This morning I was reading The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan out loud to my 7 year old daughter.
Like her sister before her, she is obsessed with Riordan’s series. I, too, am a huge fan. The pacing is perfect. The characters are smart, funny, and brave. The writing is great. But I’ve got a an issue with the books. As I always blog on Reel Girl, if the pattern in The Lost Hero were in just one book, or even half the books, it would not be a problem for me, or for my kids, or for kids in general. My problem is the repetition of the same old, same old in narrative after narrative after narrative. Read this passage and see if you can tell me what my objection to Riordan is:
“There’s four of us,” Hedge whispered urgently. “And only one of him.”
“Did you miss the fact that he’s thirty feet tall?” Leo asked.
“Okay,” Hedge said. “So, you, me and Jason distract him. Piper sneaks around and frees her dad.”
They all looked at Jason.
“What?” Jason said. “I’m not the leader.”
“Yes,” Piper said. “You are.”
They’d never really talked about it but no one disagreed, not even Hedge. Coming this far had been a team effort, but when it came to a life-and-death decision, Leo knew Jason was the one to ask. Even if he had no memory, Jason had a kind of balance to him. You could just tell he’d been in battles before, and he knew how to keep his cool. Leo wasn’t exactly the trusting type but he trusted Jason with his life.
My nine year old daughter is tearing through the Rick Riordan books for the third time. Third time. She’s obsessed. She reads them at breakfast and then in the car on the way to school. She’ll forget the book at school and beg me to go to the bookstore down the street and buy her another because she can’t imagine getting through the night without huddling under her covers, reading, with her flashlight. Of course, I refuse, so she calls up her seven year old cousin who is also addicted and asks to borrow it. She won’t give it up because she’s reading it.
Middle Grade experts recommended that I read Rick Riordan since I am writing an MG book and he has “perfect pacing.”
I read the first three and liked them very much. The characters and stories are compelling, and I’ve always loved Greek Mythology, though there is a challenge for female characters in a series based on legends of a patriarchy. That patriarchy is not something in the background but an integral part of the narrative. In the three books I read, there is a lot of talk about “the big three:” Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. When I blogged about Lightning Thief, I rated it ***H***.
There is a strong female character, Annabeth. It is striking how similar the gender ratio and relationships are to the Harry Potter series: two boys and a girl who are BFFs. This is the essence of the Minority Feisty set up: there is a girl and she is strong, so we can all sigh with relief, but she is not the protagonist. She helps the male on his quest.
I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, but but there are so many Riordan books, and so many covers. Let’s check them out and see what they have in common.
Next in the series is The Titan’s Curse and the cover shows a solo male astride a magical creature. It’s a beautiful, exciting image and a thrill females in the imaginary world rarely get to experience:
Battle of the Labyrinth:
The Last Olympian:
So that’s the first Riordan series: 5 books, 2 movies, male protag/ male star, male solo on 4 out of 5 books. Male’s name in the title every time. Once again, I am a fan of Riordan. These books are great. But just imagine your kids– girls and boys– getting the opportunity to read a fantasy series of 5 books with a female protag, her female BFF and male BFF helping her on her quest. And just to be clear, this series is the definition quest narrative.
Girls fare better in the Egypt series: The Red Pyramid is narrated by siblings Sadie and Carter. Though there are more males than females, there is another very cool female, Zia. I wish the book was all about her. The cover is good, too. Sadie makes it on, though behind Carter.
And now, my favorite Riordan cover: Throne of Fire.
The Serpent’s Shadow also has a pretty great cover:
The next Riordan series, Heroes of Olympus, goes back to the standard Minority Feisty imagery. Here’s the first cover. See those three on the cover? They are not Percy, Annabeth, and Gus. They are Jason, Piper, and Leo. Guess who the protag is?
In Son of Neptune, Percy is the protag again, and this time, his friends are Hazel and Frank. It’s remarkable how consistent, persistent, and repetitive the Minority Feisty model is in the imaginary world.
Are you ready for the next one, and this is the BEST one, really according to my daughter and her aunt: Mark of Athena. YAY. A female makes it into the title! There are 7 main characters in this one and 3 are female. Less than half, so still the Minority Feisty, but not a bad showing for the consistent sexism in fantasy kidworld, right? But check out the cover:
WTF? No girl riding a pegasus and the owl of Athena fading into the background. ARGH!