Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dark Is Rising: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Bast fixed her eyes on me. Just for a second, they were the eyes of a predator--ancient, powerful, dangerous. "Not everybody can host a god, Carter. But you two are both blood of the Pharaohs. You combine two ancient bloodlines. That's very rare, very powerful. If you think you can survive without the power of the gods,think again. Don't repeat your mother's--" She stopped herself.

Since their mother's mysterious death before Cleopatra's Needle in London, Carter and Sadie Kane have lived apart, Kane travelling ceaselessly with his famed Egyptologist father Julius Kane, Sadie living as a London schoolgirl with her staid English grandparents and cat Muffin. But on one of their dad's infrequent visitations with Sadie, Julius Kane insists on taking them on a Christmas Eve visit to the British Museum, and Carter and Sadie watch with horror as their father begins a magical ritual to free the five primal gods of Egypt from their captivity in the Rosetta Stone--a ritual which ends in an explosion which destroys the stone and in which Julius Kane is sealed in a fiery sarcophagus and vanishes from sight.

The dazed brother and sister are suddenly taken away by Julius' mysterious brother Amos, who reveals that the family is from a long line of magicians which served the Pharaohs and gods and which is now engaged in a world-threatening duel with the rising evil power of Set. Amos whisks the two to Brooklyn through the Duat, the murky underworld which lies beneath the natural world to his mansion in Brooklyn and where they begin to realize their inheritance of magical powers and accept that, for good and ill, they are "godlings," hosting in their mortal bodies the presence of Horus and Isis, and engage in the first of the monstrous struggles which lead them eventually to a world-shaking confrontation with Set in Phoenix, where, enthroned in his powerful red pyramid, he seeks to dominate both the gods and the creation.

Kids who have since the end of the Harry and Percy series pined for cataclysmic battles with magical monsters, demonic devils, evil wizards and deities of the Dark, soul-stealing shamans, and comic servants (here enacted by a clever and very funny baboon named Khufu and and stumpy, grumpy shabti nicknamed Doughboy) will find a deadly dual and Riordan's signature explosions abounding in almost every chapter, with twelve-year-old Sadie holding her own in monster-bashing with her older brother Carter. Carter and Sadie also hold their own in sit-com-style wisecracks, jousting with assorted monsters of mayhem and each other equally as they work their way through a trail of destruction to the final confrontation in, of all places, the Washington Monument in D.C.

Although the battle-strewn quest plot line will feel familiar to fans of his best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians, in a way Riordan has outdone himself in The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) (Hyperion, 2010). Carter and Sadie are deeper, more developed characters, and his exposition of the cosmic struggles between good and evil, order and chaos, find a fuller expression in the complex, multi-dimensional mythology of Egypt. Young as they are, Carter and Sadie come to see that behind the constant wars between the gods, beyond the struggle of the magicians to restore the old order on their own, is the overweening threat of Apophis, Chaos, that rising Dark which seeks to control creation. The concept of time, of what it means to be both mortal and to be immortal, and what the course of cosmic history may be is more mature here, as shown in Carter and Sadie's growing understanding of what their parents, powerful magicians themselves, were about when they unleashed uncontrolled forces that night in London. As their father's Ba (spirit) tells them...

You have the best chance at relearning the old ways, and healing the breach between magicians and gods. Your mother began the stirring. I unleashed the gods from the Rosetta Stone. But it will be your job to restore Ma'at. Your mother and I have set the stage. But it is your stage.

Most of all, chaos is rising. Apophis is gaining strength. Which means that we have to gain strength, too--gods and men, united like in olden times. It's the only way the world won't be destroyed.

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) will no doubt send thoughtful readers scurrying for background reading on Egyptian mythology and history and all Riordan's readers waiting hopefully for the next in this series.

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  • Is this better than the Percy Jackson series? I did not like the Olympians series very much (but I did enjoy them) and I'm quite reluctant about this book.

    -book-eater ivan

    By Blogger Book-eater Ivan, at 10:23 AM  

  • Dear Ivan,

    To me it WAS better. I'm not a nine-year-old, so the constant demon bashing is just something to get through so we can get on with the plot, but the characters seem more believable. Yes, I know, it's a fantasy, so they can't truly be realistic, but somehow Carter and Sadie were a bit more human, and even the bad guys' motivations were somewhat developed.

    And there was a hint of an underlying theme--something that a good novel must have.

    By Blogger GTC, at 1:05 PM  

  • It is quite interesting book.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:14 AM  

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