Review: The Titan's Curse

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #3)The Titan's Curse 
by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Titan's Curse / 9781423131977

I have mixed feelings about the Percy Jackson series, of which this is the third book of five. On the one hand, I love the world, the anachronistic humor, and the general concept; on the other hand, I feel like there's a lot of wasted potential in the series and I'm frustrated by some of the characterization. "The Titan's Quest", for good or ill, continues several traditions of the series so far, and is something of a mixed bag overall.

On the good side, in terms of epic quests, "The Titan's Curse" does not disappoint. The book starts off strong with the three demi-god heroes -- Thalia, Percy, and Annabeth -- traveling to a snowy boarding school to help Grover retrieve two recently found godlings, and the book takes off with a bang there. Several of the action scenes are a pure joy to read, and the humor is laugh-out-loud funny in many places. Once again, Riordan shows how to write a fun, exciting, heart-warming novel, and I found myself savoring many scenes with complete relish.

On the bad side, I am just about ready to apply the "Faux Action Girl" label onto every girl in this series. The first two books were bad enough with Annabeth's crippling fear of spiders and Clarisse's aversion to being sensible, but I really thought that "Sea of Monsters" found its footing with Percy realizing that Tyson and Clarisse were individuals in their own right and I thought a lesson had been learned about respecting others. The lesson, however, seems not to have stuck.

There are five main female characters in this novel and all of them are pretty much useless and depend on Percy to save the day, despite each of them supposedly being strong, smart, capable women. Two women spend the entire novel chained up and awaiting rescue; another two spend the entire quest engaging in petty squabbles and childish grudges with each other. This is particularly frustrating since one of the girls is several thousand years old and a reader might assume that she would be above petty, childish temper tantrums all the time when, you know, the biggest war of the millennium is rapidly shaping up around them, but apparently not. (Thankfully, Percy is around to rise above it and keep the peace between the squabbling women.) Annabeth's crippling fear of spiders from the first book is recycled here as a fear of heights that causes one of the girls to completely seize up and become useless and/or dangerous no less than three times. Several of the girl characters are essentially defined only in terms of the males around them -- what Percy, Luke, and Nico think and feel *about* the women is portrayed as essentially more important than the women themselves. As a woman, it's frustrating and it feels like the author sees his male characters as people, but his female characters as plot objects.

In the same way that the female characters are under-developed, the rest of the world building is rather neglected here in this third novel -- now that Percy has hit his stride, it seems like the rest of the world is now defined entirely in relation to him. Characters are either for him or against him, or they're just sitting around on their hands back at camp. (At least three or four of the godling cabins are officially forgotten about now.) The increased hyper-focus on Percy could perhaps be forgiven if he wasn't becoming so blandly perfect! Though still hampered by his lack of knowledge about Greek myths (and you'd think he would have brushed up by now, under the circumstances), nevertheless, he comes up with almost all the winning battle strategies, makes all the right decisions, doesn't allow himself to become hindered or distracted by doubts, phobias, or grudges, and has a perfect, never-wavering moral compass. I know he's the hero of the story, but having a hyper-competent hero who regularly outshines everyone around him with his perfection became a little tedious by the time I reached the end.

I love the overall world and general concept of the Percy Jackson novels. I like the plot and the over-arching narrative. I love the Greek myths interwoven with the modern day setting, and I love the humor of Riordan's style. I enjoyed this novel overall; I laughed at the funny bits and cried at the sad bits. I'll read the fourth novel and probably the fifth.

But I reserve the right to feel frustrated with the under-development of all the characters in favor of the perfectly perfect protagonist, and I'm rather tired of seeing all these supposedly strong, smart, capable women being subjected to the Worf Effect just so Percy can be *even better* than all of them at *everything*.

~ Ana Mardoll

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Kadia said...

I agree that this is the weakest book in the series (although I think the next book was probably the best, mainly because of the increased focus on Annabeth's and Grover's subplots). Riordan does have a serious problem with secondary characters in general and female secondary characters in particular and you hit it right on the nail with the "Worf Effect" thing. He pumps up the women into these big, super-tough heroines and you expect them to at least kick some ass even if Percy is the main hero, but then they end up disappearing, or falling apart emotionally, or just sort of standing there while the male hero does the bulk of the work.

Ana Mardoll said...

Seriously, I was SO frustrated when Annabeth just seized up entirely in the first book over the spiders, but they were, like, 12 years old, so I forgave it. But Thalia -- daughter of the sky god -- hanging up not once but three crucial moments in this book was just such a wall-banger.

The characterization of Bianca was what really made me upset the most -- it seemed like Riordan was deliberately making the point that if she'd stayed home like a "good sister" then everything would have been okay. Gah!

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