May Book Review: The Hidden Oracle By Rick Riordan


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The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1)

By: Rick Riordan

Release Date: May 3 2016

*Beware: Spoilers ahead!* 

Official Synopsis:

Your fault, Apollo.
Your punishment.

My father’s voice still rings in my ears.

Can you believe Zeus blamed me for the gods’ battle with Gaea?
Just because the earth goddess duped one of my progeny—Octavian—into
plunging the Greek and Roman demigods into a civil war that nearly destroyed
human civilization, I ask you, how was that my
fault?

Now I’m case out of Olympus in the form of a
sixteen-year-old mortal boy, acne and all!
Sadly, I’ve been punished this way before.  I know I will face many trials and hardships.  I can only hope that if I suffer through them
and prove myself worthy, Father will forgive me and allow me to become a god
again.

But this time my situation seems much more dangerous.  One of my ancient adversaries knows I am here
and is having me followed.  The Oracle of
Delphi remains dark, unable to issue prophecies.  Most embarrassing of all, I am bound to serve
a demigod street urchin who defends herself by throwing rotten fruit.

Zeus could not possible expect me to fix the Oracle problem
by myself.  Not in my present weak
condition.  It’s time for me to drop in
on Camp Half-Blood, where I might find some talented fodder…er, I mean heroes
to help.  No doubt they will welcome me
as a celebrity!  They will being me holy
offerings, like peeled grapes, Oreos, and—oh, gods—perhaps even bacon!

Mmm.  Yes.  If I survive this, I really must write an ode
to the power of bacon…


My Synopsis:

When Apollo wakes up in a New York City alley, it’s not the
first time he’s been turned mortal.  His
father Zeus has punished him with mortality before, but never before has Apollo
found himself in so much trouble so quickly.
Bound to a streetwise demigod with a penchant for flinging rotten fruit,
Apollo makes his way to Camp Half-Blood, believing that the demigods there will
honor him as the god he truly is.

Unexpectedly, the demigods are less than thrilled to see
Apollo, afraid that his punishment is related to the disappearance of their
fellow campers.  On top of that, the
demigods are hindered by their inability to go on quests, thanks to the
disappearance of the Oracles, a problem to which Apollo turned a blind eye
prior to the war with Gaea.

It’s this disregard for which Apollo is being punished, and
it becomes apparent that the only way he can hope to regain his godliness is to
free his Oracles.  Of course, it won’t be
easy; an ancient foe has returned, and he’s spent the last few millennia
planning his revenge on Apollo and the rest of the gods.  Luckily, Apollo has the help of Meg and a few
famous demigod heroes to help him on his quest…assuming his mortality doesn’t
catch up with him first.


My Thoughts:

I’ve been a fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books from the very beginning.  I love the way he manages to breathe new life
into Greek mythology and make it relevant to today’s world.  The characters are great, the quests are
dangerously fun, and the stakes are always high.  Uncle Rick’s books have since expanded to
include Egyptian and Norse mythology, but the strong plot and fantastic
character development have never wavered.
In fact, as all of these mythologies have crossed and grown, each of the
series has become stronger, building this massive mythological world.

I have never been disappointed with one of Uncle Rick’s
books, which is why I’m a bit ashamed to say I was somewhat hesitant when The Trials of Apollo series was
announced.  We’ve already gotten two
series based in Greek mythology, and while both of those series are among my
all-time favorite books, I wasn’t sure we needed another one.  I mean, we just started in with Magnus Chase and
the Norse gods—let’s not throw too many gods and monsters with hard to
pronounce names at us at once.  Even the
prospect of seeing Percy and the old gang again wasn’t quite enough.  These weren’t their books, after all, so how
much were they really going to be included?

And to top it off, the main character of this series was
going to be Apollo, who wasn’t very high on my list of favorite Greek
gods.  Sure, he’d been a fun guy, but he
was also obnoxious and much too full of himself to be truly likeable.  And while I liked most of his descendants,
interactions with the god of music and archery in the past books were just as
likely to give me a headache as they were to make me laugh.  (Granted, most of the demigods had a pretty
similar opinion, so at least I was in good company.)

Regardless, I knew my lack of enthusiasm for Apollo wasn’t
going to keep me from eventually picking up The
Hidden Oracle
, the first book in the new series.  And honestly, once I’d read a few reviews
that assured me that Uncle Rick hadn’t suddenly lost his touch, I was pretty
excited to start reading.  Thankfully, The Hidden Oracle did not disappoint.

