The Last Olympian

Teens battle Titans in this lively update of Greek myths for middle readers.

The Last Olympian By Rick Riordan Disney/Hyperion 381 pp., $17.99 Ages 9-12

Lots of teenagers can’t wait for their 16th birthday. But Percy Jackson has more on his mind than getting his driver’s license: When he turns 16, he’s supposed to make a decision that could end Western civilization.

Since there’s only a week till the big day, it would take more than streamers and party hats to put him in a festive mood.

If you are or know a middle-schooler, you won’t need any introduction to the “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” series, but for the rest of us, here’s a quick catch-up: In the fifth and final installment, The Last Olympian, the Greek gods aren’t gone; they’ve just packed up and moved to America. (Mount Olympus is now perched on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building.)

And, as anyone who’s ever picked up “Bulfinch’s Mythology” knows, they keep having kids. Percy is the son of a single mom and the sea god, Poseidon. Since monsters keep attacking them, the demigods train at Camp Half-Blood, run by Dionysus (who’s switched to Diet Coke) and Chiron the centaur. Over the past four books, nearly dying has become as much a part of summer for Percy and friends as fireworks on the Fourth are for us mere mortals.

“So you do this every summer? Fight monsters? Save the world? Don’t you ever get to do just, you know, normal stuff?” asked Percy’s lone nonmagic friend, Rachel. If by “normal,” you mean “have a half brother who’s a cyclops,” then sure.

Percy’s main companions in trouble are Annabeth, a daughter of Athena with a baseball cap of invisibility, and Grover, a vegetarian environmentalist who is also part goat.
Riordan does an amusing job of translating Greek myths to the present day. Medusa now owns a garden statuary store, the Sphinx is into standardized testing, and Hermes runs a FedEx-type shipping company. “The Last Olympian” has less myth-busting than the other books, but there are compensations, such as a star turn by the (in my opinion) underrated

Hestia, the only Greek god never to do anything creepy to a mortal.

As “The Last Olympian” opens, the gods are battling Typhon, the father of monsters, while the Titan Kronos has taken over Luke, a former camper, and is on his way to New York to overthrow Olympus – where Percy and the other campers race to stop him. “The Last Olympian” differs from the previous books in that there’s no quest (only shades of “The Iliad”). The battle for Manhattan takes up much of the book, giving Percy ample opportunity to exercise his “lethal ballpoint pen,” Riptide.

The beginning was a little shakier than those of the other books – Percy inexplicably sounds like Bruce Willis for a couple chapters – but the plot soon settles in. And fans will agree with Grover, who comments on the elevator ride up to Olympus, “Well ... sure good to be together again. Arguing. Almost dying. Abject terror. Oh, look. It’s our floor.”

As with the Harry Potter books, the adventures have gotten darker as the characters have grown up, and “The Last Olympian” is the last ride for several characters. But Riordan is too savvy to go out on, as Percy puts it, “one of those typical ‘and-so-they-died/the-end’ stories that always made us demigods feel warm and fuzzy.” The ending leaves room for a new series, but maybe next summer Percy can down a few s’mores and learn to make a lanyard.

Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.

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