I did not read the first two books in this series. There, I said it. So when people dive into my review and start getting upset that I failed to catch something that I should have, I will fall back on this rather than a sword. The Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze serves as a halfway point for the series and, as with all of Rick Riordan‘s books, enables first time readers to not feel alienated or unable to submerge themselves into his story.
I am not a constant reader of Riordan’s work but I will do my best to give you a glimpse of what I saw.
Apollo (Greek god of sun, music, archery, and more) has been seen in other books prior to this series and was always fairly benevolent, if memory serves me correctly. I vaguely have a recollection of him transporting people (Percy and others) to and fro. In this particular tale, however, Apollo has angered Zeus and found himself banished to Earth in the form of a teen named Lester. As with all of these stories, there are trials and adventures to mark a path to redemption.
Lester/Apollo must seek the oracles and restore them to their former place. He is doing so with the help of others, as always. There is a certain cadence to a Riordan novel, in this respect; there always seems to be three or more on these adventures. And they split up a time or two in the labyrinth but always rejoin to complete the task at hand. This friendship and fellowship is a powerful device that serves a myriad of plot development points.
I did recognize a character or two, leading me to the belief that the author is weaving not just a story but a collection, not unlike the pantheon of the gods themselves did. I am not an idiot, I did catch that fairly quickly and The Burning Maze is only the third book I’ve read by him (I am taking ten points for my house, thanks). A lot of travel, a lot of misdirection and realization occurs but I think the biggest takeaway I see is the characters seem better developed than in times past. But perhaps that is just a perspective issue. I also feel the re-emergence of familiar people and creatures into the story seems to ground the tale in known territory and also lightens the mood a bit.
One thing that stands far above the rest is the fact that Riordan has taken a more adult approach to storytelling in that characters die in this series. I am not saying he has failed to kill background extras in the past but rather this time an obviously central being is slain. That is fairly tough stuff for what I consider to be young adult books and a definite game changer from his Percy Jackson run.
I started off not really caring for the characters in The Burning Maze but, in time, found myself more empathetic to their situations. I imagine this is why my kids love these books so much, they relate on a level I am unable to match. Perhaps the appeal is, in fact, that they relate so well to it all. Again, I am not an idiot. This particular book seems almost bleak and full of despair at times, not at all what I was expecting.
So while I am not a huge fan of the author, I do like the way he sets up stories and delivers both adventures and life lessons, all at once. The use of a god of old to emphasize compassion and thoughtfulness is not unique but is presented in a talented and entertaining way. As Apollo learns what it is to be human and powerless, he also learns to accept help and the need to work for the greater good. Selflessness is one of the hardest things for anyone to understand, be they mortal or deity.
Begrudgingly, I must say my interest is piqued. I may have to borrow the books from my kids and dive into the Riordan universe. If you are a fan, let me just say The Burning Maze was the best written of the ones I have read. His skill as an author has increased exponentially and this might be the first time I have ever entertained the idea of recommending young adult books to adults. It was fun, it was sad, it was interesting. I would read another. How is that for a recommendation?
The formerly glorious god Apollo, cast down to earth in punishment by Zeus, is now an awkward mortal teenager named Lester Papadopoulos. In order to regain his place on Mount Olympus, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark. But he has to achieve this impossible task without having any godly powers and while being duty-bound to a confounding young daughter of Demeter named Meg. Thanks a lot, Dad.
With the help of some demigod friends, Lester managed to survive his first two trials, one at Camp Half-Blood, and one in Indianapolis, where Meg received the Dark Prophecy. The words she uttered while seated on the Throne of Memory revealed that an evil triumvirate of Roman emperors plans to attack Camp Jupiter. While Leo flies ahead on Festus to warn the Roman camp, Lester and Meg must go through the Labyrinth to find the third emperor–and an Oracle who speaks in word puzzles–somewhere in the American Southwest. There is one glimmer of hope in the gloom-filled prophecy: The cloven guide alone the way does know. They will have a satyr companion, and Meg knows just who to call upon…