Friday, July 15, 2011

Which of Rick Riordan's New Series Is Best?

If you're a serious Percy Jackson fan, you're probably going to read both of Rick Riordan's new series. But what if you only have time for one? Will it be the Percy Jackson follow-up, which introduces new characters, but promises to bring back Percy himself in Book 2? Or will you leave Greece (and Rome) and head for Egypt, the source of magic in The Kane Chronicles?

Decisions, decisions!

With Heroes of Olympus, The Lost Hero, you do return to Camp Half-blood. But there's something different about our new set of heroes, and not just the fact that one of them is being blackmailed to betray the others. We've got Jason, who can't remember his life before the bus ride with which Book 1 begins; his supposed girlfriend Piper, who is dismayed to find out who her mother is; and a Latino boy named Leo, who's been commandeered by a rather senior goddess from an early age and has a pretty scary power. But could Jason be the son of a Roman god, not a Greek one? (Try not to think too hard about the logistics. It boggles the mind.) Either way, there's a new prophecy and a new villain in the land, and these three are only the first of a team of seven who must be assembled in order to win the day. Not to mention that Percy is missing—where, oh where, can he be? Annabeth definitely wants to know! Meanwhile, our new trio heads west on a quest to stop the rise of Porphyrion, a giant baddie, and rescue Hera before it's too late...

Then there are The Kane Chronicles, which pick up speed in Book 2, thankfully. (Book 1 got a bit bogged down in backstory.) The Throne of Fire returns with brother-and-sister act Carter and Sadie Kane, who have turned their spell-protected house in Brooklyn into a training camp for those who want to fight the forces of evil with them. Making it a mini version of Camp Half-blood, of course! The story begins with the siblings and a couple of other kids trying to steal an artifact from the museum. Soon the Kanes are traveling all over the world, trying to find the scrolls comprising the Book of Ra so they can wake the sleeping king of the gods and he can defeat a terrible rising serpent named Apophis (Chaos). Along the way, Sadie and Carter split up rather often the way characters in horror movies do ("Please stick together! Oh, no..."), increasing their peril on a regular basis. Carter's still crushing on Zia, now the original rather than a copy, and is determined to find her, while Sadie likes a boy named Walt in addition to (secretly, and with some chagrin) Anubis, the god of the dead.

Now, let's compare the two series.

Where Heroes of Olympus Excels:

—KC's Brooklyn House feels like a pale imitation of HOO's Camp Half-blood. The subplot about the mean girl dominating Aphrodite House in The Lost Hero is especially nice.
—Both series offer comic relief, but KC's funny ally, the terribly ugly dwarf god Bes, and some adventures in a nursing home for gods aren't nearly as amusing as the HOO crew's encounters with the wind and his dysfunctional kids, an icky tribe of Cyclopes, and Medea reigning over an evil department store. Leo is also pretty funny all by himself.
—While both of the current books, let alone the entire series, use a quest format, HOO's plot development feels a tad more natural and less deliberately choreographed than KC's. (In particular, the way Carter and Sadie keep splitting up to go off on their own and then end up getting attacked feels contrived.)
—Leo and Piper are strong new characters, while Jason is pretty good, too, though less distinctive. KC's siblings feel richer in Book 2 than in Book 1, but I still found Leo and Piper more appealing. (Plus Carter continues to lag behind his sister in depth and interest.)
—Leo's mechanical dragon totally rocks, beating out Carter's griffin.
—This book also wins for coolest action scenes. KC's mummy scene doesn't quite cut it, but HOO's Cyclopes scene and the whole thing in the house of the winds are wonderful.
—Despite the complexity of the plot, HOO feels more fast-paced than KC, even if we overlook KC's relatively dense start in Book 1. KC has moments of drag, but I didn't see many of those in The Lost Hero.

Where The Kane Chronicles Excel:

—Both books have new, humongous villains attempting to rise from beneath the earth, but I'd say a giant snake that can destroy with its very presence is more horrific than an angry giant.
—The romance factor is handled with sweetness and humor in KC as Sadie tries to ignore her feelings for two different boys and Carter heads knowingly into a major trap for love of a girl who won't even know who he is (kind of a doppelganger thing). In contrast, the romance in HOO is minimal if not confusing.
—Perhaps I'm just burned out on Greek and Roman mythology, but the Egyptian mythology feels fresh and nicely strange in this series.
—The overall story arc of the KC series seems smoother, perhaps because the major plot point created by distinguishing between the Greek gods and Roman gods strains credulity a little.
—I found KC's save-the-world plot more compelling, perhaps because HOO's save-the-world plot seems like a rerun. Plus the Hera thing didn't quite work for me, while the situation with Ra is a delightful soap opera. (I can't wait to see how it gets resolved.)
—Like its predecessor, HOO has a cast of thousands, while focusing on just two siblings in KC makes for a cleaner read.
—Sadie and Carter's magical powers are intriguing, especially their relationship to the gods who have tried and will try again to possess them. In contrast, fire making and the other powers in HOO seem predictable.
—When it comes to girl-power, Sadie's got it in spades. Piper is an excellent character, but not nearly as gutsy and outrageous as Sadie.

Hmm. I think I'll give four prizes here. Kane Chronicles wins "Most Improved" and "Most Potential," but Heroes of Olympus still triumphs when it comes to "Most Appealing Characters" and "Best Storytelling." If you have to choose, I'd say go with that second round of Greek (or maybe Roman) demigods. Then again, here's hoping you'll get to read both series.

Readers, which of these series do you like best? Let us know in the comments!

Note: Book 2 of Heroes of Olympus, The Son of Neptune, is due out on October 4. If the ending of Book 1 is anything to go by, we'll be visiting the Roman side of things next.


Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing. I did like the The Lost Hero and found the first book in The Kane series a little draggy too. I may try the second book in that series though since you said it picked up. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I actually liked the first book in the KC better than all the Percy Jackson books - most likely due to the fact that my fondness for Greek/Roman mythology is only and always eclipsed by my fascination for Egyptian mythology. It DID drag in places, but I thought overall it was a great success. I haven't had a chance to read the second one yet, but I'm very eager to. I liked The Lost Hero, too, but like you, I found the whole Greek-Roman split to be a little contrived. I DID like Piper's triumph in the end, though.

KateCoombs said...

Natalie--Well, there are a lot of cool things going on in the Kane books, and I'm hoping Book 3 will be even better. :)

E. Louise--Isn't that Egyptian mythology great? I'd like to see Riordan try his hand at the Norse gods next. Go Loki!

Kim Aippersbach said...

What a great idea for a post; though you didn't exactly help me decide where to start!

KateCoombs said...

Kim--Heehee. No, really, it's not a totally clear choice. But if I had to pick between The Lost Hero and Throne of Fire, I'd go with The Lost Hero for sheer reading pleasure. Then, being a nice, patient adult, you can dig into the Kane Chronicles, books 1 and 2 (archaeological pun intended!).

KateCoombs said...

P.S. Put it this way: The Kane Chronicles are the conceptual winner, but so far, Heroes of Olympus beats them in terms of execution.