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The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus #3) by Rick Riordan
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about "The Mark of Athena" as I have been about the other books by Riordan that I have reviewed so far, but I can't. "The Mark of Athena" just took me too long to read.
At first I thought that perhaps the slow slog was due to the length, but at 608 pages "The Mark of Athena" is not significantly longer than "The Son of Neptune"'s 560 or "The Lost Hero," at 576.
Perhaps there were too many characters. The story is told from three perspective characters, just as the two previous "Heroes of Olympus" books were, but there are seven characters to actually follow, even if four of them aren't the focus. Even though he successfully balanced five characters in "The Titan's Curse," maybe seven was just too many characters going in too many different directions at once.
Whatever the problem was, I am very disappointed at how hard it was to get through this book. The final 200 pages went pretty quickly, but prior to that it was a long slow slog punctuated by occasional highlights.
The seven heroes of the "Prophecy of Seven" finally come together in this, the third installment of Rick Riordan's "Heroes of Olympus" series. The seven are, to no one's surprise, Annabeth, Leo, Percy, and Piper from Camp Half-Blood and Frank, Hazel, and Jason from Camp Jupiter.
The Queen of Olympus's attempts at making peace between the two camps start off on the wrong foot. During the welcome dinner held at Camp Jupiter, Leo fires on the camp. The Seven beat a hasty retreat soon afterwards, knowing that the Romans will be coming after them. Leo remembers firing the ballistae, but says that he watched himself do it, like someone else was controlling his body.
Through the course of this book, we visit the Great Salt Lake, Atlanta, Charleston, and the Seven finally make it to Rome. One of the highlights of the early part of the book is the scene when Hazel and Leo encounter Echo and Narcissus. The way that Riordan managed to make the dialogue flow so that Echo repeated what Hazel and Leo said and still was able to communicate with them showed what an excellent writer Riordan is.
The point of "The Mark of Athena," of course, is the kids' trip to Rome in general, and Annabeth following the titular mark. Athena is suffering from some kind of psychological disorder as a result of the conflict between her Greek and Roman halves. She no longer knows who she is or where she belongs.
When Rome conquered Greece, they degraded Athena, who was, after all, the patron of one of Greece's major cities, from the goddess of wisdom, crafts and war to just the goddess of wisdom and crafts. War went to native Roman gods like Bellona. Athena tells Annabeth that she is lost and needs help to find the way home. In order to do this, Annabeth has to take a coin (that I believe must look more or less like the image to the right) which will lead her. Annabeth finds that whenever she is close to a clue, a fiery owl resembling the one on the coin appears to lead her to the clue. As the daughter of Athena, it doesn't take Annabeth very long to figure out what she is looking for, or to sort out the identity of the guard that has been set over it.
The prophecy says "Wisdom's daughter walks alone," and so Annabeth knows that she cannot take any companions. Once she starts on her quest, she soon realizes that there is a double meaning to the prophecy -- "alone" also refers to just having her wits to rely on, without any special gifts or talents beyond that.
The giant they face in this volume are actually twins -- Ephialtes and Otis, who were the anti-Dionysus. In mythology, the twins are not the children of Gaea at all, but are the sons of Poseidon and a mortal woman. Here, however, they are Gaea's children. However, other than that, their backstory is, to the best of my ability to determine, accurate.
Meanwhile, Nico has disappeared and Percy is having dreams that he is trapped in a jar near where they will find the giants, which means that he is in Rome . . . somewhere. Nico is staying alive by using magic pomegranate seeds from the garden of his stepmother, Persephone, which means that he must be saved in five days. If the Seven don't make it to him by then, he will die.
Annabeth's quest and the search for Nico is the most gripping part of the book. "The Mark of Athena" ends on a cliffhanger ending (almost literally). I hope that Riordan can keep the momentum he gained at the end of this book throughout the next, "The House of Hades."