I love Greek mythology. I’m an unashamed classics nerd, and love reading ancient epics where half the characters’ names start with ‘poly’ or ‘eum’ (though I do not love having to remember exactly which characters these very similar names belonged to). I love looking at ancient Greek vase paintings and identifying the gods and heroes and stories, and I especially love spotting references to these myths and legends and reading new interpretations of them in later literature.
This almost unhealthy obsession of mine is one of the reasons why I so enjoyed reading Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle, and tore through it in less than one day.
One downside to reading it so quickly was that I probably missed half of the references that Riordan sneaked in, which illustrates just how steeped the novel is in ancient mythology and history. As Riordan writes more and more books, he’s forced to look to more and more obscure myths and elements of ancient Greek and Roman culture, and it’s incredible how many of these elements he manages to slip into his books without it seeming forced. As Percy says early on in The Hidden Oracle, just as he thinks he must have killed all the monsters from the myths, there are always more.
As Riordan draws on increasingly complex ideas, he still largely manages to explain them in a way that’s comprehensible to a modern, mostly young, audience, although older readers (such as myself) can also appreciate the simplicity of his explanations which are sufficient for understanding of the story but do not detract from reader enjoyment. Take the gardening metaphors used by Chiron to explain the concept of prophecy and its influence on life; it’s hard to imagine a better way to concisely and clearly explain this difficult concept, and it also ends up having plot relevance in terms of the identity of a character’s godly parent.
As well as this clever use of Greek mythology, and indeed Roman history, I enjoyed reading The Hidden Oracle due to its partial recapturing of the spirit of the first Percy Jackson series. The book sticks with one first person narrator, Apollo in this case, rather than jumping between different characters. I can enjoy both of these styles, but there is something nice about getting a closer and extended look into one person’s head and their individual point of view, which in my opinion was occasionally lacking in the Heroes of Olympus series. The humour is in Riordan’s typical style, random, sometimes juvenile and actually quite funny most of the time, more so than in Heroes of Olympus which definitely had a more serious tone.
More generally, there’s a strange contrast in this book between the definitely more childish tone of this book, more reminiscent of Percy Jackson than Heroes of Olympus, and the increasingly dark and serious themes which appeared in Heroes of Olympus, like grieving over lost loves.
I was particularly excited that this series would be told from Apollo’s perspective, and was slightly worried about whether Riordan could pull off having a god as a narrator. It was certainly a bold choice, and largely pays off, as Apollo’s voice is certainly different to anything else we’ve heard from Riordan before. The idea is established, which acts as an explanation for the ‘mortal’ elements of this voice and how it is possibly comprehensible to us, that part of Apollo’s transformation into a mortal involves losing easy access to several millennia worth of memories and taking on a more ‘mortal’ way of experiencing the world, like increased capacity for guilt and embarrassment.
The conflict between Apollo’s ‘mortal’ urges and his remaining godly attitude is quite entertaining, though he seems to fluctuate dramatically between extreme self-loathing and extreme arrogance, going from lamenting about causing the deaths of his mortal lovers to admiring a nude giant statue of himself destroying the camp in quick succession (yes, really). I liked Apollo’s admission that he uses his arrogant behaviour to cover up his enormous guilt, and particularly admire Riordan’s choice to make one of Apollo’s one true loves a woman and the other a man, and have both affect him equally deeply. Riordan’s depiction of Nico and Will’s relationship is also spot on in this book, in that it’s not made a big deal about and is treated like any other romantic relationship, and their interactions are some of my favourite parts.
If you enjoyed Riordan’s previous novels, and are willing to embrace the fact that they are intended for children (this one in particular), you will almost certainly enjoy reading it.