At least for me.
Apollo is plenty disappointed, as he’s been turned into a mortal (one
unfortunately named Lester Papadopoulos) and banished to Earth.  This isn’t the first time Zeus has stripped
Apollo of his godly powers, but it is the first time things started going wrong
so quickly.  The interaction with the
thugs was pretty funny, although Apollo’s pretentiousness immediately began to
grate on my nerves.  I was almost glad
that he got a beat down, at least in that it pulled Apollo’s head out of the
clouds pretty quick regarding his godliness.
Or lack thereof, in this case.

The beat-down was also the perfect opportunity to introduce
Meg, the twerpy, fashioned-challenged street girl who just so happens to be a
demigod.  It was obvious from the start
that Meg was powerful, but I was too busy laughing at how much she irritated
Apollo to really think much about it.
And then she claimed Apollo’s servitude, which I saw coming a mile away,
but still liked.  It would’ve been
interesting to see what would’ve happened if Apollo had been claimed by Percy,
but this wasn’t Percy’s book, so I was glad that Apollo was stuck with Meg.

Percy’s reaction to seeing Apollo is priceless, but he’s
too good of a guy to send the ex-god packing.
I was so glad to see Sally again—she’s always been an amazing woman and
mother, and she really proves it here as she handles Meg and Apollo without
batting an eye.  (And she’s
pregnant!!  I’m already flashing forward
to seeing Percy’s baby sister in the upcoming books.)  Percy, on the other hand, is still the snarky
guy I’d come to love, but he’s gotten more serious thanks to Annabeth’s
influence.  He offers to get Apollo and
Meg to Camp Half-Blood, but says he can’t get any more involved because he has
to study.  It was great to see how Percy’s
love for Annabeth pushed him to do better in school, just as it was great to
see that he still wasn’t influenced by Apollo’s promise of glory.  Percy never wanted to be a famous demigod
hero; he just wanted to do the right thing and keep people safe regardless of
the reward.  And seriously, he’d already
turned down immortality; I doubt Apollo could’ve offered him anything
grander than that.

So the three head off to camp, and of course, things don’t
end up being as easy as they expected.
The trio is attacked by plague spirits—a new monster for him, Percy
notes—and Meg displays some powerful peach-related abilities to save the
day.  At this point, I became a little suspicious
of Meg.  She obviously had a pretty strong
godly parent—I was already guessing Demeter—and yet she’d survived on the
streets alone without being bothered by monsters.  It didn’t really add up for me, but then it
was Meg, who dressed like a traffic
light and wanted baby cows, so I figured, really, how likely was it that she
was hiding anything more than a bad home life?

Gut instincts, Jordan.
Trust ‘em.

More on that later, though.
Meg and Apollo make it to CHB, and Apollo meets all of his
children.  I liked that Will Solace was
the one to try to nurse Apollo back to health, since it had already been
established that Will had inherited his father’s medical skills.  Will also discovers that, aside from
accelerated healing, Apollo is truly mortal, which makes everything a bit more
dangerous.  Apollo takes the news as well
as he’s been taking everything else on Earth—that is, not well—before meeting with his old buddy Chiron, who tells him of
the disappearances around the camp and the loss of the Oracles.

It was pretty obvious that freeing
the Oracles was going to be what Apollo has to accomplish before he can return to
being a god.  The Oracles are Apollo’s
responsibility, and their capture, subsequently leading to the war with Gaea,
is what Zeus is punishing him for.
Unfortunately for Apollo, the big heroes aren’t around at the moment to
help him with this task.  Most of the
seven are off at Camp Jupiter, although Annabeth is in Boston dealing with a
family emergency (Magnus, obviously, meaning that MC&tGoA is taking place basically simultaneously with this
series) and Leo is still missing.  On top
of that, it’s winter, and most campers don’t stay at CHB year-round.

That doesn’t mean that the current
campers aren’t great.  I loved the Nike
sisters, who always have to one-up the other, Julie Feengold and Alice Miyazawa,
who have taken it upon themselves to replace the Stoll brothers, Harley, a son
of Hephaestus who’s been searching for his lost brother, and Kayla and Austin,
two other children of Apollo skilled in archery and music, respectively.  The interactions between Apollo and his
children were rather awkward at first, but as Apollo began to come to terms
with his mortality, a real bond began to form.
Despite the lack of the vast majority of his godly abilities, Apollo
retains his skill in music, although his human body can’t quite handle the
musical greatness, and it was this skill and the slow deflating of his ego that
allowed Apollo, Austin, and Kayla to bond.

