Jackson vs. Potter, celebrity deathmatch

It has become clear to me that if I’m going to reach my goal of 100 books in 2011, I’m going to have to sprinkle my reading list with some less…demanding books.  Some YA titles, for example.  To that end, I’m reading the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series.  Pity I read the Hunger Games trilogy last year.

Now, it’s obvious that author Rick Riordan, in writing the Percy Jackson series, is going after what we shall call the Potter audience for lack of a better term.  I used to work at a bookstore, and as awesome as it was that the Potter series were getting a lot of kids to read who hadn’t been all that enthused about it, once they’d finished Potter their parents always wanted something else for them to read.  We all kept lists of books in our heads that could be recommended for kids who liked Potter.  The Jackson series definitely fits this description, although it’s much more recent (the first Jackson book was released in 2005, the final Potter book in 2007).  I’ll post a review of all five books (the series is now complete) when I’ve read them all.

I’ve finished the first two books.  They’re fast reads but entertaining.  The similarities to Potter are — significant.  The hero protagonist, at age twelve, discovers that he has special powers and is then sent to a special place for others like him to be educated about his abilities.  He is part of a trio of friends that includes a smart, capable girl and a goofy but brave guy.  He has older mentors and various enemies and a mysterious prophecy that concerns his life and the fate of the world.  Riordan’s prose is aimed a little younger than Rowling’s, but in some ways the storytelling is tighter and less prone to unnecessary complexity.

There are ways that the Jackson series differs, though.  Most notably, I think, is the protagonist.  One thing that continues to strike me is that Percy Jackson has actual skills.  Harry Potter might have been the chosen one, the Boy Who Lives, but he was never shown as being particularly skilled at magic.  He even says himself that the only thing he’s really good at is Quidditch.  In the later books when he ends up teaching magical defense, it’s more a matter of experience (and that was never that well supported, in my opinion).  Percy, on the other hand, is good with a sword and has abilities that he knows and understands, although he is certainly self-effacing about them and is often bumbling.  Percy just seems more capable than Harry did at the same age.

We’ll see how this develops.  Riordan is adding characters with each successive volume at a somewhat mind-boggling rate.  If he keeps going like this we’re going to have a cast of thousands by the time we get to book five.

But when I finish all five (I read the first two in four-five hours each, so yay for that) I will be in double digits for my book tally.  Hooray!

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4 responses to “Jackson vs. Potter, celebrity deathmatch

  1. Brittany Fuller

    Speaking of books advertised for Harry Potter fans (although they came out before) – you might want to check out the works of Diana Wynne Jones. Some of the books you can get through very quickly (anything in the Chrestomanci series for instance) and then some of them are longer, and aimed at… I have no idea whom. But they’re pretty awesome. She wrote a book about all the pitfalls and issues of fantasy writing, and based the world of The Dark Lord of Derkholm on it, so it’s pretty awesome, and Fire and Hemlock and Hexwood are two of my favorites and heavily influenced by old myths.

    • I *love* Dark Lord of Derkholm, and the sequel, Year of the Griffin. Excellent little reads, and they have griffins as non-evil, beasty characters which makes me do a happy dance.

  2. It will come as no surprise that I agree with everything you said. The similarities with Potter were glaring when I read the first book, back in 2005. But, as the series progresses, these commonalities diminish.

    What Percy Jackson has that Potter doesn’t is a educational bent. Children that read the books can go to their school library and check out books about Greek mythology to learn more if they are curious. Even if they don’t, Riordan does a good job of presenting the Gods, Goddesses and myths to a generation that has little exposure to the subject.

    I agree with you about Percy and Harry. Harry’s ‘victory’ over Voldemort was so frustrating because his big move was a disarming spell, that he learned in year one or two. Percy is a much more capable hero in the end, using all his skills, help from friends and a bit of luck, in the final battle in book 5.

    I’m glad to hear you enjoy the books. Riordan has also created a series based on Egyptian Gods. I’m reading the first one, The Red Pyramid, to Jack’s third grade class. So far so good. A second one is coming out soon Also, Riordan has written the first book in a sequel series to PJ&O, The Lost Hero, that I’ve had sitting on my side table to read for months. I really need to get on that.

    • I feel like I have a stronger connection with Percy because the books are first person. It removes some of the passivity that can sometimes be present in the Potter books with Harry. And god, it’s just such a relief to read books that aren’t a million pages long and tell a good story with economy.

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