After enjoying the Percy Jackson books, I decided to try another Rick Riordan series, and read The Red Pyramid. It’s basically the Egyptian Percy Jackson. Which in a way is a good thing–I mean, I liked the Percy Jackson series. And Riordan’s given us another book where ancient mythologies turn out to be true, the pantheon of gods is still hanging out in the current day, and ordinary-seeming kids have to discover their hidden powers to fight an ancient evil threatening to destroy the world.
All right, so it’s a formula. But it’s a fairly unique and specific formula, at least the ancient mythologies part. And, the most important thing for a formula–it works.
The Red Pyramid is about Carter Kane (who rather resembles Percy) and his sister Sadie (who really resembles hot-tempered and strong-willed Annabelle). I may be oversimplifying in my character comparisons, and there are distinctions…but not broad sweeping ones. Things go rather awry for Carter and Sadie when their father blows up the Rosetta Stone using Egyptian magic, and unleashes ancient gods into the world. Carter and Sadie come to realize that they have magical powers they have to learn how to use, in order to fight the evil god Set, who has captured their father and is also planning to destroy all of North America. Mostly because he can, I think–it’s all part of an ancient feud among the gods, and an even more ancient conflict between order and chaos.
It’s a good thing, by the way, that all these kids are around to deal with ancient evils, because apparently they’re all in the same fantasy world. At one point Carter and Sadie are in Brooklyn, and a comment comes up about Manhattan. The Egyptian magicians don’t get involved there, because Manhattan has other gods to deal with. Love the reference, as the Percy Jackson books tell us that Mount Olympus is floating above the Empire State Building.
The mythology is the biggest way this differs from the Percy Jackson books, not only the gods themselves but the way the gods relate to the world. The Greek gods are, to large extent, sort of like very ancient and very powerful humans, who interact with the world more or less like humans do–just in larger than life ways, and in ways that may involve monsters and destruction.
The Egyptian gods seem to lead a more metaphysically-complicated existence. They mostly exist in a sort of dream world, and primarily access the physical world by possessing humans or objects, but preferably humans with the blood of the pharoahs. Timelines and chains of events are also a little confused, as the gods apparently act out the same patterns and stories again and again over millenia.
The Egyptian way of engaging the world is certainly more complex, and fascinating in some ways. But on the other hand–I like that Hermes uses a cell phone, that Poseidon hangs out on the beach, and that Aphrodite and Ares use the Tunnel of Love at the theme park. The Egyptian gods are, mostly, less relatable, and I can’t decide if I like that or not. I suppose it’s just different, and both ways have merits.
In the end I think I have to come down saying that I did prefer the Percy Jackson books, but that’s mostly for two reasons that I should elaborate on, because they may not be relevant for other people.
For one thing, I’ve always been a Greek and Roman mythology buff. Maybe it’s a product of watching Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as a kid (a truly brilliant TV show, by the way). When I was around twelve, I had run out of new Greek mythology books to read at my library. The Egyptian gods, on the other hand, I’ve mostly had brief encounters with through friends who love Egypt, or in an occasional historical fiction book. So when a Greek god shows up, my reaction is usually “oh, them, I know them, they had this story and that story and were the god of this, and it’s so cool how they’ve been portrayed!” When an Egyptian god shows up, my reaction is more along the lines of “yeah, I guess I recognize your name…” That skews my impression of the book, I’m sure.
Second thing: my favorite character in the Percy Jackson series is Grover, and there was no Grover equivalent here. The funny baboon is, well, funny, and Bast as a supporting character is pretty great, especially when she exhibits cat-like tendencies. But they’re still not as much fun as the ecology-obsessed satyr who loves eating burritos and tin cans.
So if you enjoyed Percy Jackson, and especially if you like Egyptian mythology, give The Red Pyramid a go. It’s maybe a little darker and a little more complex, but pretty much…it’s an adventure about ordinary (except not) kids on a quest through ancient mythology to save the world.