It’s hard to trod on territory that’s already been trod. In the world of fantasy and magic YA, you’re either trying to be the next Harry Potter…or you’re trying to prove that you’re something else. After all, Harry Potter became the most famous boy in the world as his own book prophesized, and then became the most inescapable boy in the world of fantasy. He’s been the king for the past decade and a half, and he ain’t goin’ nowhere soon. However, several years after Mr. Potter entered the scene, bringing his supposed author J.K. Rowling along for the ride, another young man of a magical lineage walked into the world of Young Adult Literature. The name of that…well…demigod, is Percival “Percy” Jackson.
In the world of the Olympians, as crafted by author Rick Riordan war is coming…and not with Hades. That would be too obvious…but rather with their sires the Titans and its up to…yeah you guessed it ,the kids to save the day. While Percy does have many similarities to Harry (magical lineage, mundane upbringing, poor household, and serving as the “everyman” to whom questions about this fantastic world can be answered in proxy for the reader), they are very different boys. Surely across their own series they both grow, develop, and age but there is a tone that is not the same. It could be the different mythos and culture being pulled from—Harry after all is British and Percy is an American boy, but its more than that. You get a different sense entirely of who each boy is and why they are that way.
Firstly, Percy is his own narrator in his books. Your look inside the head, motivations, thoughts and fears of Mr. Jackson is quite different than the omniscient voice deployed by Rowling. Riordan captures some very true and authentic feeling confusion. Also, Percy comes from a position of being a secret—and manages to turn a weakness into a strength in all of the demigods. You see, the Big Three of Olympus (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) made a pact to have no more mortal children after “someone’s” evil son started World War II. I think we all know whom we’re talking about, but there kids of their decent alive throughout the series. Secret demigods. He wasn’t the most famous person alive—even though he did have a lofty prophecy on his head. Also, demigods are hard wired for ancient Greek text and monster slaying action so while Percy grew up poor and a trouble maker (much as Harry Potter does to some degree), he is also Dyslexic with a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. Turns out, he was just looking for some hyrdras to chop up.
Also, there are some very clear restrictions in the world of the Olympians. While the world of Harry Potter has rules and laws, you always get a sense that magic will save the day because it can do anything. In contrast the Olympians—now living in America because it is the seat of the west—have very clear abilities, dominions, bailiwicks, responsibilities, and repercussions to deal with should they fail. For gods and demigods there are fates worse than death.
Mostly though, the main difference between these two franchises is that the action is always with Percy. He can only narrate what he’s seen, so in parts of the books where other characters are without him…well we don’t know too much about what happens there. He can’t tell us the story about a place where he hasn’t been before. More so, Percy second-guesses himself…a lot. Perhaps the character of Harry does as well—certainly he has doubts—but he’s a pretty gung-ho kinda guy that Potter.
Riordan does a great job of building a world that is totally influenced by the worshiper. That is to say that the Gods are highly Americanized in their appearance dealing with mortals because the seat of their power rests in America, magically above the Empire State Building in fact (there are lots of fun New York places and such used often, since a lot of the action happens in the counties lying outside of New York City). His Ares rides a motorcycle, Hephaestus builds robots, and Apollo delivers mail USPS for example—but the world is also magical and beyond the grasp of mortal men. It is populated by characters that are at once simple and real—and while the magical language can be hard to read…at least it’s derived for a real language. Actually, it leans on the source material quite a bit—as it should.
I listened to the whole series in the car, and I found it to be engaging, enjoyable, and a fun adventure—similar to Harry Potter….but by no means a clone or a rip off. Unfortunately, the films don’t quite hold up…Harry Potter had a great machine behind him making his films fantastic and magical but for Percy, not even the God’s could help. Overall, if you’re a fan of YA, and fantasy you’ll have fun with this series. Additionally, after Percy’s story ends, there are plenty of spin-off books to fill your world and head with. If you’re looking for a modern romp through the Greek Myths, you need look no further than this series…fans of Harry Potter will enjoy Percy Jackson and the Olympians without being pained by an imitation. At the end of the day, it’s its own thing.