The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Rick Riordan knows what his readers want - drama worthy of the gods, action-comedy like nobody's business, a smartass narrator, and characters you've just gotta love.
This time, he's delivering something a little different - not a teenage mortal discovering their true calling as a hero, but an age-old god, brought down to normal and forced to slowly overcome his superficial tendencies as he discovers a new unearthly conspiracy to bring down the worlds of humans and gods alike.
Apollo doesn't remember what it was he did to Zeus to make him mad, but whatever it is, it must have been really bad to merit him being cast down into mortal Manhattan in the body of a perfectly unassuming Greek-American teenager. He's been stripped of most of his powers (although his poetic wit remains intact enough to allow him to compose humorous haikus that preface each chapter) and most of his good looks - a lot of the laughs in the early chapters lies in his overreaction to discovering that his mortal-teenager meat suit is plagued with acne scars and flab as opposed to eight-pack abs.
Never let it be said that the gods are perfect, though. After reading the book, it's easy to understand just how much the others in the pantheon have hurt Apollo over the centuries. From him and Artemis not at all seeing eye to eye (I wonder how much of that has to do with her apparently being a "womb-hog"), to various gods getting petty revenge on him by destroying those he's loved, it's no wonder that, when Zeus punishes him now, he's so devastated over what he's become. He's learned by now that other gods have a way of treating him with malicious intent.
I've seen a few people complain that Uncle Rick's a "sellout" now because all his books go back to the classic-mythology well, and he's always writing more and more stories with the same characters he first presented way back in 2005. But I disagree - every new Riordan series brings something different, some fresh new spin on the formula. The Trials of Apollo brings perhaps the freshest spin yet, putting us in the mind of a god - even if he narrates uncannily like Percy or Magnus would (though with more juvenile and/or groan-worthy jokes because he's a dad, so he's free to make dad jokes like there's no tomorrow.)
Flawed Apollo may be, but because he doesn't lose his sense of humor, he's still quite engaging. It helps, of course, that he's surrounded by a game supporting cast, including new young demigod Meg, Percy Jackson himself (who helps get Apollo and Meg to Camp Half-Blood and gets infected by a plague demon for his trouble), the two halves of the popular Solangelo ship (I didn't feel much chemistry between them when they were introduced as a couple in The Blood of Olympus, but now they've been together long enough to show how well they work as a couple), a deadly new villain who's indicated to be responsible for the rises of Kronos and Gaea both, and right at the end, a returning favorite of mine who, I feel, really got the shaft at the end of Heroes of Olympus.
For sure, I'll be reading the rest of this series eagerly - especially now that that old favorite of mine has come back at last.
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