The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
Available: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition, Audible
The Hidden Oracle is the first book in a new series in the world of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Trials of Apollo. This book takes place six months after the war with Gaea and the giants’ army, at which time Apollo was cast out from Olympus by Zeus. Now Apollo finds himself living a mortal life as a sixteen year old boy, indentured to Meg, a cranky demigod with a bad temper, hidden past, and voracious appetite. Apollo has many lessons to learn. Always vain about his appearance, now he faces himself in the mirror as a homely teenager with acne. Used to changing the world to suit himself, he must now find a way to fit in to the world as it is, and learn the worth of others. Arrogant about his supernatural powers, it’s quite a comedown to him when things no longer come as easily.
The Hidden Oracle is told only from the point of view of Apollo, and it’s an unusual point of view to find in a children’s or YA book, because Apollo has had the experiences of an ageless adult, in an adult body, but with the temperament and selfishness of a teenager. While he’s stuck in the body of an actual teenage human, his view is complicated by this combination of life experience, temperament, and the unfamiliar physical limitations of being mortal. When he’s wounded, for instance, his son, Will, acts as his healer… but physically, Will is nearly the same age, and has more emotional maturity. Apollo is matter-of-fact about things that can often be hot buttons in children’s books, like his regrets about his love relationships with Daphne and Hyacinthus, and his description of Will’s and Nico’s relationship (their bantering is a high point in the book). As the book advances we see Apollo the god begin to mature and connect emotionally with others as he learns his limits and how far he can push himself. As with any self-absorbed teenager, he can be incredibly irritating, but it’s worth it to see his self-reflection and changing attitudes.
The plot follows the arrival of Apollo and Meg at Camp Half-Blood with a storyline about communications being cut off with the outside world, the camp’s oracle deserted, and campers wandering into the woods never to be seen again. Apollo and Meg accidentally get lost in the Labyrinth during a camp exercise and discover that the physical location of Oracle of Delphi has been taken over by the monster Python, working with a mysterious character named the Beast. The Beast is attempting to take over all the oracles and destroy them. Meg has had some frightening experiences with him in the past: he’s responsible for the death of her father, and she will do anything to avoid him.
On returning to camp, they find that two of Apollo’s children wander off into the woods. Apollo and Meg go after them, battling giant ants with both weapons and musical talent, and answering marketing surveys from geyser gods (one of the funniest parts of the book) They finally find the missing campers and, despite the destruction of the other oracles, are able to discover a prophecy that can send them on a quest. A terrifying standoff with the Beast reveals Meg is much more vulnerable than she looks, and leaves a fracture in the relationship between Meg and Apollo… and there’s still a battle to be fought for Camp Half-Blood. It’s quite a lot to pack into 376 pages, and the story rockets along.
The Hidden Oracle is worth reading more than once– there is a lot of character development that takes place, and it’s easy to miss if you get caught up in the action. This really isn’t a book intended for the same age group that read the original Percy Jackson books, though, or even the Heroes of Olympus books, which are really targeted at teens and, while they are darker, have a much more YA soap-operaish feel. Because of its more adult themes on relationships, trauma, and abuse, and the frequently adult perspective of the narrator, The Hidden Oracle seems intended for more mature readers. I recommend reading the previous two series, though, particularly Heroes of Olympus, because that’s where the events of the story begin, as well as Nico’s and Will’s relationship, and there are references to characters and events from earlier books. If you are a fan of Riordan’s work going all the way back, this is a great addition to his Greek mythology series, and more complex than his other books. He is writing a series grounded in Norse mythology concurrently, and I much prefer this. I look forward to seeing where Riordan takes the story of Apollo from here. The second book in the series, The Dark Prophecy, will be released in May 2017, and will undoubtedly answer some of the questions raised in the first book while introducing new ones. Highly recommended for YA and “new adult” readers, for middle and high school libraries, and for Rick Riordan fans.