I did my usual motivational speech in the mirror: "You are gorgeous and people love you!" 

"If anybody gives you trouble, Kayla will shoot them. Then I'll curse them so bad they'll be speaking in rhyming couplets for weeks." My eyes watered... I couldn't recall the last time someone had cared enough to curse my enemies with rhyming couplets.

I confess I lost track of the specifics after he explained about the exploding chain-saw Frisbees. "And they'll be like, ZOOM!" He bounced up and down with excitement. "And then BUZZ! And POW!... You have to be really quick or you'll die, and it's awesome!" 

"You guys go," Will told me. "The chariot is only designed for three, and after that shadow-travel, Nico is going to pass out any second." "No, I'm not," Nico complained, then passed out.

A sonnet I could have handled. A quatrain would have been cause for celebration. But only the deadliest prophecies are couched in the form of a limerick.

For more of the same
Read The Hidden Oracle
Plus it has haiku 

Until tomorrow.