The Last Olympian

The final Percy Jackson book! Well, maybe. Sort of. I mean, come on... we all saw it coming. The Last Olympian may be the final book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, but that doesn't mean that Rick Riordan will not continue to produce books that feature Percy, the gods, and Camp Half-Blood. After all, who can argue with this kind of success? And even without picking up the books, one knows that Percy Jackson is aimed towards a younger audience than Harry Potter, so there's less of a question about his survival, despite a fairly scary sounding prophesy. I think that the average reader can reasonably assume that while there's going to be some bloodshed in this book (there's a war going on, after all), ultimately we'll finish up with a fairly intact cast.

It's been a rough year for everyone as things get closer and closer to a war between gods and Titans... and Percy's sixteenth birthday, which could be just as bad. After all, there's that prophesy looming that suggests a child of the Big Three (either Zeus, Poseidon, or Hades) will have a decision to make on which the future of Olympus hangs. At last count, there were only four possible candidates (Percy's half-brother Tyson, a Cyclops, doesn't seem to be eligible) and don't worry, a new child of the Big Three will not suddenly pop up in this book to sacrifice him/herself. Since Thalia joined the Hunters of Artemis (freezing herself forever as an immortal fifteen-year-old), Bianca died, and Nico is still too young, all eyes are on Percy and we open with a week to go before the big day. There will be Titans, monsters, a spy, a kiss or two, a lot of battles, and we finally get to hear the last part of the prophesy that has been kept from Percy. Let's just say that there was actually a good reason for that and things don't look too hopeful for the kid who's got this destiny if they're interpreting it correctly. Ah, but there is the key to it all, right?

If you don't know your Greek mythology by the time you've reached the fifth book in this series, seriously, what's wrong with you? You're making Edith Hamilton cry. For those of you who do know your mythology, then you'll note that history tends to repeat itself and this war is stacking up to look like the original war between gods and Titans. A few key players are switching sides or abstaining, but since we've already read four books about the half-blooded children of the gods, then we all know that the true balance will rest with the demi-gods. Much of this book (and the outcome of the war) reflects on the relationships between half-bloods and their parents, which drives them to side with them or against them. It's not surprising that Riordan (who created the whole Percy Jackson story for his son) is deeply concerned about the relationship between parents and their children, but he's really rested the crux of this war on the way the gods have conducted themselves with their offspring.

Percy is wrapping up the summer with a short trip to the beach, accompanied by his mom, Paul (now his stepdad), and his friend Rachel (the redheaded mortal who can see through the Mist to immortal events). She extends Percy an invitation to come with her family on vacation and asks if she's ever going to get a kiss from Percy -- when he's called away to help destroy the Princess Andromeda, a cruise ship full of monsters and the headquarters of Kronos, the Titan leading the fight against the gods. Kronos looks like Luke these days, haven taken over the body of the half-blood son of Hermes. (Remember that Luke used to be a friend to Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia, but they fear they have lost him entirely to the "dark side" when he ran off to raise Kronos, and now they might be too late to save him.) While Percy and Charlie Beckendorf (a son of Hephaestus) succeed in destroying the cruise ship, Kronos lives and Charlie does not make it out alive. After a brief recuperation time in his father's palace at the bottom of the ocean, where Percy witnesses the underwater war that his father is waging against Oceanus, Percy returns to camp with sad tidings. Charlie's girlfriend Silena (a daughter of Aphrodite) is devastated and Clarisse (a daughter of Ares) tries to keep her friend from losing it, though the children of Ares and the children of Apollo have been feuding over some spoils from a battle. Grover's been MIA for a while, as he's been trying to spread the word that while Pan is dead, it's now up to everyone else to try and protect the Wild. And Annabeth... well, Annabeth is clearly under a lot of stress what with Percy's mortal not-quite-girlfriend and her own feelings for Luke, who was like a (really hot) brother to her. (On the bright side, she's been reading through Daedalus's laptop -- he left it to her when he sacrificed his own life at the end of the last book so the Labyrinth might die with him -- which has all manner of inventions within, and while she's barely cracked the surface, she's learned enough for some new tricks in this book to appear.) Top it all off, there seems to be a spy in the camp who's relaying information to Kronos.

