For more on young adult fantasy literature (especially meta-cognitive thoughts about the nature of YA Franchises) check out my regular blog: The Scruffy Rube.
Rick Riordan never really left the page. One year after finishing the Percy Jackson series he was back with not one but two series. The similarly Greek themed “Heroes of Olympus” and an Egyptian styled series called: “The Kane Chronicles”. My school happened to have a cache of The Red Pyramid the first book in “The Kane Chronicles”, so naturally I picked up a copy both to see if Riordan still had a deft touch for action-adventure with a dollop of mythological education, and to see if it was worth discussing in the classroom.
To be sure, Riordan has a teacher’s style, a strong ear for teenage dialogue and a fair sense of fun when delving into exposition heavy monologues. He attacks Egyptian mythology with the same sincere appreciation of history and coming-of-age stories that made Percy Jackson such a pleasure to read, and seems all too happy to guide readers beyond American shores into London, Paris and Cairo.
Beyond different deities, Riordan separates “The Kane Chronicles” from Percy Jackson in one major way: altering the narrative focus from a single first-person point of view, to a pair of narrators telling their story through an “audio recording” that comes close to second-person point of view. It’s a clever conceit, one that I haven’t seen done in young adult series before and it helps to equalize the power balance between his two protagonists, the siblings Carter and Sadie Kane.
Unfortunately, that conceit also mucks up the act of story telling. The story starts with a plea to go quickly and a sense of urgency, then the narrators fixate on prosaic style. I readily believe that teenagers (whether they’re descended from an ancient order of Egyptians or not) would record their every thought, feeling and interest. I don’t know as I can make the leap from that kind of teenager, to the kind who possesses an incredible recall for events of several months before or who casually incorporates description like: “His clothes were similar to those he’d worn the day before, and I had to admit the guy had style. His tailored suit was made of blue wool, he wore a matching fedora and his hair was freshly braided with dark blue lapis lazuli“particularly if there’s an urgency to telling the reader a particular story.
While Sadie and Carter often sound like teenage siblings (particularly in the bickering, squabbling, under-your-breath insult arena), they also sound far more worldly than any teenager/magician/possible demi-god has a right to. The narrative bogs down in their descriptions and whenever there’s a hint of an explanation coming up, both characters are hurtled into a fresh action sequence, jumping from one monster to the next with a seemingly interchangeable array of adult guardians.
Still, give Riordan credit. He knows enough about what fans want to read (action and a healthy dose of mythology) that he can satisfy them while exploring other avenues of his own artistic interests as well (altering the narrative format, expanding the world around him). He even gives a satisfying glimpse into social dynamics of a mixed-race family, even if that point gets largely subsumed by falcon heads, swinging swords, ravenous hippopotami and plenty of explosions. I might not have asked for an encore to Percy Jackson, but I can’t say that Riordan’s half-assing his way off stage.