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BOOK REVIEW: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

REVIEW SUMMARY: The third book in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series joins Percy Jackson (son of Poseidon), Jason Grace (son of Jupiter) and other Greek and Roman demigods in a quest to save the world from the destructive awakening of Gaia, goddess of the Earth.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Seven teenage demigods of prophecy race to Rome to save one of their own and to thwart Gaia, one of the most powerful gods in mythology. Gaia sends giants and other mythological creatures against them. And the Roman demigods are threatening the Greek demigods camp. All while the teenage demigods act like…well…teenagers.

PROS: Full of Greek and Roman mythology; fast paced; suitable for kids, young adults and adults. And flying ships! And Riordan is from San Antonio!
CONS: Gotta wait for at least one more and maybe two in the series.
BOTTOM LINE: Rick Riordan gets my vote (and my family’s vote) to fill the void left by the end of the Harry Potter series. The books include well-researched Greek and Roman mythology, very ‘human’ demigods and gods, lots of humor and ‘save-the-world’ action.

Like most families of our generation, we read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as a team. At first my wife and I read the books to our kids, then with them; and, finally, as they got older, toward the end of the series, we all read them in round robin fashion, with our then teenage kids blasting through them first, with my wife and I (and others in our extended family) following close behind. This kind of family reading not only leads to joint experiences and discussions, but always opens the door for my son to ask me “What part are you at, Dad?” and then tease me with “Oh, you’ll love what happens next,” just enough to not spoil the plot (most of the time).

The Harry Potter series ended in 2007 with the seventh and final book, and somehow we discovered Percy Jackson as a more than able replacement. We don’t remember exactly how we found the series; it could have been through the author, Rick Riordan (a fellow San Antonio home-boy!) and his adult mysteries set in San Antonio. But it was more likely through our son’s love of mythology (he once helped a friend ace a test on the subject through what he learned and researched playing the Age of Mythology series of games!).

Riordan’s “young adult” series feature Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythologies, gods with senses of humor (and issues of their own) and demigods that are children of the gods and mortals. The demigods have issues fitting in with normal kids, discover that they are actually different, and still have questions about fitting in and problems like everyone else; they just have to deal with saving the world while fitting in.

The “Young Adult” genre label has good and bad connotations for potential readers; my interpretation of it for this series is no sex, no cursing, with mainly teenage protagonists. There’s lots of violence (fighting) of monsters and gods of all mythologies. As for our family reading group, my son is the youngest (now age 21) and my stepfather the oldest (and the last to get the books; sorry, John!) at 85 years young. The “YA” label is great for parents, but it unfairly tends to send adult readers in another direction; like comedians (a regular Bob Hope), great authors can still tell a riveting tale with nary an F-bomb to be dropped; see Joe R. Lansdale’s fantastic all the earth thrown to the sky for another example.

The Mark of Athena is the 3rd book in the Heroes of Olympus series, which is the next series after the Percy Jackson and the Olympians tetralogy. The Percy Jackson series focuses on Greek mythology, with Greek teenage demigods that train and school at Camp Half-blood. The series follows Percy (son of Poseidon), Annabeth (daughter of Athena) and others on several quests, some with the help of the Greek gods and some without, where in the end, they appear to save the world. The series is loosely based on the Greek War of the Titans (Titanomachy). But there is a prophecy at the end that portends of…the next series, of course.

“Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire, the world must fall,
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.”

Giving away more would spoil the series, but if interested, reviews can be found by clicking on The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian. There is also the movie version of the first book out, with the second due in August of this year (with Nathan Fillion cast as Hermes?!?!).

The Heroes of Olympus series throws the Greek and Roman mythologies together, and mixes up the two sets of demigods who have been deliberately kept apart because of historic bad blood. In the first book, The Lost Hero, Jason Grace is introduced as the titular character, his memory as hazy as his origins. He ends up at Camp Half-Blood after being rescued by Annabeth, who has been out looking for the missing Percy Jackson. Jason gets his memory back and remembers he is from Camp Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of Camp Half-Blood, and his is a son of Jupiter. He is joined by Piper and Leo, a daughter of Aphrodite and a son of Hephaestus. Together, they battle Enceladus, a giant and child of Gaia, fight and meet other gods and creatures, and ultimately free Hera. See this link for a more in-depth review of The Lost Hero.

In the second book in this series, The Son of Neptune, Percy Jackson also awakens with no memory and ends up in the opposite camp, Camp Jupiter. Together with Hazel (a daughter of Pluto) and Frank Zhang (a son of Mars), they are set on a quest by Mars, who says Death no longer works because Thantos, the god of Death, has been captured by Gaia’s minions. The trio goes off on a quest to save Thantos and recover a long lost Roman artifact.

Finally, we come to the subject of this review, The Mark of Athena (sorry for the long background, but I think it is important for those who haven’t read any of the series). Leo, Annabeth, Jason and Piper get to Camp Jupiter in the Argo II, an air and sea ship that Leo has rebuilt. Together with Percy, Hazel and Frank, they believe they make of the ‘seven half-bloods’ from the prophecy. They receive another prophecy from Ella, a harpy that they rescued who reads everything and has the gift of prophecy:

“Wisdom’s daughter walks alone,
The Mark of Athena burns through Rome,
Twins snuff out the angel’s breath,
Who holds the key to endless death.
Giant’s bane stands gold and pale
Won through pain from a woven jail.”

This obviously makes Annabeth nervous; as the daughter of Athena, she is ‘Wisdom’s daughter.’

Leo takes one of the Romans on a tour of the Argo II, then the airship inexplicably starts firing on Camp Jupiter, and the Roman demigods start rioting against the Greeks. The seven demi-gods get back on the ship, where Leo was apparently possessed and has no idea what he has done. They speed off to get repairs at the Great Salt Lake where they meet more people from myth (Nemesis, Narcissus) who provide them with other clues. They stop in several places in the United States (settings described in excellent detail) to pick up clues and tools needed for their quest, always fighting Gaia’s minions who have laid traps for them along the way and battling the Romans who have chased them. Gaia seems to have succeeded in starting a Roman vs. Greek civil war…with the exception of the seven, who must journey to modern Rome as the prophecy suggests to try and stop Gaia’s resurgence. And Roman demigods are not supposed to go to Rome, as travel on the Mare Nostrum (the Mediterranean Sea) is not safe from creatures of old.

Riordan intertwines tons of mythological creatures, gods, people and places, enough so that the appendix is a welcomed edition. But he also gives both the teenage demigods and the regular gods interesting perspectives and humor, making all of them somehow look more…human.

Wonderful, Annabeth thought. Her own mother, the most levelheaded Olympian, was reduced to a raving, vicious scatterbrain in a subway station. And of all the gods who might help them, the only ones not affected by the Greek-Roman schism seemed to be Aphrodite, Nemesis and Dionysus. Love, revenge and wine. Very helpful.

Riordan ends this on a cliffhanger to be completed in book four of the series, The House of Hades. A reader can start with this book, as Riordan does provide some background as he goes; but I would recommend reading both series in sequence for adults young and old. They are fast-paced, enjoyable reads, filled with well-researched mythology.

About Larry Ketchersid (55 Articles)
Author of two novels (Dusk Before the Dawn, Software by the Kilo) and one volume of non-fiction stories. CEO of a security software and services company; co-owner of JoSara MeDia, publisher of iPad apps, print and eBooks. Runner, traveler, Sharks fan, Rockets fan, Packers shareholder.
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