I remember when I was about five years old, I fell ill. The sort of kiddy fever that appears for a few days for no rhyme or reason, makes people pamper you, and goes away in a sudden and startled manner. I remember I was given a particular medicine–I forget what it was called now–but I know that it was strawberry flavoured cough syrup. I can all but taste it as I type this. It was sticky and sweet and overwhelmingly strawberry-ish. It was sugary goop that was forced down my throat three times a day, and I wasn’t allowed to complain.
Mark of Athena is something like that medicine. Nice and vile. It will make you smile and chuckle, and it will make you want to hurl yourself off a cliff in a dire need to escape. Therefore, this review isn’t going to lay down a concrete opinion about whether the book was good or bad. This review is going to be about what not to do when you write your story.
However, let’s get the formalities out of the way.
For those of you who don’t know, The Mark of Athena is the third book of the second series that follows Greek (and Roman) half-bloods. Okay. Let’s go again. Rick Riordan, the writer, has penned two series that essentially have the same concept. Both series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and Heroes of Olympus) follow the lives of a few ‘demigods’, or the offspring of gods (Greek and Roman) with humans. These demigods go on adventures and save the world. As always. So anyway, The Mark of Athena is the third novel to the second series (Heroes of Olympus). And complications aside, here’s the plot: Seven demigods, some Roman and some Greek, go off on a wild adventure on a ship on steroids (I say this because the Argo II really is a super ship), and go off to beat the bad guys who want to destroy the world. Our heroes also want to bring peace to the ever warring Romans and Greeks.
Okay, so where was I? Oh yeah, what not to do.
1. Do not have Mary Sue and Gary Stu characters as two of the protagonists.
A Mary Sue, and her male version, a Gary Stu, are perfect, flawless characters that can do no wrong ever, always considered wonderful and are utterly awful. You can always spot a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu if you find yourself deeply annoyed and resentful to a main character who seems to have no flaws. They are one of the worst things to ever happen to fiction. The Mary Sue and Gary Stu in this book are Jason and Piper.
Jason is the son of Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, and of course, he’s almighty and powerful. Piper is the daughter of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. So naturally, she is beautiful beyond belief (and if you ask me, stupid beyond belief). Jason and Piper are dating. What better than two annoying characters in an annoying relationship, eh? It’s just the sort of combination that makes you want to hang yourself from the ceiling fan.
2. Do not litter your plot with pointless misadventures.
My copy of The Mark of Athena is five hundred and seventy-two pages long. This is because sixty percent of the book is cluttered with random and messy battles and dramas that add very little to the actual plot and waste an awful lot of time. Because of this, countless innocent trees have died for no reason at all. Please, aspiring writers, think about the trees when you plot a story! You could save so many lives!
3. Do not be confused about the actual point of your story.
In The Mark of Athena, you can never know what you’re up against. No, I’m not talking about the pointless misadventures that our heroes have to face. I’m talking about us, the readers. As you turn the pages, you have to really ask yourself: Is this an adventure novel, or is this a romance?
I’ve mentioned this before. I HATE ROMANCES. Alright, perhaps ‘hate’ is a strong word. I don’t like them too much though. Romance in a novel should be like a side dish, sweet enough to hold your interest and subtle enough to not ruin your palate. For instance, the romance in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the predecessor to the Heroes of Olympus series that this book is a part of, was brilliantly done. I understand that most writers go overboard with the lovey-dovey because the lovey-dovey really sells. But while writing an adventure novel, one must always use romance in moderation. Percy Jackson and the Olympians managed to do this well. Maybe it’s because the characters were younger? It’s a possibility. But all the Percy/Annabeth moments made me smile and go ‘aww’, not grimace and go ‘ewww’, like in Mark of Athena.
There is more action than needed, and this is topped up with more romance than needed. It has seven main characters, and so to keep things interesting, Riordan has added love triangles and angsty romance that the audience is apparently supposed to love. Not quite.
4. Do not try too hard to be funny.
Okay, I’ll give Riordan this: he really does the humor thing quite well. It’s sometimes a tad overdone and silly, but more often than not, he nails it. I don’t really know what happened to him in this one. Here’s an example:
Jason *looking through a guidebook*: It says here he’s a potamus.
Piper: He’s a hippopotamus?
Haha, Rick, you’re so droll.
Yup, that’s it for the Do Nots. But there are some things worthy of notice. Well, one thing, anyway. So I shall play fair and mention it.
1. Do consider using the ‘Sad Clown’ character type if it fits in your story.
I’ll be honest. I have a soft spot for the Sad Clown character type. A Sad Clown character is the sort who copes with humor. Here’s how http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SadClown describes it:
“Found often amongst troops and superhero teams, the Sad Clown is the wisecracking funnyman who copes with humor. Usually of the groan-inducing kind. He is totally insecure at heart and keeps on running his mouth to fool himself into thinking he’s confident or to get people to like him.
This character tends to make Dude, Not Funny! jokes at inappropriate times to cope.
Often put in more serious series to add some comic relief, while at the same time secretly revealing to the audience that the character is a simmering pot of hidden insecurities and angst, just like everyone else in the cast.”
The Sad Clown in The Mark of Athena, and indeed, the entire Heroes of Olympus series, is Leo Valdez. He is the single most brilliant character in the books. Rick Riordan can produce morons like Jason and Piper, and then suddenly, out of the blue, here comes Leo, master mechanic, son of Hephaestus, the Greek god of Forges. Leo is the funny and cool guy, always quick with a joke, with an astonishing ability to build anything with metal (including the super ship, Argo II) . He’s the Repair Boy, the engineer, and majorly unappreciated by his friends, if you ask me. He also can produce fire, one of the only children of Hephaestus who can.
He feels very inferior to his best friend, Jason. (Jason being such a perfect little pretty boy, self-righteous do-gooder, who wouldn’t, now really?) Leo prefers to hide his insecurities under a mask of humor and endless doofus-ness.
So naturally, being the only interesting character in the series, he has the least screen-time. Or page-time, whatever. It breaks my heart–it actually breaks my heart–to read about Leo. The poor kid’s really suffered. And suffers, present tense. He’s hard on himself all the time, and never shows it. He left out. He’s so lovable and so, so easy to relate to and forget the characters in the book, even the book’s writer seems to not appreciate him. There’s nothing more lonely than a character ignored by its writer.
Leo got me through the first Heroes of Olympus book. I waited for him in the second book, The Son of Neptune but he didn’t actually come until the very end. But he was there in Mark of Athena, he pulled me through this one as well. This is why I say that Mark of Athena reminds me of strawberry flavoured medicine. Just like the sweetness of the syrup, Leo is the only redeeming feature of the novel.
So there you have it, folks. The review for The Mark of Athena. I didn’t like it too much, as you can see, but I have a rule: never leave a series incomplete. So I will be waiting for the next books (and hopefully, they’ll feature Leo more prominently).
Until next time, goodbye!