The Battle of the Labyrinth
A book review for parents
This fantasy adventure is the fourth book in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan and is published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of the Disney Book Group.
The Battle of the Labyrinth is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Percy Jackson, half-mortal and half-Greek god, has known his demi-god (or "hero") status for several years. As the son of Poseidon, the sea god, he's already been on several quests to aid and rescue gods or other half-bloods like himself. He spends his summers at Camp Half-Blood, where he and other heroes find magical protection from monsters and learn how to cope with — perhaps even to embrace — their unusual heritage.
Ninth grade begins badly for Percy, who discovers the cheerleaders at his new school are she-demons called empousai. Their appearance proves that Kronos, leader of the Titans whom the gods cut into pieces, is rapidly re-forming. Kronos is recruiting monsters and half-bloods to battle the Olympian gods.
Percy and his half-blood friend Annabeth return to camp to warn the others. Percy meets the mysterious new sword instructor, Quintus. He learns that his best friend, Grover, is running out of time to save Pan, the missing god of the wild. Annabeth has a theory: Since they can't find Pan above ground, maybe he's trapped underground in the Labyrinth created by the ancient genius Daedalus. The expansive maze is supposed to contain dangerous illusions and insanity-causing traps. When Percy and Annabeth find a portal to the Labyrinth on the camp's land, they're convinced Kronos and his army will attack through it. With Grover and Tyson (Percy's Cyclops brother), they enter the Labyrinth in search of Daedalus. They want to ask him for Ariadne's string, the only tool with which they can safely navigate the Labyrinth.
Meanwhile, Percy dreams about Nico, son of Hades. Nico blames the death of this sister, Bianca, on Percy and seeks revenge. The spirit of King Minos, with his own vendetta against Daedalus, assists Nico.
In the Labyrinth, the group saves the Hundred-Handed-One (Briares) from one of Kronos' monsters, gets advice from the goddess Hera and stops a three-bodied creature named Geryon from mistreating sacred cattle. They find Nico and help him summon Bianca's spirit. Bianca urges Nico to forgive Percy. They visit the god Hephaestus, who says he'll lead them to Daedalus if they will investigate what has invaded his workshop beneath Mount St. Helens. Grover and Tyson search for Pan while Percy and Annabeth enter the volcano and find creatures called telekhines. Percy blasts out of the volcano and lands on Calypso's island, where she nurses him back to health. Hephaestus helps Percy get back to camp, where he walks into his own funeral. Annabeth, pleased to find Percy alive, tells him Quintus has disappeared.
Percy enlists help from Rachel Elizabeth Dare, a mortal from the last book, because she can see through the Mist. She guides them to Daedalus (who is actually Quintus). They beg Daedalus to help them, but he has already given Ariadne's string to the Titan army. Nico arrives to save them from the approaching King Minos.
Once reunited with Grover and Tyson, the group finds Pan. Pan is dying because humans no longer cherish the wild. He tells Grover and the others that they must carry on his message when he dies. The kids return to camp and join the other half-bloods in battling the Titan forces. Daedalus and the Hundred-Handed-One show up to help ensure victory.
Back at Percy's home, Poseidon appears at Percy's birthday celebration. He tells Percy, "You are my favorite son." Nico arrives later and tells Percy he knows how they can beat the Titan army for good.
A half-blood child of Nemesis, goddess of revenge, uses the phrase "an eye for an eye" (see Matthew 5:38-39).
Hera, goddess of marriage, speaks of the importance of perseverance and rising above chaos, keeping your goals in mind. Her son, however, tells how she threw him off Mount Olympus because he didn't fit into her image of the "perfect" family. Rachel's dad is a wealthy land developer, vilified in the book because he is destroying the wild. Percy's mother demonstrates concern for Percy, but knowing who and what he is, she tries not to be overprotective. Poseidon, who is physically and emotionally distant, visits Percy and affirms his pride and joy in Percy.
