Following the original Percy Jackson series, the gods of antiquity are under threat from the earth goddess Gaia and cause the Greek Demigods to throw in their lot with their Roman counterparts whose existence had been hidden from them. Jason Grace, Praetor of the Roman Camp Jupiter, is The Lost Hero on a quest from the Greek Camp Half-Blood with Piper and Leo. Percy Jackson from the Greek Camp Half-Blood becomes The Son of Neptune for a quest with Romans Hazel and Frank. They eventually join forces and travel to Europe where Annabeth must follow The Mark of Athena and guide them on a quest to prevent Gaia from defeating the Olympian gods forever.

(N.B. At the time of writing only three of the projected five books in this series have been published. If you are reading this after The House of Hades or the yet untitled fifth book have been released, there may be material in those which is not reflected in these notes.)

I have to admit it: I like both Percy Jackson series. They’re not without their problems, but I keep coming back to them for the sake of the characters and the sheer variety of classical legends imaginatively and inventively brought back to life. This review focuses on the later Heroes of Olympus series but many of the same points could be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the earlier one. Since I’m going to be mostly positive, let’s look first at the issues in the series which might cause concern.

First, the series’ dual premises: that the classical gods of antiquity are alive and kicking and influencing civilisation in a modern-day Olympus; and that, over the centuries, they’ve slept around and left so-called half-blood demigods all over the place who inherit some of their gifts and have to train together to become the heroes of today. The stories are all about the last part: heroes training and going on quests. But the rest of it’s definitely there. It’s mostly played lightweight, but if you squint a bit, it’s not a pretty background: every one of the young heroes is the product of a false relationship between a human and a god of antiquity who doesn’t stay around very long.

Second, it is what it is: a fantasy action adventure for young people. Rather like some classical myths, the story plots tend towards the episodic. Apart from some bookend chapters, each story is based around a quest which sees our point-of-view demigods bounce between one location and another, each with its set of classical characters. If it were just about this plot and those mythological beings, the series would be simply a lightweight attempt to bring classical legends to a modern-day setting. But what makes it all work are the young demigods who are likeable and engaging. They’re not the most substantial characters you’re ever going to meet and for the most part their motivations are fairly straightforward, even if each one has more or less of a secret. But they’re at the heart of the stories’ success and they’re the hooks on which the loose plot and the classical cameos are hung.

There’s lightweight romance between most of the young characters, but no suggestion of smut. To help things along Coach Hedge (a Satyr) appoints himself chaperon. Granted, he’s comic relief, but the others implicitly accept his right to exercise that responsibility. In general there’s a mostly unspoken respect for women in two different senses. The female characters are just as capable as the males: they take the lead, they devise solutions, they enter battle. At the same time there’s sense of delicacy and modesty when needed, concepts which barely exist in young lit for the most part.

My bottom line is that this manages to be a series which is attractive to young readers (and it is enormously popular) while managing to avoid anything undesirable, given that you accept its premise of classical gods running civilisation and having cast-off children. There is humour, loyalty, friendship, even very close friendship, and trust. There’s every kind of classical reference rendered accessible and interesting coupled with action, danger, perseverance and a determination to do the right thing.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the good-to-read website.