Will pretty much bonded with
Apollo from the start, as he handled the ex-god’s treatment.  Although he’s tough, Will is naturally a
happy-go-lucky guy, and this really stood out in his interactions with
Nico.  These two were really the best
part of being at camp.  I was beyond
excited to see them again, and I was glad that Solangelo was totally as adorkable
as all my headcanons between The Blood of
Olympus
and now had guessed.
Seriously, these two dorks had some of the best lines of the book, and
they worked perfectly together.  Nico’s
indifference to gore and dismemberment make him perfect to help Will with his
doctoring, and Will’s medical skills help him take care of Nico when he’s being
reckless.  They’re total opposites, just
like Percy and Annabeth, and just like Percabeth, they go together like
rama-lama-lama.

It’s a testament to Uncle Rick’s
writing skills that he manages to fit so many great relationships in between
all the action and adventure.  In the
midst of all the craziness and mayhem that could only happen at CHB, we find out
that Meg is in fact a daughter of Demeter and a powerful one at that, as we’ve
seen all along.  Her prestigious parentage
and potent abilities are a bit of a parallel to Percy, but at least Percy had Annabeth
to help him along.  Poor Meg is stuck
with the bumbling Apollo as they enter the Labyrinth for a crazy scavenger hunt
and end up in Delphi, where the Oracle has been captured by the great serpent,
Python.  While there, the pair discover
that one of the men working to capture the Oracles is not only the same man
that appeared in Apollo’s dreams, but is also a fierce, terrible man named the
Beast.

Not in the ‘Beauty and the’ sense,
either.  No, at least that Beast had some
redeeming qualities.  This Beast is part
of the Triumvirate, a trio of men who have been working behind the scenes for
years to fund and generally further all the major conflicts that have occurred
in both Percy Jackson and the Olympians and
The Heroes of Olympus.  Meg also knows and fears the Beast, as he
was the one who killed her father, and it was only her stepfather’s training
that kept her from the same fate.  And if
that’s not bad enough, Apollo finally manages to put the pieces together and
figures out the Beast’s true identity: the Roman emperor Nero.  Turns out that Nero and the other two members
of the Triumvirate copied the gods and found a way to survive on the worship
and offerings of others.  Well, I say ‘survive;’
really, these guys are stuck between life and death, which, frankly, makes them
even scarier.  Nero was a terrible person
in ancient times, what with his penchant for feeding people to wild animals or using
them as human torches.  (Although he
apparently didn’t do the whole fiddle playing thing.  Still doesn’t make up for everything else.)

And who is he planning on using to
light up his next party?  The missing
campers, of course, who were lured into the forest by the last free Oracle, a
grove of trees known as Dodona.  Dodona
has stayed locked up tight and thus remains free, much to Nero’s dismay.  The former emperor has been trying a
multitude of tricks to get into the ancient grove, and each time he attacked,
the tress called for help.  Demigods from
CHB answered the call, only to be captured by Nero.  It was a play that managed to both succeed
and fail; Nero knows that he needs Apollo and Meg, with their respective ties
to the Oracles and to the trees themselves, to get into Dodona, and what better
way to get them to come than to threaten the lives of their friends and families?  It’s a standard villain plan, but it works
for Nero, as Meg and Apollo come to the rescue…

Only for Apollo to discover that
Meg has been working for Nero the entire time.
In Meg’s defense, she believes that Nero and the Beast are basically Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; the Beast is the one who killed her father, but Nero is
her beloved stepfather, who trained her to fight and gave her her freedom.  I felt so bad for Meg at this point.  It was obvious she thought she was doing the
right thing, but she begins to doubt Nero when he decides that Dodona can’t be
controlled and must be burned.  She wants
to fight back, but she’s terrified to bring out the Beast, believing that any
death and destruction he would inflict would be her fault.  Torn, she flees, leaving Apollo to free the
demigods and defeat Nero.  Astoundingly,
with some quick thinking and a temporary return of hid godlike powers, Apollo
manages both, leaving Nero to retreat with an ominous warning.

It doesn’t take long to discover
what he’s talking about.  Apollo realizes
that the second part of Nero’s plan is the destruction of CHB, and the demigods
race back to camp in time to help fight the battle against Nero’s giant automaton.  With some ingenuity, some fancy waterworks
from Percy, and the advice of a talking arrow, the campers manage to defeat the
robot.  And they don’t simply stop the
thing, they behead it, thanks to
Apollo’s enchanted plague arrow and a bad case of hay fever.  I laughed at the statue sneezing its head
off.  Demigods—and now ex-gods—always manage
to find the most creative ways to defeat their enemies.  Of course, the unexpected result is that
everyone else in camp gets sick, too, but at least it’s only hay fever.  Everyone should be glad Apollo didn’t have
the power to get worse than that.