Other Belief Systems
The premise of the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series is that the gods of mythology exist today and control world events with their magical powers. As in the ancient myths, the gods and goddesses still have affairs with humans. Their children, such as Percy, are powerful demi-gods. Percy and other half-bloods frequently pray to the gods, especially their own fathers or mothers, for help or direction. As the centers of power have moved throughout history, so have the gods, who now live in, above and below America. The evil monsters that pursue them are primal forces without souls so they cannot die, only be momentarily beaten before they re-form into their old selves. Many demi-gods attend Camp Half-Blood because life in the real world proves difficult. The camp has magic borders, which monsters are unable to penetrate. Campers begin their meals by blessing the gods and giving them a portion of their food. The Oracle of Delphi provides prophesies concerning what the demi-gods will or must do. The Oracle has given Chiron, assistant camp director, prophesies indicating that one of the half-blood children of the "Big Three" gods (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon) will face a monumental challenge on his or her 16th birthday that could destroy Mount Olympus.
Rachel Dare can see through the Mist, a veil that hides the real appearances and actions of gods and monsters from human eyes. When Percy sees Rachel initially, he considers it bad luck. Empousai are demons, who say dark magic formed them from animal, bronze and ghost. They exist to feed on the blood of young men. The telekhines betrayed the gods and practiced dark magic, so Zeus banished them to Tartarus. The telekhines sanctify Kronos' weapon in blood.
Percy and other half-bloods get messages or glimpses of the future in their dreams. As Poseidon's son, Percy calls out to the sea for help on several occasions. Percy speaks telepathically to horses.
Nico, son of Hades, spends much of the story summoning spirits of the dead to reincarnate his sister, Bianca. He chants and gives the spirits offerings of Coke and cheeseburgers. He knows when people die because he gets a buzzing sensation in his ears. Bianca says holding grudges is the fatal flaw of the children of Hades. When the Titan army attacks Camp Half-Blood, Nico summons armies of undead soldiers to help the demi-gods fight.
Percy and Annabeth meet a creature that speaks in an ancient language. Tyson says it is the tongue used before the gods were born, the language Mother Earth spoke to the Titans. A naiad tells Percy about some shells that are millions of years old, from a time before the gods ruled.
Grover says even immortal gods and monsters can die if they are forgotten and lose the will to live. Pan, god of the wild, says he's dying because people no longer care about his domain. He says Grover and the others — and everyone — must make salvation for themselves by spreading the message of the need to save the wild. In Pan's presence, Percy's skin tingles with "living energy," and he feels his weariness vanish.
The red cows on Geryon's farm are sacred (or holy) to Apollo. Geryon kills them for meat and otherwise mistreats the animals, violating many ancient laws for his own profit. Daedalus, who is thousands of years old, has transferred his "animus" (perhaps translated soul or spirit) into different mechanical bodies over time. The Labyrinth reads people's thoughts and tries to trick them.
Butt, sucks, Hades (used in the same way many people use h--- today), thank the gods, Holy Poseidon and Di immortales appear. Several people swear oaths on the River Styx. A number of battles take place, but little if any graphic violence appears in the text.
Annabeth kisses Percy before he enters a dangerous situation. Calypso kisses Percy on the forehead to say goodbye. Annabeth tells Percy that she, as with all of Athena's children, wasn't conceived the normal way. Athena's relationships are purely intellectual, and her children are sprung from her divine thoughts and the mortal ingenuity of the father.
Kirkus Starred Review, 2008; Publishers Weekly Starred Review, 2008
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What does Dionysus mean when he tells Percy that sometimes a kind act can be as powerful as a sword?
Give an example of a generous action that could wield great power.
- What does Annabeth mean when she says children of Athena should be wise, not just clever?
What's the difference between cleverness and wisdom?
What does God call His children to be?
- What is significant about Percy's interaction with his father, Poseidon?
What do his father's words of affirmation mean to him?
What is unique and special about the relationship between a child and his or her father?
What role does your father play in your life?
- Which characters hold grudges and seek revenge?
Why are these behaviors harmful and dangerous?
What can happen to you and others when you fail to forgive?
What does the Bible say about forgiveness?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.