Rating: 5 stars
“The Hidden Oracle” is the first book in the new Rick Riordan series, “The Trials of Apollo.” It takes place (mostly) at Camp Half-Blood, a camp familiar to Riordan fans of “The Lightning Thief” and his other fantasy series. But this book has a very different narrator, and it makes this book — and probably the whole series — darned clever.
Instead of having the narrator be a teenager who happens to be a demigod (half mortal and half god), the narrator is none other than Apollo, one of the most famous of all Greek gods. After displeasing Zeus, he has been changed into a mortal. Far from his godly appearance, Apollo is devastated to discover that his new incarnation, complete with the very Greek name Lester Papadopoulos, is of a flabby, acne-ridden teen.
He has been dumped in a New York alley where he is immediately accosted by thugs. He is saved by a small, pudgy girl who turns out to be a demigod. Together they make their way to Camp Half-Blood. The story is pure Riordan with plenty of danger, intrigue, action, and backstabbing. Apollo uncovers a plot which will be the focus of the series, and he remains a mortal for the course of the book. There is no evidence that he will regain his godly status in the near future.
What makes this book so fabulous and entertaining to read is the wit with which Apollo (Riordan) narrates the story. The allusions, the puns, and the references sometimes are aimed at adult readers rather than young ones, but that will in no way detract from a middle grade reader’s enjoyment of the story.
For example, when explaining how difficult it is to keep track of information over the millennia, Apollo says, “I would hear a song on Spotify and think, ‘Oh, that’s new!’ Then I’d realize it was Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 in D Minor from two hundred years ago. Or I’d wonder why Herodotus the historian wasn’t in my contacts list. Then I’d remember that Herodotus didn’t have a smartphone, because he had been dead since the Iron Age.”
The poem that Riordan has Apollo create for the geyser gods is nothing short of brilliant. “Oh, geyser, my geyser, Let us spew then, you and I, Upon this midnight dreary, while we ponder Whose woods are these?” It continues, just as cleverly.
At least once on almost every page, the reader may want to stop to share a particularly choice bit of writing with a companion. That quality is a virtual guarantee that this book could and should be enjoyed by many. From fourth grade through high school (and beyond), this is a novel for all ages.
And while books in a series are not necessarily great choices for classroom use, this book would be a gem for that purpose. The references to various mythological entities will have students wanting to do some research. A clever teacher will have the students figure out why the poem Apollo creates is so humorous. The book is a great read for even reluctant readers. And Riordan creates a blatantly arrogant god. Ironically, the very hubris that in Greek tragedies resulted in the gods punishing humans who thought they could equal the gods is exactly what brought Apollo to his human state. Excellent reasons to consider this book for classroom use.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Disney – Hyperion Books, the publisher, for review purposes.