But the sniffling and sneezing is
largely forgotten with the unexpected return of Leo, Calypso, and Festus.  The three had followed Harley’s signal, which
they’d finally managed to pick up thanks to Apollo’s tuning adjustments, and
they’re just in time to take Apollo on his quest to free the remaining Oracles,
as was foretold in one of Dodona’s prophecies.
I loved Leo’s homecoming.  He took
everyone’s punches with his typical humor and charm and still managed to catch
up with everyone in between throws.  I
also liked the subtle but obvious closeness between himself and Calypso, whom I
was glad to see again.  There was
potential for some real awkwardness with Calypso and Percy and with Calypso and
Apollo, but the former Titaness has changed since she last saw either of the guys.  She’s willingly left her island,
her immortality, and her powers to live the way and with the people she
chooses, and I got the feeling that the new Calypso is too busy enjoying her
new life to hold grudges.

The change in Calypso made for an
interesting contrast with Apollo, who didn’t choose his mortality and who has been
rather unhappy with his situation.
However, like Calypso, he’s begun to make the best of his new
circumstances, and he’s already changed quite a bit from the boy he was when he
woke up in that filthy alley.  He’s learned
to depend on others and how to deal with his weaknesses while still utilizing
his (diminished but still present) strengths.
Most importantly, though, he’s learned to own up to his mistakes, and he’s
willing to do what needs to be done to fix them, even if his only motives at
the moment are to find Meg and regain his godhood.

I have a feeling his outlook on
mortality is going to change over the rest of the series, though.  I don’t know that Apollo would give up his
immortality to live his own life like Calypso did, but it will certainly be
interesting to see how being human further changes Apollo’s attitude and
priorities.  And it will be even more
interesting to see what trouble the ex-god, Leo, and Calypso find themselves in
as they seek out the rest of the Oracles and try to stop Nero and his buddies.

The Hidden Oracle isn’t my favorite opener of Uncle Rick’s series,
but it’s definitely a strong start to what promises to be a unique twist on an
already uniquely twisted take on Greek mythology.  The appearances of favorite characters from
the past are fun, but the new characters are just as great, managing to feel
both different and familiar.  The plot
ties together past events with a new threat, and having a mortal Apollo as the
main character provides a different POV full of annoyed frustration and
pleasant self-discovery.  The quest for
the Oracles won’t be easy, but I have no doubt this new crew of heroes can pull
it off and save the day once again.

So if you’re a fan of any other of
Uncle Rick’s books or if you’re simply a fan of Greek mythology, The Hidden Oracle provides plenty of
action, humor, and suspense with its history lessons.  Check it out today…or Apollo may have to
smite you once he returns to Olympus.  


Stray Thoughts and Observations: 

  • Apollo’s done a lot of crappy things, but hey, at least he
    wasn’t responsible for the Black Death.
  • The haiku ‘chapter titles’ are great.  I love the throwback to the old, goofy titles
    with an Apollo twist.
  • Another sentient grove of trees.  Apparently I can’t get away from them.  (See last month’s review.)

Favorite Lines:

  • “Yep,” Percy agreed.
    “That pretty much describes my entire life: Because Poseidon.”
  • “You know, I keep thinking, I have now killed every single thing in Greek mythology.  But the list never seems to end.”
  • “Use the buddy system.”
    “Understood.”  Will looked at
    Nico.  “Will you be my buddy?”  “You are a dork,” Nico announced.
  • Nico smiled thinly.
    “I have a note from my doctor.”
    Will raised his hand.  “I’m his
    doctor.”
  • “…Nico is going to pass out any second.”  “No, I’m not,” Nico complained, then passed
    out.  Will caught him in a fireman’s
    carry and took him away.  “Good
    luck.  I’m going to get the Lord of
    Darkness here some Gatorade.”
  • “That’s the nice thing about being human.  We only have one life, but we can choose what
    kind of story it’s going to be.”
  • “Exactly,” Leo said.
    “Fun.  I don’t know about calling
    the whole quest thing Apollo’s trials,
    though.  I think we should call it Leo Valdez’s Victory Lap World Tour.”  

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