Book Review: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan
Goodreads Description: The formerly glorious god Apollo, cast down to earth in punishment by Zeus, is now an awkward mortal teenager named Lester Papadopoulos. In order to regain his place on Mount Olympus, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark. But he has to achieve this impossible task without having any godly powers and while being duty-bound to a confounding young daughter of Demeter named Meg. Thanks a lot, Dad.
With the help of some demigod friends, Lester managed to survive his first two trials, one at Camp Half-Blood, and one in Indianapolis, where Meg received the Dark Prophecy. The words she uttered while seated on the Throne of Memory revealed that an evil triumvirate of Roman emperors plans to attack Camp Jupiter. While Leo flies ahead on Festus to warn the Roman camp, Lester and Meg must go through the Labyrinth to find the third emperor—and an Oracle who speaks in word puzzles—somewhere in the American Southwest. There is one glimmer of hope in the gloom-filled prophecy: The cloven guide alone the way does know. They will have a satyr companion, and Meg knows just who to call upon. . . .
My Review: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
If there was ever a perfect example of someone who takes what they know and masters it, that person would be Rick Riordan. He blends the mythical and modern together with expert skill, and wraps it in his distinct humour which I'm sure can get anyone laughing. The Burning Maze is the third book in Riordan's newest series, The Trials of Apollo. The god of the sun is sent to earth as punishment by his father, Zeus, and is bound to a demigod daughter of Demeter named Meg. In their quest to defeat a group of Roman emperors who hope to destroy Camp Jupiter, they must enter the Labyrinth, which has been infected with the fires of Helios, the previous sun god, and is causing the out of control fires and droughts across California. As temperatures raise alongside tensions, Apollo must choose wisely to avoid a deadly dead end at the hands of Caligula, a Roman emperor determined to become the new sun god by sucking out whatever godly powers Apollo has left.
This is the first Riordan book I've read in a while, and my first contact with the Trials of Apollo series. I went into the book knowing pretty much nothing about this new series other than what the back cover told me, so I wanted to see if the book could hold up on its own outside of the series. Not only is it an important piece of a larger story, as all Riordan's books are, but it is a masterful tale that manages to stand on its own. The book is excellent in relaying necessary information in a fun way that doesn't bog down the reader. It also doesn't try to explain everything, only the things necessary to the immediate story. So while I didn't come out of The Burning Maze knowing everything that is going on in the series, it was just enough that I knew what was currently going on and didn't feel lost or like I was missing something.
The emotional impact of this book was incredible. So many of the characters have these quiet, emotional moments that bring them to life in such a heart-wrenching way, such as Meg visiting the destroyed ruins of her childhood home, Jason wrecking himself trying to keep his promise to the gods, Apollo 's emotional reaction to Hyacinth, etc. And that doesn't even touch on the bigger emotional losses through the story. It seemed like every scene was just dripping with emotion- the characters discussed how they were feeling, motivations for their actions were heavily based in emotion, etc. It made everything feel so much more personal and real, like these were real kids and not godly heroes that soared through their lives without uncertainly or repercussions. Even the fighting seemed more realistic in this book than in previous Riordan books, as there was more focus on recovering afterwards, getting medical care for burns or bruises, and showing characters reacting to their injuries in a more realistic way. It seemed like Riordan was trying to put more humanity into his godly characters, from being more aware of their physical, emotional, and mental limitations, to showing the emotions connected to their motivations, to showing how they care for and support one another.
I absolutely adored how the book approached climate change and the environmental damages going on in our world today. The Burning Maze is supposedly responsible for the devastating fires and droughts taking place in California, and the book makes us really feel the pain and loss of our natural environment through the dryad characters, who were all plant-spirits who had been displaced and traumatized by the fires. Not only did this add to the emotional piece, but it allowed the readers to connect the sense of loss to current events. It's hard not to feel motivated to do something about the real-world devastation when we see our favourite demigod characters taking action against that same danger, albeit with a supernatural spin on things.
The plot was exciting and engaging, the humour was so on point that I kept stopping to laugh, and Riordan's brand on mythology was as fun as ever. What really won me over was that Apollo is bisexual and shown to have feelings for both men and women, which holds true to the original Apollo mythos. It was so wonderful to see a bisexual main character portrayed as completely natural and accepted, especially in a middle grade novel. It is always so nice to see bisexual representation.
It's hard for me to write reviews on books like this where I have nothing to criticize, but it's pretty hard to find something to criticize about Riordan's books after he's spent years literally perfecting his formula. Though books in his Percy Jackson universe all follow a predictable pattern, Riordan manages to make every installment wholly its own and just as much fun as the others. The Burning Maze is no exception.
TL;DR: 5/5 stars. An emotional and endearing installment to the Percy Jackson universe.