review: the sea of monsters

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (2006)

The Sea of Monsters is the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (following The Lightning Thief).  I think this series belongs to the “middle grade” genre of children’s literature, but don’t let that put you off.  Adult readers will enjoy this book, too, and if you are a fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden files, I think you will really like this series.

Because this is the second book in a series, some background is necessary.  Percy Jackson learns that he is half-god, half-human (a demigod, a half-blood, a hero).  In The Lightning Thief, a satyr named Grover finds Percy and takes him to Camp Half-Blood and Chiron, the centaur who is effectively the Camp Director.  The camp has twelve cabins, one for the children of each Greek god on Olympus.  Children who have been claimed by their parents live in their assigned cabin with their half-siblings, while children who haven’t been claimed live in Hermes’ cabin until their parentage becomes known.  When Percy arrives at Camp Half-Blood, his parent is unknown, but eventually he is claimed by Poseidon.  This is good, but it also complicates matters for Percy and results in another layer of isolation—Poseidon is one of the “Big Three” gods (along with Zeus and Hades) and together they made a pact after World War II not to sire any more children.  Percy’s existence demonstrates that Poseidon broke the pact, but further still, Percy is the only child of Poseidon at camp.  This means that he lives in the Poseidon cabin all alone, and he has to learn what special abilities he has on his own.  Percy’s other best friend is Annabeth, a daughter of Athena.  She is smart and knowledgeable, and she has also been appointed by Chiron as a kind of protector for Percy, who could possibly be the child named in a prophecy that has yet to be revealed to us as readers.

The story opens on Percy’s last day of seventh grade.  He has made it through the entire school year without getting expelled or into any serious trouble, and he’s looking forward to rejoining his friends at Camp Half-Blood on the following day, and spending the summer there.  At breakfast, though, his mother hints that all things are not right at camp, and that maybe it isn’t safe there for Percy.  While in gym class near the end of the day, Percy is attacked by giants.  Through the help of his new friend Tyson and the well-timed arrival of Annabeth, Percy manages to survive and escape with his life.  As the trio flees Percy’s school and travels to Camp Half-Blood, Annabeth fills Percy in on what has been happening at camp in his absence.  Thalia’s tree, which holds the spirit of Thalia, a daughter of Zeus, has been poisoned; consequently, the borders of the camp that prevent mortals and monsters from entering camp are eroding.  When the three arrive at Camp Half-Blood, they find Clarisse leading the campers against the latest monster threat—brass bulls.  The bulls are defeated and Percy learns what else has changed at Camp Half-Blood: Chiron has been fired because of suspicions that he was the one who poisoned the tree, and Tantalus, the new activities director, shows little interest in the campers’ welfare.  Another surprise for Percy is learning that Tyson—the homeless boy he grudgingly befriended during the school year—is in fact a Cyclops. Annabeth reveals to Percy that Cyclopes are the children of one god in particular—Poseidon—thus making Tyson Percy’s half-brother.  Percy is upset by this news because Cyclopes are looked upon with disgust by the half-bloods, and his friendship and now family tie to Tyson makes Percy the outsider once again.  He’s conflicted throughout the story because he wants to defend Tyson, who has saved his life on more than one occasion, but he also wants to deny that they are related and put as much distance between them as possible.  As Percy says himself, he’s not only embarrassed by Tyson, but ashamed of him, too.  This inner conflict is one that he struggles with until the end of the story.  Finally, there’s Grover, who left on a quest at the end of The Lightning Thief.  At the beginning of The Sea of Monsters, he establishes a mental link with Percy so that they can communicate in Percy’s dreams.  Grover has been captured by Polythemus (a Cyclops) and is being held on an island in the Sea of Monsters.  Grover also reveals that the Golden Fleece is on the island.  These three story lines—the peril of Camp Half- Blood, the need to rescue Grover, and the revelation of the location of the Golden Fleece—set up the adventure that Percy, Annabeth, Tyson, and Clarisse (daughter of Ares) will follow for the rest of the book. 

This is one of my recommended books.  This book weaves together the quest story, the adventure story, and the coming of age story, and while doing that it gives us the inner conflicts of a thirteen-year-old kid and wonderful character development.  The first-person narrative style lets us identify with Percy while also seeing the errors in his ways so that we are thrilled when he grows from his experiences. Yes, the novel relies upon the conventions of the genre—isolated hero, intelligent female friend, the old and wise mentor, the shadowy villain in the background and the one that does his bidding—but it’s not predictable, even when we are familiar with the myths that are retold and reworked within the story. The book is successful because it tells a story that readers of all ages can connect with, and isn’t that what makes a good book? The series is successful because it makes me want to read the next installment.  Give this series a try and then give it to a child to read. I think you’ll be glad that you did. 




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