Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

Riordan's narcissistic god, Apollo has been punished by Zeus and cast out of Olympus becoming a mortal making a storyline that is a great study in irony and unreliable narration. In his god-like form, Apollo is arrogant, immortal, abusive, handsome, a sun god, healer, seer, and musician. As a mortal, he's lost all of that. He's the reluctant hero that doesn't want to go on a quest, is a klutz, coward who thinks of himself first. He's not handsome or athletic. He can still sing, play instruments, give medical care, and shoot an arrow with deadly accuracy. However, he's fat and pudgy and must serve the belching, fashion-challenged Meg. He learns to care for her even though she annoys him most of the time. The two make quite a pair and their extreme character traits make them funny.

You'll laugh at the play-on-words, one-liners, and poking fun at pop culture and mythology. The rare mythical "yale" monsters are on the "endangered species list" and called, the "Harvard's," by Meg. Tofurky, frenemies, are just a few words that the author combines to draw laughs in stressful situations. His one-liners start from the get-go when Festus, Leo's mechanical dragon, burns down the Indiana flag. Leo scolds, "Whoa, buddy! ...We've talked about this. No blowtorching public monuments." The characters are opposite their myths which adds irony. For instance, Calypso who controls air spirits is afraid of flying. Apollo is opposite his god-like self as an unfit clumsy braggart who fears a mortal death. He gives specific mythical facts about yale creatures and admires their looks and capabilities thinking he'd take a video if they weren't trying to kill him at the moment, "I would have gotten millions of likes on Godtube!" It's corny. It's fun. It's entertaining.

Riordan tends to "tell" more than "show", which helps younger readers that might not always recognize the character development. This is written for young adults with a 16-year-old protagonist. There are not the usual mnemonics to remember the gods as found in his middle-grade Percy Jackson series. However, character development and motivations are spelled out and it allows for easier interpretation by readers who may not be as fluent as others.

In his other books, the characters are human and the point of view is similar where the gods are presented as so oblivious to the fact that they are so selfish, egotistical, and arrogant that it's funny. A human might touch their lives, but they do not change and they do not work on developing friendships with each other. This book shifts the point of view to a god that has the choice to change making for a strong character arc. Here, Apollo, pokes fun at the arrogance of the god characters and even shows he still thinks like them - at least in the beginning. As he puts it in light of his own experiences as a mortal, he slowly changes as he learns to make friends and fight for a cause. 

When he first becomes mortal, Apollo shows little compassion for others - he always put himself first. Even when he recognizes when the gods are unjust, he can’t quite embrace being human. When Britomartis says, “Being a goddess, my needs take precedence” it might as well be Apollo speaking. When she sends them on a quest to retrieve her griffins before she’ll help them take down Nero, Apollo shows some recognition, “Oh, the injustice!” But later he vows that if he becomes a god he will never send “a poor mortal on a quest. Unless it was really important. And unless I was sure the mortal could handle it. And unless I was pressed for time…or I just really didn’t feel like doing it myself. I would be much kinder and more generous than this net goddess was being to me.” He’s unreliable at best. He's starting to think about what it means to be human but drifts into his self-centered ways quickly. 

As a god, he thinks he’s better looking, has higher intelligence, and is perfect compared to humans. When in god form if he is bored, he kills people with no thought. He has to learn to value humans and not treat them as inferior beingsAs a human, he starts to mock the gods and how they treat heroes. He doesn't appreciate the goddess Britomartis sending them on an impossible quest. When he wants to abandon the quest, Calypso muses,  "Do heroes ever return empty-handed saying to the gods, we tried?" When Apollo is willing to sacrifice himself for Meg, we see he has embraced friendship and is starting to care for humans or at least one human. Guess he has to start somewhere. When Emmie calls him Lord Apollo and he says the title doesn't fit him, it shows his changing identity that is learning what it means to be human.

Riordan creates many diverse characters in his novels, some more successfully than others. In the Magnus Chase series, the brilliant character Alex Fierro, represents gender fluidity who is male on some days and female on others. Apollo is pansexual, which means his sexual choices are not limited by gender, and his thoughts are funny in his attractions he reveals for both males and females. His character is not as brooding as Alex but he does have flashbacks that show he once cared for the villain, Commodus, as a much as he could care as a selfish god. They both had overbearing fathers and inferiority complexes and he becomes a foil to Apollo.

The plot uses poetry throughout from good to bad haikus for entertainment: “four beheaded dudes / are too much for one nightmare/ Why me? Sob.Sob. Sob.”  In addition to haikus, there are limericks, acrostic, and sonnet poetry that are explained to the reader. Again an example of telling and not showing is here as the reader gets a lesson in what makes it that type of poem. There is usually some snarky comment that is funny and a bad example to add laughs to the situation. 

Commodus represents the self-centered gods who generates no light. Commodus's father, Marcus Aurelius's said to his son, "Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness" and Apollo now understands what it means. The knowledge he's gained as a mortal has taught him to find meaning in life that extends beyond himself and cares about others. Apollo realizes that "Commodus hated that piece of advice. He found it suffocating, self-righteous, impossible. What was proper? Commodus intended to live forever. He would drive away the darkness with the roar of crowds and the glitter of spectacle. But he generated no light. ...And Apollo, above all, was the god of light." This revelation or climax allows Apollo to regain his superpowers momentarily and blind Commodus with light, a symbol of his awakening to new insights and knowledge on being human. It also reminded me of the story of Paul on the road to Damascus who was persecuting the Christians, was blinded by God, and later converted to Christianity. Commodus has no enlightenment but maybe he'll appear in later novels as someone who changes. 

I turn to Riordan for a break in heavy reading. I know I'll laugh. I know I'll see diverse characters. I know I'll learn about some mythological character or creature I've never heard about and I'll see how he uses creativity and craft to make them his own. If you like his other books, you'll like this one.

5 Smileys

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