The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson & the Olympians Book #2)

The Sea of Monsters is the second book in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series, written by Rick Riordan for children grades 5-9. The series focuses on Perseus (Percy) Jackson, the son of Poseidon who is destined to be a hero... though what exactly that destiny entails isn't quite clear. After introducing us to a world where the Olympian gods are real and their half-blooded children band together to fight monsters and general evil, The Sea of Monsters feels surprisingly thin (though the positive side of this is that the plot moves quite quickly) as Percy and his friends focus on a new quest. Sure, there's still a lot to learn for Percy (and the reader) about the intricacies of this existence where they can influence both mortal and immortal affairs, but Riordan assumes we've read the first book and there's not too much time spent bringing people up to speed.

Percy is now thirteen and just about to make it out of the first school in a long time where he hasn't been expelled. It's the last day of class and all Percy needs to do is get through the day before he can take off for Camp Half-Blood and rejoin his other demi-god friends. The only real friend Percy has made at this school is Tyson, a homeless boy that the school has taken on as a community service project. Even though he's incredibly tall, Tyson is quite a softie and Percy has to protect him from being picked on by bullies at school. After an incident at the school, though, Percy learns that Tyson is actually a Cyclops... and his half-brother.

Back at Camp Half-Blood, things are not going well. Thalia's Tree, which sits on the border of the camp, was created when Thalia, a daughter of Zeus, forfeited her life to save her friends. Zeus turned her into a tree that protects the magical border around the camp... but now the tree has been poisoned by Luke (a son of Hermes who turned evil at the end of the first book) and the camp is in danger of being overrun by monsters. Chiron (the centaur) was blamed for letting the tree be poisoned and has been fired from his post as activities director at camp; he's been replaced by Tantalus, an immortal who tried to feed his son to the gods and wound up in eternal torment -- temptation without satisfaction. In the book, this is primarily depicted with a humorous twist as Tantalus tries to grab at cheeseburgers that zip out of his reach. Tantalus doesn't even try to mask his dislike for Percy, at a height when Percy gets blamed for an attack on campers during a chariot race.

The only thing that can save Thalia's Tree (and hence, the camp) is the Golden Fleece... which is coincidental, as Percy's been having dreams about his friend Grover (a satyr) who went searching for Pan and is now being held captive by a Cyclops that possesses the Fleece. Tantalus decides that Clarisse, a daughter of Ares, is the perfect person to lead the quest to retrieve the Fleece, which means Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson have to go renegade to help save Grover (who seems to have tricked the nearly-blind Cyclops into thinking he's a lady Cyclops and is pulling a Penelope by weaving and unraveling part of his wedding trousseau as he bides time and waits for Percy to rescue him). Hermes makes an appearance to assist Percy, hoping that Percy might be able to save his son, Luke, from the dark side. Percy learns a bit more about some powers that he's inherited from his father as we travel to the Sea of Monsters, which is the sea that every hero has had to pass through. Like Olympus, its location changes with the flame of western civilization and is now known to mortals as the Bermuda Triangle.

By far, the most interesting part of this book is not the plotline, though I'm sure that's what the kids will focus on. The relationship between Tyson and Percy and Percy's need to deal with what Tyson's presence in his life means both for himself and his relationship with his father... well, it's pretty complicated and awesome. Riordan clearly enjoys the ridiculous mess that is the Olympian family tree and doesn't feel a need to untangle things (though he tries to step things out for the kids). Tyson's existence means that if Percy thought he was super special by having a mother that Poseidon just couldn't resist and so the only affair he's had since the Big Three swore that oath to stop fathering heroes... well... now Percy has this half-brother who isn't an hero, but definitely complicates his family tree. Tyson, as a young Cyclops, is not bright and his biggest asset is his strength. Percy is ashamed of him in the beginning, despite his fondness for Tyson. And when one thinks of what Tyson had to endure as a young, homeless Cyclops... let's just say it's easy to be angry at the gods for abandoning their children to such hard roads. Sensitive children will certainly cry "unfair!" at certain things, but such is the world of mythology and such is the world that Riordan has created here. Ultimately, Percy has to come to accept that he needs Tyson just as much as Tyson needs Percy. Accepting his father, on the other hand... it seems like this is a lifelong issue for demi-gods and immortals alike.

While it's not quite as fun as the first, you can expect The Sea of Monsters to be an amusing and fast-paced sequel to The Lightning Thief. Riordan still manages to include allusions to many different myths, but not nearly as much seems to happen in this book as it did in the first. We're just on book two of five, though, so I suppose we can forgive him for pacing himself. Fans of the series will be pleased and the ending presents a nice new twist that promises to make the next few books quite interesting indeed.

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