The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan
"The Son of Neptune" opens with the amnesiac Percy Jackson, whom we find out later has been asleep for several months waiting for the time when the plans of the Queen of the Heavens (who in this volume is Juno) for Percy will be lined up. Percy had a confrontation with Lupa to prepare him for Camp Jupiter, where the Roman demigods are trained. Lupa then sends him 38 miles as the crow flies according to Google Earth mostly south from the Wolf House to the Berkeley Hills. At some point in between, he gained a tail (in the metaphorical sense) -- two hideous women with snakes for hair. The snaky hair should clue the reader into the fact that they are Medusa's sisters, Stheno and Euryale. Percy has killed them many times on his trip southwards, but they always come back almost immediately. This is a bad sign.
The instinct given to him by Lupa has pulled him to the hill above the Caldecott Tunnel. In the side of the hill between the eastbound and westbound lanes he finds a metal door guarded by two teenagers. He then knows that he has arrived at his goal.
The two kids guarding the door to what, unsurprisingly, turns out to be Camp Jupiter are Frank Zhang and Hazel Levesque, who are both Roman demigods. Hazel's father is Pluto. Frank doesn't know who his father is, but he hopes it's Apollo, since his favorite sport is archery and he has a quiver of trick arrows that he made himself.
The world behind the Caldecott Tunnel door is part camp for teen heroes and part New Rome, a city for adult heroes and their families. Heroes can serve their time at Camp Jupiter, attend college, raise a family, and retire all without leaving the confines of the valley.
Percy has one memory of his life before he met Lupa, and that memory is of Annabeth. He also understands that he and Annabeth thought that the kind of life available to heroes in New Rome was impossible, that the life of a hero can be fun and full of adventure, but that it was by definition a short one.
And Camp Jupiter is not only for demigods. A number of the campers are legacies -- children or grandchildren (or even, in some cases, great-grandchildren) of demigods. And that is only the first difference. Where Camp Half-Blood is a typical summer camp in many ways, Camp Jupiter is more of a military camp. The campers are the inheritors of the Twelfth Legion Fulminata, one of the most famous of the Legions of Rome. And relations among the members of the Legion are different as well. While the confrontations among Camp Half-Blood demigods who disagree tend to be very upfront (remember Clarisse and the other Ares kids ambushing Percy at the beginning of "The Lighting Thief"?), in Camp Jupiter, conflicts are not so open. There is more political maneuvering and sly backstabbing.
If you thought that Piper's and Leo's secrets in "The Lost Hero" were good, just wait until you find out what Hazel's and Frank's are. Hazel and Frank also, since they are demigods, have gifts. Hazel's gift is actually a curse. And Frank's? Even Frank doesn't know what it is until well into the book.
There is, of course, a quest. In "The Son of Neptune," the quest is to go to the land beyond the gods, Alaska, and stop the giant Alcyoneus, who is holding Death himself, Thanatos, prisoner. Thanatos's captivity is the reason that the Gorgons kept coming back after Percy. With Death being held prisoner, no one can die. Once they would release Thanatos, however, monsters will be able to stay dead. Since they are going from the San Francisco Bay area to Alaska, the travelogue portion of "The Son of Neptune" involves travel up the coast of the Pacific, from Alameda to Mendocino, then on to Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and then Alaska.
The quest ends in a way that makes me wonder what will happen in the end of the series, since something important happens that it seems to me just plain should not have happened. Either something really major was hinted at, or it was a plot-hole left there on the part of both Riordan and his editor. I cannot go into it now without spoiling it, but I may mention it in my review of "The Mark of Athena" when I post it.
I have never been to Northern California (the farthest north I have been in California is Santa Barbara) but I have spent a lot of time looking at images of the western entrance to the Caldecott Tunnel, assuming that the door might have been something that Riordan saw during his years in the Bay Area. However, I have yet to find any photo that shows a doorway into the hillside that leads to Camp Jupiter and New Rome. I was so focused on this task that I had to delay responding to a running family joke. This leads me to two conclusions: 1. The Mist is good at fooling Google Maps, 2. The doorway was visible when Riordan lived there, but is now behind the clump of trees that is between the eastbound and westbound lanes, or 3. there is no doorway.
Now I have to kibitz Riordan's use of Chinese. If you've been reading the reviews that I have written before this, you'll know that I am a student of Mandarin with about 600 hours of study under my belt. This makes me far from proficient, but gives me some basis to work from in my research. First, I can find no evidence that Frank's understanding of his surname is correct. Frank took up archery under the belief that "Zhang" means "master of bows." The surname does consist of the characters for "bow" and for "master," but when put together, they seem to work out to "spread," "stretch out," "open up," "extend," and other concepts along those lines ("zhang" is also the classifier/measure word for flat things such as tables and sheets of paper). Additionally, in Frank's grandmother's story, she says that Juno spoke to them in Mandarin, which should make sense, since the town the Zhangs come from, Liqian, which the Zhangs call Li-Jien, is in Gansu Province, where they speak the Central Plains dialect of Mandarin. However, it looks like the Zhangs speak Cantonese, rather than Mandarin. Frank's Chinese name, Fai, does not exist in Mandarin but is a Cantonese syllable, and Frank's grandmother describes Juno as a "gwai poh" which is Cantonese for "ghost grandmother," more or less. As an aside, it is possible that the character that Riordan has chosen for Frank's name can be Romanized as the given name "Akira" in Japanese.
As always, Riordan gives us a fast-moving, and highly amusing ride. I particularly liked their stop in Seattle. He could have used a stronger editor in one place, where the aluminum boat they are riding in suddenly becomes a wooden boat (I even went back and reread both sections one right after the other and that is definitely what happens), but aside from that, this is another brilliant installment in Riordan's mythologyverse.
Over the course of his books, Riordan's affection for Northern California really shines through. This may be the strongest so far. Just the thought that demigods can live there in peace makes it clear that Riordan has a really strong fondness for the area. Additionally, Riordan dedicates the book to his wife "who shares my sanctuary in New Rome."