Background: It almost seems pointless for me to review The Battle of the Labyrinth. Anyone giving more than a passing attention to my blog knows that I am a huge fan of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. I love the way the books engage young readers, including formerly reluctant readers, and get them excited about reading. I love the way the books are filled with interesting facts about Greek mythology, but never feel even the tiniest bit like the author is lecturing. I love the well-developed characters, with their strengths and flaws and personality quirks. I love the humor of the chapter titles ("Nico Buys Happy Meals for the Dead" and "The Underworld Sends Me a Prank Call").
It would be difficult for one of the Percy Jackson books to disappoint me. I feel about them the same way I feel about the Harry Potter books - I care about the characters and I want to spend time in the world of the books. Each new book provides me with an opportunity to do that, and I wouldn't miss one for anything.
So, can I just say that the fourth Percy Jackson book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, lived up to my expectations? Can I tell you that it's a worthy penultimate chapter of the series, and is not to be missed by fans, and leave it at that? No? You want a real review? OK.
Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth is the fourth book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. For those new to the series, the premise is that the Greek gods, being immortal, are still around, and occasionally pair up with mortals to sire children. These children are called half-bloods, or demigods. They are mortal, in that they can die, but they also have special powers, which vary depending on which god was their parent. The half-bloods are constant targets of monsters, and lead perilous lives. Not many of them make it to adulthood at all. Fortunately, they do have a camp that they can go to during the summers, Camp Half-Blood, where they learn to harness their strengths, and live in relative safety.
The hero of the series is Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon. Percy, child of one of the three most powerful Gods (along with Zeus and Hades), lives in the shadow of a prophecy, and frequently finds himself at the center of the action. But he's an ordinary teenage boy in many ways, struggling with ADHD and dyslexia, and completely baffled by the ways of girls. His three best friends are Annabeth, daughter of Athena, Grover, an adolescent satyr, and Tyson, his half-brother, a cyclops. In this installment, Percy learns that the Labyrinth, the one with the Minotaur and Icarus and Daedalus, still exists, and has grown to stretch under the entire United States. The Labyrinth is organic, constantly shifting, and filled with perils. Percy's enemy, Luke (another half-blood, one gone to the dark side), has learned of an entrance from the Labyrinth into the previously safe camp. Once Luke can find his way through the Labyrinth, with his army of monsters, he plans to destroy the camp and then take on Olympus itself. Unless, of course, Percy and his friends can stop him.
This book features a nearly impossible quest, a dark prophecy, and constant danger. Percy and his friends must demonstrate courage, loyalty, and their own unique strengths to make it through the Labyrinth. Not to worry, though. There's also humor, and a bit of a side plot concerning Percy's love life. Rachel Elizabeth Dare, a mortal girl who can see through the mist (which normally keeps humans from seeing monsters, or understanding what's going on with the demigods), had a brief appearance in the third Percy Jackson book. In this installment (as hinted at by the author in my interview with him) she plays a more major role, adding a mortal's eye perspective while also creating tension in Percy's relationship with Annabeth.
The thing I love most about this series is the juxtaposition of humorous, self-deprecating teen voice with big picture philosophical issues. For example, in one scene in this book, Percy and Annabeth meet Hera, Queen of Heaven, wife of Zeus. Hera explains:
"You see, in times of trouble, even gods can lose faith. they start putting their trust in the wrong things, petty things. They stop looking at the big picture and start being selfish. But I'm the god of marriage, you see. I'm used to perseverance. You have to rise above the squabbling and chaos, and keep believing. You have to always keep your goals in mind." (Page 105)
This is in contrast to various remarks by Percy, throughout the book, like:
"If you've never been charged by an enthusiastic Cyclops wearing a flowered apron and rubber cleaning gloves, I'm telling you, it'll wake you up quick." (Page 33)
"Tyson and I spend the afternoon catching up and just hanging out, which nice after a morning of getting attached by demon cheerleaders." (Page 35)
And then, of course, there's the very first line of the book: "The last thing I wanted to do on my summer break was blow up another school." Who could resist that opener?
So, you have humor, combined with both mythological information and the imparting of wisdom. This is layered on top of a fast-paced plot, one with heavy use of foreshadowing and suspense, that keeps the reader turning the pages. I felt that the characterization was particularly strong in this fourth book, even of relatively minor characters. Grover has a new girlfriend, a tree nymph named Juniper. At one point, asked about when she noticed something, Juniper says: "I don't know. I don't pay attention to time." Tyson, Percy's not-too-bright but mechanically talented brother, tinkers with metal scraps when he has difficulty sleeping, and apologizes to a sacred cow that he startles. You definitely get the feeling that Rick Riordan knows all of these characters intimately, not just the half-bloods, and that when it makes sense, he reinforces their personalities to the reader.
This is a book that young readers will devour in a few sittings, but that will also leave them wondering. How will Percy and his friends take on Luke and Kronos in the final chapter? Will Rachel be back? Where will Nico, son of Hades, stand when the chips are down? Will Percy ever wise up to the fact that Annabeth is acting weird because she is jealous? And perhaps it will leave them thinking about some big-picture stuff, too. What are we as a civilization doing to the wilderness (a major concern of Grover's in the book)? If you were in Percy's shoes, would you have made the decision that he made 2/3 of the way through the book? (No spoilers here, if you've read the book, you'll know what I mean). Is Annabeth right to retain some scraps of loyalty toward Luke, who was her friend when they were young?
In short, I would rate this as essential reading for fans of the series. And I'll also add that for readers 10 and up, if you haven't read the series, you really should. But start at the beginning, with The Lightning Thief, so that you can learn and grow with Percy Jackson and the Olympians. And by the time you get to The Battle of the Labyrinth, I'm sure that you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Which is, tremendously.
Publication Date: May 6, 2008
Source of Book: Bought it and had it signed at Hicklebee's (notes about the signing here)
Other Blog Reviews: Kevin's Corner, Becky's Book Reviews, Lesa's Book Critiques, Boys Rule Boys Read!, Book Dweeb, Turning the Paige, Book Nut
Author Interviews: My WBBT interview from last year, Miss Erin interview from March of 2007
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.