September Book Review: Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan


Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes

By: Rick Riordan

Release Date: August 18th 2015

*Beware: Spoilers ahead!*

Official Synopsis:

Who cut off Medusa’s head?  Who was raised by a she-bear?  Who tamed Pegasus?  And whatever happened to that Golden Fleece? 

It takes a demigod to know the answers, and Percy Jackson can fill you in on all the daring deeds of Perseus, Atalanta, Bellerophon, and the rest of the major Greek heroes.  Told in the funny, irreverent style readers have come to expect from Percy (I’ve had some bad experience in my time, but the heroes I’m going to tell you about were the original old-school hard-luck cases.  They boldly screwed up where no one had screwed up before….) and enhanced with vibrant artwork by Caldecott Honoree John Rocco, this story collection will become the new must-have classic for Rick Riordan’s legions of devoted fans—and for anyone who needs a hero.

So get your flaming spear.  Put on your lion-skin cape.  Polish your shield, and make sure you’ve got arrows in your quiver.  We’re going back about four thousand years to decapitate monsters, save some kingdoms, shoot a few gods in the butt, raid the Underworld, and steal loot from evil people. 

Then for dessert, we’ll die painful tragic deaths.

Ready?  Sweet.  Let’s do this.

My Synopsis:

     For thousands of Percy Jackson fans around the world, Greek mythology has been turned into transformed into modern day fare, full of heroes and gods and monsters dealing with everyday problems while trying to save the world.  But what about the original Greek heroes, the ones who were going on quests and challenging monsters long before the invention of cars, computers, or mass-produced shoes?  Luckily our favorite demigod is here to fill us in: Percy Jackson tells the stories of the dozen biggest Greek heroes in his own unique style, sharing the lives and deaths of the heroes with his trademark humor and wit.  Accompanied by John Rocco’s vibrant illustrations, this collection is brimming with adventure, tragedy, and lots of laughs and is a must-read for anyone looking for a little heroism in their life.

My Thoughts:

     Greek mythology can be fascinating, mind-boggling, and often confusing, but never is it more entertaining or hilarious than when it’s told by our favorite son of Poseidon…even if he did have to be bribed with pizza and blue jellybeans to participate. 

     While there’s plenty of mythology introduced and discussed in both the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series, Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes is a direct retelling of the stories of some of Greece’s mightiest heroes.  (12 heroes, actually, with varying degrees of notoriety: Perseus, Psyche, Phaethon, Otrera, Daedalus, Theseus, Atalanta, Bellerophon, Cyrene, Orpheus, Hercules, and Jason.  Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of most of them either.)  And with Percy as our narrator, we get the same great POV as we had in his previous books—snarky, snappy, and a bit biased at times.  Percy never lets his opinions affect the story, though, and let’s face it: he’s justified in his thoughts on some of the gods.  It’s learning made fun, and everyone will find themselves laughing out loud (like, literally; not just blowing air out their nose like most people do when they claim to LOL) as Percy guides them through the lives and deaths of these great men and women.

     While this book is certainly not comprehensive—it’s already almost 400 pages long; I can’t imagine how long it would be if Uncle Rick decided to cover all the Greek heroes—it manages to hit all the major players.  These are the heroes you’re most likely to hear about in modern culture, whether it’s in the other Percy Jackson books or in media in general.  (The Marvel universe didn’t come up with Hydra’s motto on their own.)  Percy’s narration style makes the characters themselves jump off the page, transforming them from the stale, cardboard heroes you find in your typical mythology texts.  He manages to turn them into real (crazy, reckless, violent) people, giving them quirks and attitudes that make them relatable…relatable if you spend your days going on god- or king-ordered quests to battle terrifying monsters, that is. 

     Aside from Percy’s personal touches, the stories are quite accurate.  (Yes, I read through my copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and compared just to see how the these versions stacked up.  Yes, I’m weird like that.)  There are some slight differences here and there, but these are likely based on variations in the translations from the original text.  These minor changes don’t in any way detract from the story, especially when you consider the thoroughness of the tales.  Some of the stories are 40+ pages each, which may not seem like a lot if you take the larger print and illustrations into account.  But this is a coffee table book (in other words, it’s a lot bigger in size than your typical hardback book), so these longer stories still take a bit of time to get through.  Since this book isn’t necessarily made to read straight through, though, it’s easier to handle, and I promise each story is worth the time it takes to read it.