Things are looking pretty desperate and the gods really aren't helping matters. They're off fighting the Titan Typhon, who is slowly making his way to New York, and Zeus refuses to consider that Kronos might be using that as a distraction so Olympus will be unprotected. Poseidon hasn't been helping in the fight against Typhon because he's been dealing with his own battle. Thus, it's up to Percy and his friends to hold down Manhattan and protect Olympus when Kronos shows up early with an army of immortals at his command. In the bid to get the upper hand, Percy decides to take Nico up on a risky plan -- namely, dipping Percy in the River Styx to give him the Achilles heel treatment, rendering him nearly invincible save for one weak spot. Percy realizes that this is what Luke must have done to support Kronos taking over his body. (Throughout the course of the book, we learn more about Luke's family and what drove him to make the choices he did.) While Nico argues with his father, Hades, that they should join the battle on earth, Percy helps rally the half-blood forces, supported by other lesser immortals like dryads, satyrs, and the Hunters of Artemis, led by Thalia. The children of Ares refuse to participate when they claim that they are not given due credit for their battle contributions. They remain at Camp Half-Blood while the others head to the Empire State Building, where Olympus can be accessed from the 600th floor. They must protect Olympus at all costs, or Kronos will be able to destroy the seat of the gods and all of western civilization will crumble with it. The epic battle is brought to Manhattan, fought in the very streets of the city, while the mortals are put under a sleeping spell by Morpheus, who has sided with Kronos. Annabeth learned from Daedalus's laptop that many of the statues in New York are automatons, able to serve as warriors when activated... which makes for some intriguing situations of famous New York statues springing to life to assist in the fray (my favorite was when the lions in front of the New York Library are activated to help destroy a flying pig). Percy and his friends fight on bridges, in Central Park, and in the streets, trying to defeat the enemy and save as few prone mortals as possible.

Riordan strings out the war with a series of battles, resulting in bursts of action and then short periods of conference where everyone tries to figure out what to do next. All of the events take place over the period of about a week, so this might be the most fast-paced of all the Percy Jackson books. While this is to its credit for younger readers, speeding through to the conclusion, older readers might be a bit disappointed with the lack of forethought that is somewhat characteristic of this series. We might have a prophesy that held everything together, but each book comes up with its own events that you can't foresee and even the endings tend to rest on ideas that pop out of nowhere, without much foreshadowing. Ultimately, though, the book is quite enjoyable and young readers in particular should be pleased with the outcome of this book and the series.

From this point on, there will be spoilers. If you don't want to know what happens to Percy and his crew, then stop reading now. This means you, kids. Trust me, you'll enjoy it. As for the adults, I'm sure you can see what's coming.

Unsurprisingly, it all ends happily, though I admit I was hoping that Riordan would make some tough choices and kill off more characters than he did. Rachel has a large role to play, despite only showing up in the third book. She's been having strange visions and even though she goes off with her family on vacation, she convinces her father that she has to return to Manhattan. There, Percy brings Rachel up to the safety of Olympus, where she joins Hestia (the titular last Olympian, left to guard the hearth up in Olympus) and ultimately assumes her destined role as the Oracle of Delphi (which had been cursed by Hades and drove Luke's mom mad when she attempted to assume the position of Oracle). Now that Percy has been dipped in the Styx, he's a fearsome fighter, but it's not always enough. Prometheus, who has sided with Kronos, gives Percy a "gift" -- the jar of Pandora, with Hope trapped inside. He tells Percy that if he decides to release Hope, then Kronos will let Percy and his friends live. Percy tries to keep the jar far away, but is repeatedly tempted by it until he gives it as an offering to Hestia, goddess of the hearth, because Hope thrives best at home.

