The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan

Of Gods and Demigods

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 9.46.23 PMRick Riordan has done it again. Diving right back into the modern day mythical world featuring the Greek and Roman gods and their demigod children, Riordan gives us a new treat: instead of following a demigod, we get insight into the mind of the god Apollo. What’s brilliant about this series is that until now, we have only ever gotten the perspectives of the demigods who feel abandoned and ignored by their parents, the Greek and Roman gods. Now we get a sense of what it means to be an immortal being–why don’t they spend more time and attention on their children? What does time and history mean for them if they cannot die? Does love mean something different when you have lived thousands of years and loved many people? Riordan jumps right in to all these questions and adds a few more for good measure.

Punished for his part in the events of Riordan’s previous series, The Heroes of Olympus, Zeus casts Apollo out of Olympus and turns him mortal. Apollo wakes up in a dumpster on Earth as a sixteen-year-old acne-faced boy with nowhere to go and no clear path forward. He no longer bleeds the golden ichor of the gods but instead bleeds the red of humans. He can’t eat ambrosia to heal and sustain himself and he most certainly can die. He lacks his abilities (like changing his shape and form or singing a song so emotionally that it moves people to tears) and has no real direction for how he can win back his father’s favor.

While on the streets of New York, he is rescued by the twelve-year-old demigod Meg. Together they find Percy Jackson and enlist his help in reaching Camp Half-Blood, a camp for demigods. Apollo hopes to find help there, but instead he finds the camp in need of help–all prophecy has stopped and campers are going missing. Maybe Apollo can put things to rights and prove himself to his father.

Riordan might have created his most interesting series yet. He makes Apollo arrogant and self-centered, normally traits that would make readers root against a character. But he manages to balance this arrogance with comedy and self-discovery. Apollo’s journey toward humanity makes him the type of hero you want to root for.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A Lesson in Style and Story

night circusThis story shouldn’t work. Third person, present tense, interspersed with the occasional second person chapters, lots of exposition, very little direct character interaction. According to every writing class I have ever taken, every article on writing I have ever read, every editorial report I have ever written, this novel should be a non-starter. And yet, Morgenstern has managed to create something magical. All these elements, normally a recipe for disaster, come together to create an atmosphere of mystery and enchanting.

The circus arrives in town with no warning. It has no schedule, no itinerary. Its customary black and white tents appear unexpectedly, its gates only open at night. Its tents and performers are as mysterious as its  presence. But the wishing tree, cloud maze, and garden of ice hide something more sinister.

Celia Bowen and Marco Alistair have been raised for one purpose: to compete against one another in a game of magic that will test their skills and wills. They don’t know the rules, who their opponents are, or even how a winner is determined, but still they must prove themselves for their masters. The arena: Le Cirque des Reves, the Circus of Dreams. What’s at stake is more than either can imagine.

Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a lesson in writing. This is what it means to develop a unique style and voice. This is what it means to know the rules so you can break them. Every writer should take note.

That’s not to say the book is perfect. I’m not convinced when it comes to the love story and sometimes the cast of characters is unwieldy, but these are minor quibbles to the reading overall experience.