Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
In March 2013, we asked YOU for your favorite old school suggestions – and the response was so overwhelmingly awesome, we decided to compile a goodreads shelf, an ongoing database, AND a monthly readalong/book club.
This month, we tackle the fourth in Rick Riordan’s much beloved Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Battle of the Labyrinth .
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Contemporary/Urban Fantasy, Middle Grade, Greek Mythology, Reimaginings
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books
Publication date: First published 2009 (this edition 2014)
Paperback: 361 pages
Percy Jackson isn’t expecting freshman orientation to be any fun. But when a mysterious mortal acquaintance appears on campus, followed by demon cheerleaders, things quickly move from bad to worse.
In this fourth installment of the blockbuster series, time is running out as war between the Olympians and the evil Titan lord Kronos draws near. Even the safe haven of Camp Half-Blood grows more vulnerable by the minute as Kronos’s army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders. To stop the invasion, Percy and his demigod friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth – a sprawling underground world with stunning surprises at every turn.
Stand alone or series: Fourth book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
How did we get this book: Bought + Review Copy from the Publisher.
Why did we read this book: Because we’re big Percy Jackson fans, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of Percy Jackson and the Oylmpians series! As part of the festivities, we’re happy recipients of the following very cool Camp Half Blood survival pack, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.
We’ll be posting reviews of the entire original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series over the next three months, plus some other goodies. Check HERE (or #ReadRiordan) to get all of the Percy Jackson goodness.
Format (e- or p-): Print
WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for books 1-3 in the Percy Jackson series. If you haven’t read those books, and you would like to remain unspoiled, look away.
In this fourth instalment of the Percy Jackson series, Rick Riordan takes the words “fast paced” and “deus ex machina” to another level and I finally realise what is keeping me from loving this series.
The Battle of the Labyrinth starts and ends just like all the other Percy books: Percy attends new school, gets into trouble, goes back to Camp Half-Blood. Shenanigans ensue, a new quest starts, things level-up. The formula works for the most part here and according to expectation: the characters are lovable, the action is non-stop, and the impeding sense of doom is felt throughout. The addition of new mythological characters – especially the mysterious Daedalus and the Labyrinth – are welcome and well done as ever. I was particularly pleased at how the author played around with the idea of how heroes and heroines are able to navigate through the Labyrinth not because of Ariadne’s string but because of Ariadne herself, as a mortal. This goes back to the previous book in the series and the introduction of a mysterious new mortal character who comes back in this fourth book with a major role to play. And if Grover and his quest for the god Pan ended up feeling more educational than sensational, well, at least the idea behind the whys and hows is kinda neat.
In this entry we finally see Annabeth going on her own quest but it pained me to see how it ends up being all about Percy and a bunch of dei ex machina developments that made the quest less of a journey and more like “stumbling into the next contrived plot point”. And I know that part of this fits the mythos narrative with its liberal amounts of dei ex machina – hey, the term itself was invented by the Greeks who used it liberally in their own tragedies. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, especially when things happen by accident rather than purpose (take Percy cleaning the stables for example: what in that whole scene reads as “agency”? Nothing at all).
This brings me to my main point here. The Battle of the Labyrinth is where I finally realised why I haven’t fallen head over heels in love with the series and why most of my reviews so far have been more lacklustre than completely enthusiastic about it. Because this particular book feels so very rushed, with the kids running from peril to peril, getting thrown into situations where they get off super easily. None of the possibly dramatic moments really do stick as emotional punches because they haven’t been earned as the hasty developments end up resulting in superficiality. This hit me really hard at the moment in the plot where Percy meets Calypso.
Calypso: the immortal nymph from the Odyssey who is thousands of years old and who falls in insta-love with Percy Jackson, 14 year-old boy only to have to sacrifice her love for his greater good.
The Titan’s Curse was my favourite book in the series to that point because it not only introduced new female characters but also because it made the story fully theirs. Here, it feels like we take a step back and for most of the book whenever we have a major female character appear, they are falling in love with Percy, then squabbling with each other. It is tiresome (even if I admit there is some fun to be had with Percy being a clueless fool). With the Calypso storyline both the rushed element I noted above and the introduction of a love quadrangle (if the Percy-Annabeth-Rachel Elizabeth was not enough) fuse to create a plotline that is not only unpalatable but also completely unnecessary.
Another main problem I have is that years (at least two) have passed since the beginning of the series and everybody just sounds the same, especially the title character himself, who still sounds 12. And if one more adult character refers to Percy as “Percy, my boy”, I will punch things.
I know it probably sounds as though I hated the book but I didn’t. It’s fun and readable but it is my least favourite entry so far, by a mile. Bring on the last book!
Oh, but I disagree.