     And speaking of illustrations, John Rocco provided the artwork that accompanies each story, and let me just say, wow!  I have zero ability to draw or paint, so I’m always impressed with artists, but Rocco’s work is really spectacular.  His unique style adds another layer to the stories, portraying some of the more relevant scenes and characters.  The color schemes and level of detail vary with each picture, and I found some of them particularly beautiful: The Argo sailing through the Clashing Rocks, Psyche climbing the waterfall, Phaethon driving Helios’s sun chariot, and Jason driving the bronze bulls.  Seriously, I wish Rocco would release the individual prints so I could frame them.  Okay, people may question why I have a picture of a guy riding metallic bulls with flaming eyes on my wall, but it would be a good conversation starter.

     What other things did I get out of this book?  That the Greeks were really messed up, for starters.  Some of the details definitely made me want to take Percy’s advice and run around the room screaming—the origin of the Minotaur, anyone?  They also have issues keeping track of family trees from time to time, which Percy helpfully points out, and most of the heroes don’t get a happy ending.  These aren’t fairytales, after all, although I will admit to liking the stories with happy endings the best.  Psyche’s story was probably my favorite, both for the HEA and for the fact that she performed all these awesome quests while pregnant!  Sure, Psyche wasn’t perfect, but she was undeniably committed.  (And she showed Aphrodite up, which made both Percy and me happy.)  Regardless of how you feel about the stories themselves, they’ve managed to survive thousands of years, and they prove that the ancients enjoyed adventure and danger and heroes just as much as we do today.  Storytelling is certainly a timeless art form.  Makes you wonder what stories of ours will still be relevant 4,000 years from now.

     Whether you’re a fan of the Percy Jackson books or of Greek mythology in general, Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes is a must-read.  I will say that there are some topics that may be a unsuitable for younger readers, but Percy handles these with maturity and a fair bit of talking around the issue, so the tales are fine for most.  They’re certainly presented in a more kid-friendly manner than in traditional mythology texts, so this book may be a great way to introduce the young’uns to the Greek myths.  Or you could read this book as a family and get everyone in on Percy’s amazing takes on these tales.  If you’d rather start with the gods themselves, especially since they play such significant roles in the heroes’ lives, grab Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, which is just as awesome.  Personally, I’m hoping Uncle Rick releases Percy Jackson’s Greek Monsters next so we can have some fun with all the crazy creatures that like to attack Percy and the gang.  Or maybe we could get the same features for Egyptian and Norse mythology?  Goodness knows Uncle Rick’s covering everything, and fun, easy-to-read primers on these ancient tales are definitely welcome. 

     So if you’re looking for a good dose of action and tragedy or you just want to view some amazing artwork, be sure to pick up Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes and get ready for a good laugh.  Just don’t laugh at the gods—they don’t like that, and there’s no telling what kind of quest they’d send you on to regain their favor.

Favorite Lines:

  • The word Perseus meant avenger or destroyer, depending on how you interpreted it.  The king did not want the kid growing up to hang out with Iron Man and the Hulk, and the way Danaë was glaring at him, the king had a pretty good idea who she wanted destroyed.
  • “They’re our property!” wailed Ugly #1.  “They’re our precious!” cried Ugly #3.  “Wrong story, you idiot!” snapped Ugly #2.
  • You want stuff to make sense, you’re in the wrong universe.
  • “What kind of name is Phineas?  Sounds like a cartoon character.”
  • “It is a hydra!” “A what, now?” Hercules thought he might have heard that name in a Captain America movie, but he didn’t know how it applied to him.
  • “That worked temporarily, but to get rid of all these birds, I’ll need more cowbell.”
  • They decided to stop at the next port and ask what lay ahead.  Think about that.  Fifty guys actually agreed to stop and ask for directions.  That’s how lost they felt.

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