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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles #1) by Rick Riordan

Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

Released: May 4th 2010       Pages: 516
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion   Source: Library
First Look: ***** I had mixed feelings about this, even before I read it. I love Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and I like Heroes of Olympus.  Even so, I had heard that the Kane Chronicles are not up to par with Riordan's other series.  I wanted so badly to love this, but I had my reservations right from the start.
Setting: ***** It's close to the spunky, chaotic, strangely entertaining god-filled modern world of Percy Jackson, but it lacks a bit of sparkle.  I'm not sure how to definite what it lacks, but there's something missing.  Part of the reason I love the Percy Jackson series is that it manages to incorporate Greek gods in a way that blends with the modern world, while at the same time clashing with it and making it seem...well, boring.  The gods and mythological creatures in The Red Pyramid aren't as clever or funny as I'm used to from Riordan.  They lack depth and uniqueness, which makes the entire worldbuilding fall a bit short of the mark.

Also, I wish the magic system made more sense.  I'll grant that the demigods' powers in PJO and HoO are loosely defined, but there is at least some semblance of a rule system.  I didn't get this sense from this book.  Sadie and Carter develop their powers rapidly and sometimes inexplicably, and I just wish there was a bit more logic to it.
Characters: ***** Sadie does not come across as a realistic almost-thirteen-year-old. She's too stereotypical in her personality and way of speaking.  Her constant annoyance with her older brother got on my nerves.  It felt forced and unnatural.  I grew to like her more as the book progressed, but I wished the focus had been on making her a realistic person, not an authentic teenager.  (Yes, there is a difference.)

I had an easier time connected to Carter, for whatever reason.  His need to protect his younger sister is believable and relatable.  His relationship with his father has depth, and it makes him slightly more compelling than his sister, even if he is a bit of a Gary Stu.  Still, I think that the next books in the series will develop both of these characters further, possibly addressing some of these issues.

It feels a bit wrong to keep comparing this to PJO, but here's another: the gods in this book were nowhere near as unique, entertaining, and three-dimensional as the ones in PJO.  I actually had trouble keeping track of which god was which.  I'm used to gods from Riordan that are funny, scary, quirky, varied, etc.  Like, well, actual people.  I didn't get this from The Red Pyramid.

Plot: ***** The plot is the most solid aspect of the book, though it has its flaws.  For much of the book, it lacks direction, and I wasn't sure what the heart of the conflict was.  Also, it felt like it was dragged on for a lot longer than was necessary.  This book could have been cut down to 400ish pages and been just fine.

Overall, though, the plot was enjoyable.  It's action-packed, and while it may be repetitive, there's enough magic-flinging and godly smashing of mythological figures to satisfy PJO fans, as well as fans of middle grade fantasy in general.  The dragging feeling comes more from the lack of direction and repetitiveness than any pacing issues; it's certainly a fast-paced book.    

Uniqueness: ****Even compared to PJO, it has its own separate twists.  There's more magic involved here than in PJO, and the whole mythological system is different enough to make this not feel like a mere rehash of Percy's adventures.  Compared to middle grade fantasy in general, it has many familiar tropes (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but stands out enough to feel fresh and different.

Writing: ***** The voice feels clunky and awkward. It has the same problem, overall, that I have with Sadie Kane--it feels like a forced, over-stereotyped version of a young teenager's voice, not an authentic one.  It's one of those occasions where authors try too hard to be authentic, and end up sounding condescending.  And at times, it actually did feel condescending.  I kept thinking, "Is this how adults really view teenagers?  Ugh."  The narration is choppy, so much so that it made me think of Albert Camus' The Stranger (which I did not like).  Also, most of the lines where either Sadie or Carter interrupts the other's narration to add a comment feel unnecessary at best and unfunny at worst.

Likes: Let's play a game: Reference or No Reference?
"I cut off her head?"
"I got better."

Knowing Rick Riordan, I'm going to say...reference.

Not-so-great: "In fact, I've been in more museums than I like to admit--it makes me sound like a total geek."  Carter, don't act like that's a bad thing.  Flaunt it, buddy.

Overall: Even though I'm mostly criticizing this book, it wasn't bad, by any stretch.  It was enjoyable, for the most part, but I'm being hard on it because I know Rick Riordan can do better.  I wanted the the roller coaster ride of wit, lovableness, sass, epic godly smackdowns, and dam jokes that I know Riordan is capable of, but I didn't get it.  Sadie and Carter were decent but unrealistic-feeling characters, the narration felt forced, and the plot dragged longer than was necessary.  We'll see about the rest of the series--I haven't decided yet as to whether I should continue with it.

Similar Books: It certainly holds appeal for fans of Rick Riordan's other series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the Heroes of Olympus.  It combines mythology/fantasy and the modern world and is on the line between MG and YA, like The Alchemyst, Artemis Fowl, and Loki's Wolves.

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1 comment:

  1. You don't seem to have read the other two books, so I don't want to spoil it, but I will say I agree with you about Sadie Kane. After writing such an epic character like Annabeth, I expected better. Still, I loved the Egyptian theme; I had actually thought that part was mostly up to par with PJO.

    It was mostly the voice (and the dual narration) that got to me. I kind of wish it had been written from one of them or the other. It would have cut out those interruptions, like you said, but I kept wondering if perhaps writing both of them brought down the quality of the voices. With Percy Jackson, it was really good, just coming from him. (I haven't read Heroes of Olympus yet, though I know I should, so I can't say about the voices in that series.) Writing two separate voices, especially if they're teenagers suffering from authentic-teenage-voice, is a lot harder than just the one.

    Anyways, just wanted to say I (mostly) agree with you! The Red Pyramid is a good series, but but parts of it dragged.


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