The fourth and penultimate book in the Percy Jackson series, The Battle of the Labyrinth brings all of the tensions and drama of the first three books to a head and culminates in the rebirth of Lord Vold– er, Kronos. (I can’t help but draw the inevitable Harry Potter connections, so bear with me.) If The Titan’s Curse was the Azkaban of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians universe, then The Battle of the Labyrinth is totally The Goblet of Fire version–we have a ton of nonstop action and peril, secrets and reveals and deceptions, the introduction of new vital characters, and the rebirth of a certain Dark Lord that threatens life as Percy and his friends know it. It’s the action book of the series, ending with a grand battle and preparing for THE final battle–and for all of those reasons, I dearly loved this book.
That said, The Battle of the Labyrinth isn’t a perfect book, and I admit there are significant issues and irritations–primarily, the “every girl LOOOOOVES Percy” trope, which is eyeroll-inducing and slightly nauseating. (Although I do agree with Ana that Percy’s absolute cluelessness about the girls who are into him is kind of hilarious and more endearing than annoying.) I also am not happy with Annabeth’s quest becoming all about Percy, and the way she is portrayed when Rachel Elizabeth Dare comes into the picture–but despite the romantic shenanigans, I was very happy to see other characters get their chance to shine. Annabeth is my favorite character of the series, and I love how she stands up for what is right and wise, even in the face of certain danger and unpopularity–Percy acknowledges this too in one of my favorite parts of the story:
Annabeth stood still as a statue. She could’ve said thank you. She could’ve promised to throw some barbecue on the brazier […] and forget the whole thing. But she clenched her jaw stubbornly. She looked just the way she had when she’d faced the Sphinx–like she wasn’t going to accept an easy answer, even if it got her in serious trouble. I realized that was one of the things I liked best about Annabeth.
The same goes for another now-recurring character, Rachel Elizabeth Dare. I love the importance placed on not just the demi-gods and immortals in this story, but also the focus on humans and mortal sight (and those humans affected by the machinations of the gods, monsters, and their champions)–the parallels between Love Rachel Elizabeth Dare and to Ariadne in the maze (or even to Percy’s mother) are awesome. The fact that the success of the mission lies not solely with a demigod, or granted magical powers or abilities, but a clear-sighted human, is a fantastic twist and interpretation of a classic Greek myth.
Also on the related character front, and completely unrelated to potential love interests for Percy, I love the developments in this penultimate novel. I reveled in seeing Grover coming into his own in this book and achieving his major quest for Pan; I was thrilled to read Tyson’s interactions with others that weren’t pitying because he’s a homeless teenage cyclops, but instead relationships that embrace him as a vital member of the quest. Tyson’s interactions with Hephaestus and the young cylcopes belief in forgotten lesser gods (like Briareos) are wonderful interactions in this book, and show a different side to the shining value of beauty and honor we’ve seen so far from the Olympians and their sired children. And speaking of related characters and other sides, this novel painfully and beautifully captures the struggle that Nico faces and the embitterment he feels because of his heritage as a son of Hades (and, frankly, how ostracized he is by others because no one likes the underworld), and the loss of his sister.
And then, of course, there’s Percy’s hero arc–and of the subsequent god from the machine type interactions that follow. I would argue that while The Battle of the Labyrinth does engage in fitting deus ex machina type interventions, the underlying cause for those interventions are what make the series so great (or why we read Greek mythology to begin with). In Greek tragedies and myths, certain themes and motifs appear over and over again: war is inevitable, love is often unrequited and almost always leads to tragedy, and, most importantly, no hero or god can ever escape their fate. Sure, things may be delayed or the path to that end destination may vary–but the oracles, the seers, the fates, and their prophecies all come true. And, often times, the acts of heroism or evil a character undertakes to prevent or change their fate ironically are the very acts that seal said fate.
In the Percy Jackson books–particularly in The Battle of the Labyrinth–we see that fate is inevitable, though Annabeth and Percy (and Nico) struggle against their prophecies. But more important than inevitability and railing against it (like Luke), or giving up and accepting fate morosely (like the Hundred-Handed One), we see the power of belief in oneself and in others to make a difference on the path to that fate. It’s actually a nice metaphor for growing up, really. One of the things I love so much in this series, as Ana and I have talked about before, is the way the book questions authority. Sometimes you cannot believe your parents or those in power, just because you’ve been told to believe them. Similarly, Percy and his friends cannot blindly put their faith in the gods and parents who have abandoned, absconded, or otherwise ignored their children. Daedalus’s arc shows us this even more clearly with his own betrayal, as does Hera’s meddling, or the treatment of young Nico.
Instead of just believing in the Gods, this series is about actively questioning the status quo–we see this from Luke and his vendetta against the his father and Olympus, to Percy and his allegiance to his friends and his family. This is the reason why Percy is so successful, why Grover achieves his quest, why Tyson is so vital in this book, and how the mortal, Rachel fits in. (It’s also, for example, why Harry Potter is able to defeat Voldemort despite insurmountable odds.)
Love, acceptance, and belief. That’s a theme worth fighting for–and certainly one of my favorite ongoing things about this series.
Bring it on, book 5.
Ana: 5 – Meh
Thea: 7 – Very Good