Lots of demi-gods die but the larger whole is saved repeatedly by last-minute reinforcements. First, it's Chiron leading the Party Ponies -- chapters all across the country have streamed in to assist. Then it's the children of Ares, led by... Silena, daughter of Aphrodite? Silena, feeling useless in battle and desperate to do something to help the cause, returned to Camp Half-Blood; when she was unable to convince Clarisse to lead her cabin into battle, Silena took a cue from Patroclus (think Trojan War, cousin of Achilles). She stole Clarisse's armor, rallied the cabin, and led them into battle. Clarisse then follows them, but like Patroclus, Silena ends up dying. She reveals at the last minute that she was the spy, feeding information to Luke, because he claimed it would save lives. Enraged with the death of her friend, Clarisse single-handedly brings down a terrifying drakon and causes Kronos's army to fall back before the ultimate battle. The final group of reinforcements to help save the day is an army of the dead, led by Nico and Hades (along with his wife, Persephone, and mother-in-law, Demeter). Hades has finally been persuaded by his son that his realm will also be in jeopardy if the Titans win, or perhaps it was simply the irritation of being trapped with his mother-in-law, rambling on about cereal, that drove him above ground.

Rachel foresaw that a child of Ares would have to kill the monster, giving her some credibility, which is why Percy freaks out a bit when she tells him that he is not the hero of the prophesy. Of course, he's very much part of the prophesy -- he is the child of the Big Three who has to make a decision, but he's not the hero that ends up dead. Percy contacts his father, persuading him to abandon the fight against Oceanus to join the other gods in stopping Typhon before he strikes New York. Tyson helps lead the Cyclopes into battle and the Greek gods finally succeed in bringing down the Titan. Grover and the satyrs score a major victory when their nature magic (which, let's face it, we all figure is semi-lame) is able to entrap the Titan Hyperion in a maple tree in Central Park. With all the battles and all the losses, in the end,it's Grover, Annabeth, and Percy who will stand against Kronos. Annabeth tries to appeal to Luke, believing that he's still somewhere inside the body that Kronos has inhabited, and ultimately, she's right. Luke is the hero of the prophesy who will end up dying, fighting against Kronos's occupation of his body. With Percy's choice to give him his blade, Luke kills himself so that Kronos will be destroyed, too.

The gods arrive to find that Kronos has been defeated, but since he is a Titan, he will ultimately regenerate at some point, though that might take ages. They resume their thrones on Olympus (and even the gods who don't have thrones, like Hades, stick around for a bit) and favors are distributed. Tyson is recognized for his service and promoted to be a General in the Olympian army (and he'll also have "a big stick" as his weapon of choice). Grover is awarded a spot on the Council of Cloven Elders and is now the new Lord of the Wild. Annabeth is charged with rebuilding Olympus, fulfilling her dream to create monuments that will survive for eons. And Percy is offered the chance to become an immortal god... which he turns down when he realizes that being frozen at seventeen might not be all it's cracked up to be if it means leaving behind his half-blood friends (and Annabeth in particular). Instead, he uses this chance to make the gods promise that they will always claim their children before they reach thirteen. The war was largely made possible due to the neglect of the gods, whose unclaimed children felt betrayed and ignored. Percy also insists that cabins should be made for all children of the gods, not just the Olympian twelve. The book ends with Annabeth and Percy finally getting a kiss that isn't immediately followed by a battle. Percy starts his sophomore year and Annabeth starts to attend a boarding school in New York so she can better monitor the progress of building in Olympus... and be close to Percy. As Rachel assumes the role of the Oracle, she gives a prophesy... which Apollo declares must be the next Great Prophesy. And while the last one took years to come about... we're left with the feeling that this one might come about a bit sooner.

Riordan really has created a great series that's full of action and adventure... yet hopefully, it will inspire a love of history in a generation of kids. His inventive use of Greek mythology meant that there really was no need to worry about Harry Potter comparisons once things got rolling. I've also got to hand it to Riordan for not shying away from the less savory bits of Greek mythology... his audience is a bit younger, so one wouldn't be too surprised if he sugar-coated a bit of the affairs -- particularly when you're dealing with lots of male gods who couldn't keep it in their togas and that's the of these these half-blood heroes. In this book, we get flashbacks where Hades and Hermes are both seen with the mortal mother of their children, and both gods are shockingly tender and loving to these women. Riordan might have made things a bit easy there for younger readers to show that these didn't appear to be one-night stands. Of course, at the end of the fourth book, when Poseidon showed up for Percy's fifteenth birthday party, things were a bit awkward (after all, Percy's mother's boyfriend was there, too), but overall, there don't seem to be a whole lot of bad feelings towards the mortals who have children with the gods. They sometimes have tragic fates (aka Luke's mom who was driven insane), but usually things seem okay. Well, except for Thalia's mom, who apparently drank a lot and died in a car accident, but aside from that one.

