This book illustrates, once again, why Rick Riordan is such a fantastic writer and was voted Author of the Year by the Children’s Book Council. Riordan has created a new series that is similar (and even in a few ways related) to the Percy Jackson series while being unique enough to stand on its own. While Percy Jackson follows the Greek (and now Roman) gods, The Kane Chronicles uses Egyptian gods, come back to life in the Twenty-First century.
Taking place some months after the events of The Red Pyramid, other kids with magical capabilities have answered Sadie and Carter Kane’s call for help. They now have about twenty trainees who are studying magic and the path to tapping into the ancient Egyptian gods. And if that wasn’t enough responsibility, they have five days to save the world before Apophis, God of Chaos, breaks free from his cage and plunges the world in the darkness.
The strengths of this series are mostly in the personal stories and relationships involved. Sadie and Carter have a complicated history of growing up apart and partially envying one another’s lives. Carter spent most of his time traveling with their father while Sadie was raised in England with their grandparents. Their relationship, complicated and argument-fraught, is believable and touching. It is easy to forget that the pair are so young (Sadie 13 and Carter 14), but their constant bickering and penchant for acting impulsively and rashly keeps us from forgetting that they have been given the weight of the world at such a young age, whether they want it or not.
I found Sadie and Carter’s relationship troubles a little less interesting. Sadie is torn between two older guys, Walt, one of her trainees who is sixteen, and Apophis, the five thousand year old god of the dead. Part of the problem is that I felt uninvested in Sadie and Walt’s relationship since it came out of nowhere, whereas we saw her feelings for Apophis develop over the course of book one. We didn’t see Walt and Sadie’s first meeting or any of their interactions. Our first introduction to their relationship is Sadie being jealous when he talks to another girl. Meanwhile Carter is obsessed with finding Zia, the girl he fell for who may or may not remember him. This relationship is more compelling but Carter’s behavior is frustrating–he literally puts his sister at risk, not to mention the world, just to search for her.
The combination of gods and real life is not as smoothly done in this series as in the Percy Jackson world (I would love a crossover series at some point!) but it is still intriguing. Knowing less about the Egyptian gods than the Greek ones, it takes a little more explaining and details for me to understand all the backstory. Where Percy has the mist to keep regular mortals from seeing magic, there is no such protection in the Kane Chronicles. The weapons and training are a bit clumsier–less physical and more spell-based–and seem to almost be luck-based. If they’re lucky enough to dig up the right potion or instrument in their bag they may be able to defend themselves but nothing ever seems quite good enough and more often than not they need a God to protect them. If you pitted the Kanes and their friends against Percy and his friends, it seems unlikely that the Kanes would win.
One of the other strengths for me is the humor. This is the first time I can remember actually laughing out loud while reading a book (not even Tina Fey’s book had me laugh like that). Rick Riordan does an excellent job with witty, sarcastic dialogue. (I find the sibling arguments less funny and more annoying but it is still believable and appropriate so I have no real complaint about it.)
The biggest problem I have about this series is its format, which is a recording that Sadie and Carter make after everything happens. The very nature of this format (much like when a story is written in journal/diary form and even the first person in general) is that there is absolutely no suspense. We know for a fact that nothing can happen to our protagonists because they have clearly lived to record the tale afterwords. Every time they’re in a life threatening situation, the danger and excitement is lessened by the knowledge that they have obviously succeeded or at the very least survived. If we had the story from only one siblings’ perspective it would be an entirely different story but it would allow for the possibility that one of them did not make it through. (This is just me though–I do not like that format as a general rule, much in the same way that I dislike voice overs in TV and movies.)
I love Riordan and can’t wait for his next book, Son of Neptune.