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The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3) by Rick Riordan
The "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series takes a darker turn in "The Titan's Curse." The book starts out with Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia being driven by Percy's mom, Sally, to a military school where Grover has found two hitherto-undiscovered half-bloods, Bianca and Nico di Angelo. The di Angelos are orphans; their mother has died and their Olympian father is undetermined. It turns out that Grover has discovered the di Angelo siblings just in time. A monster has infiltrated the school and is closing in on the siblings. While fighting the monster, Annabeth falls off a cliff and disappears.
We also meet Artemis and her Hunters. In the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series, Artemis appears as an auburn-haired preteen girl in a silver dress. She is accompanied by a dozen devotees, her Hunters, who appear to range in age from around 10 to approximately 14. I say "appear," "around," and "approximately" because one of the blessings of Artemis is immortality. Artemis's Hunters do not age, so long as they forswear romantic relationships with boys. Some of the Hunters have been their current age for centuries.
Artemis sends the Hunters with Percy, Grover, and Thalia when they leave for Camp Half-Blood. Artemis is on the trail of a dangerous monster that could destroy the world. The monster is so dangerous that she must hunt it by herself. The kids are taken to Camp Half-Blood by Apollo, who apparently develops infatuations with non-Greek forms of poetry. He is currently in his haiku phase, which we are given to believe is an improvement over his limerick phase. If this is true, I shudder to think what his limericks were like.
We get to know one of the Hunters, well two, technically. The first is Zoe, who is Artemis's lieutenant. She has a dark complexion and wears her hair braided in a way that somehow incorporates the silver circlet that is her badge of office. The other is Bianca di Angelo. Yes, that Bianca di Angelo, from the first paragraph. She is offered a position in the Hunters, and she takes it, much to the dismay of Nico, who had expected that they would go stay together at camp.
The Oracle takes a field trip to give a prophecy to Zoe, stating that a party of five will go on the quest, that "one will be lost in the land without rain," and that "one will die by a parent's hand." Soon afterwards, it turns out that Artemis has disappeared. The original five that are included on the quest are Zoe, Bianca, Phoebe (another Hunter), Grover (since they need his tracking skills to find Artemis) and Thalia. However, Phoebe is out of action before they leave, and despite the need for a fifth on the quest, Zoe will not allow Percy to go along, since he is a boy. Instead, they head off in a group of four.
After Nico extracts a promise from Percy that he will do his best to protect Bianca, Percy tags along behind them with the help of Blackjack, the pegasus that Percy rescued in "The Sea of Monsters." In "Sea of Monsters," the pegasus was female, but Blackjack has inexplicably become a stallion. He also has an ever-so-slightly problematic accent. You see, since Blackjack is a black horse, Riordan seems to have decided that he should have an African-American voice (though my perception of Blackjack's voice may be flavored by having listened to the audiobook before reading the hard copy). Blackjack also insists on calling Percy "Boss," which is less problematic than it sounds, since most other horses call him, "Lord." To Percy's credit, he hates being called "Boss," and asks Blackjack to call him by his first name, which Blackjack refuses to do.
Percy meets up with the quest at the Smithsonian. Wearing Annabeth's Yankees Cap of Invisibility, he watches the monster from Westover, and someone known only as the "General" raise a skeleton army from dragon teeth, after accidentally creating the cutest saber-toothed tiger cubs *ever.*
The "travelogue" portions of this book include Washington, DC; Cloudcroft, New Mexico; Hoover Dam; and San Francisco. I love the Hoover Dam scenes. We watch Percy, Grover, and Thalia wistfully recite facts on Hoover Dam that they picked up from Annabeth. And there is a series of exhaustion-provoked "dam" puns that make that scene a highlight of the book.
Every time I reread this book, I dread two related painful scenes, one in the middle and one towards the end. These two scenes hurt every time I read it. Not that that's a bad thing, but it is something that I felt that I should mention.
Overall, this is another excellent installment in what, I admit, is one of my favorite series.