Continuing on the topic of parent-child relationships, I think that might be the most fascinating bit about the series. Riordan conceived of Percy Jackson after he ran out of Greek myths to tell his son, so he came up with modern versions. For a father writing stories that had their beginnings with his son, it's not surprising that the parent-child bond/struggle is prominent. It shows up in practically every bit of motivation. Heroes trying to prove themselves to their parents; half-bloods getting bitter about not being claimed; Percy trying to stay safe for his mortal mother and being such a good son; gods unable to interfere in the fates of their children; the question of what makes a good parent and how one's love can be mistaken; Nico feeling like he and his father have no place amongst the Olympians; Ethan, son of Nemesis, trying to understand what his role is as a child of the goddess of vengeance and balance; Chiron standing up to his father, Kronos; Thalia rejecting her status as a daughter of Zeus to take up a role in Artemis's Hunters; Annabeth struggling with her understanding of "family" after running away from her father and then coming to find Thalia and Luke; Hades finally coming to realize that if nothing else, he agrees with his siblings that Kronos was a terrible father... I could keep going and going. I didn't ever feel like Riordan was trying to lecture me on proper parenting. If anything, Percy lectures the gods a bit on just this topic, but only so far as it extended to recognizing their children and recognizing every half-blood as important, no matter their parentage.

I'll confess that I was a bit disappointed with Percy's refusal of immortality, not for the fact of it, but because it was so obviously done for Annabeth that I felt like I was watching the Disney cartoon of Hercules and we'd get a reprise of "Where I Belong" as Hercules chooses Meg over an immortal life. It's the obvious ending, but somehow, I thought it could be made to be a bit more original. Ah well. It's still charming, if predictable, and one only wonders how Percy will deal with hormones and sex now that he's sixteen and in a stable relationship. He's such a clueless gentleman that it was a bit unrealistic; he might have been a bit confused when it came to Rachel vs. Annabeth at first, but we all knew who would triumph in the end, provided she didn't die. I suppose the kid did have other things to worry about, but really, Riordan might have allowed the gods to sleep around, but there was no touching upon that idea when it came to their half-blooded children. Also on the list of somewhat disappointing things: Pandora's jar. I rather like the Pandora myth and while the jar plays a crucial role, I thought it was underused. Also underused were characters like Achilles and certain Titans. I suppose that Riordan has to keep a few things tucked away if he's going to write another series, though, so perhaps they'll reappear.

Originally, I started reading these books with the excuse that I was reading to screen them for my godson. He's a little young for these books right now, I think, but I'll still pass them along and send him some cash so he can take his mom out to see the first Percy Jackson movie when it comes out soon. Hopefully he'll appreciate the Greek mythology and with the help of his parents, we can get him hooked on history. If nothing else, that's the real value in these books -- Riordan's enthusiasm for the myths is infectious and I hope it inspires a generation of readers to enjoy the stories. If you're looking for a series of books that's enthralling and captivating, but your young reader is just a little too young to appreciate Harry Potter, then I think you've found the right thing to help get them there. While operating at a slighter lower reading level, there's still great depth for the reader who wants it (though that mostly points to the real myths). The characters aren't terribly complicated and these books don't function on the premise that you've got all the clues to figure out the riddle by the end of the book. Usually, the kids are flailing along and stumble upon a solution. Just the same, they're fun and fast-paced. I enjoyed them and if Riordan comes out with another series that features Percy, Annabeth, and their friends... well, if my godson doesn't beat me to them at that point, then I think he can bet that I'll hand them along to him once I'm finished.

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