YA fantasy reviews–one new, one classic

Two more brief book reviews from this past week.

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan is the latest in the “Heroes of Olympus” series, which continues to follow Percy Jackson and his friends in their many quests that generally involve saving the world.  The seven demigods of the prophecy have finally come together to battle Gaea and her minions.  The book is narrated by four of them: Percy, Annabeth, Leo, and Piper.  Riordan does really well covering all of the seven main characters (he has pretty much only done trios so far), so no one is left out, but it does make for a fairly long book with many subplots.  I loved the development of relationships in the group: how Percy and Jason work together, Leo and Hazel’s “backstory,” Piper and Jason continuing to figure things out, and some sweet moments with Percy and Annabeth.  As always, the book is action-packed from the beginning, and the (literal) cliffhanger ending sets up beautifully for the next installment.  Too bad we have to wait another year!

I cannot say enough about how fun Riordan is to read.  He writes contemporary teenage slang beautifully, with pop culture references thrown in here and there for some unexpected laughs.  The bases of his mythological references are solid, which most nerds can appreciate, but he then adds modern twists on top of that.  This book is no exception–Narcissus’s YouTube videos of himself, Diet Pepsi tributes to Bacchus, Gregory Peck on a Vespa, and a cornucopia that spits out various groceries all figure prominently.  His books can really appeal to a wide demographic, from high school boys to Classics scholars. 4.5/5 stars

Beast by Donna Jo Napoli is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, from the Beast’s perspective.  Oddly, I thought I had certainly read this book already, for a seminar in college about children’s fantasy lit.  Turns out, I definitely did not!  I love fairly tale retellings, but while I liked this book, it was not so “fun” to read, and it is not my favorite BatB retelling.  For the Beast’s POV, I prefer Beastly by Alex Flinn (which is nicely modernized, too).

The Beast starts out as a prince in Muslim Persia, but is then transformed in a lion, for a reason I did not find particularly convincing.  But I guess fairies don’t need to be fair.  As a lion, he struggles to retain his human mind and morals as he gives in to his animal urges and instincts. While the dichotomy is interesting, there are also stark descriptions of lion bodily functions, including arousal and defecation,  which I found a little off-putting (note: this is not for young children), but I suppose that was the point.  Napoli tends to go to the darker side of fairy tales, which I enjoyed in Zel and others.

The lion prince ends up in France, because I guess that’s where Belle has to live.  I liked Belle’s character a lot–she is good-hearted and brave, but also scared and a little stubborn.  We know the story from here, but it’s still a nice journey.  The ending is fairly sudden, with basically no falling action.  I loved all the cultural references in Persia, India, and France, but sometimes it felt like half of the text on a page was italicized, and I ending up skipping over a lot of the descriptions/definitions. 3/5 stars

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