Title: The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo Book 3); Author: Rick Riordan; Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Random House; Pages: 448; Price: Rs 599
The path from humanity to divinity may be long and hard — but it can be twice as excruciating in the other direction. And Apollo, the Greek god of the Sun (and music, poetry, prophecy, plague and healing too)-turned-flabby, mortal teenager, will now find out the hard way that his travails can affect others around him too – – irreversibly.
In the third installment of his adventures, set in the Percy Jackson expanded world of Graeco-Roman mythos, Apollo, or Lester Papadopoulos, as now he is, travels into the unnaturally hot southwest US to free another of his ancient oracles from the triumvirate of brutally vicious Roman Emperors. And it will be as fiendishly tough as the earlier two ventures, if not tougher.
For not only is the Emperor concerned the most sadistically vicious of all (ever more than Nero and Commodus, who we met earlier) or that the oracle eschews the usual ambiguous and confusing rhymes for more confusing word puzzles, but there is also a primal power that Apollo needs to tackle.
And that too in the Labyrinth, which is not a very salutary place to be, as we have learned from the initial Percy Jackson series.
Our godly-turned-mortal hero has to traverse “through mazes dark to lands of scorching death/To find the master of the swift white horse/And wrest from him the crossword speaker’s breath”. This too, “in thine own enemy’s boots”. (All these will give anyone with a half decent knowledge of the early Roman Empire the identity of the Emperor).
Using these ingredients, and characters from the previous two cycles, Rick Riordan spins another engrossing tale that brings together vivid depictions into divinity and human nature (across the spectrum, and into all ), some splendidly-aimed potshots at modern culture (especially its entertainment and consumer aspects) as well contemporary events presently in a radically different manner.
In this last case, there are the raging wildfires in southern California — and what caused and fuels them — that forms an interesting plot line here.
While half-blood heroine Meg McCaffrey gets a larger role here — and we learn more about her past and capabilities — there is Percy’s best friend, the satyr Grover Underwood from the first series and three from the seven-band Heroes of Olympus of the second cycle . However, there are changes in the status of a few of the earlier principal protagonists and even a final farewell or two (you have been warned).
Readers of Riordan’s earlier works will of course draw parallels with the third of the Percy Jackson series (“The Titan’s Curse”), which was also rather dark, with the deaths of some principal characters, but that is inevitable, since both are the midpoints of the series and the battle is still equally poised.
And while many points, lingering from early installments and even series, are dealt with, more emerge to make the next accounts eagerly-awaited to know what happened.
But, on the other hand, treating this as just only a contemporary rendition of Greek mythology is missing the point actually. Riordan, the “storyteller of the Gods” for his superb rendition of Graeco-Roman, Egyptian and Norse mythology in a modern millieu, is not only a skillful re-teller of these ancient myths, but rather extracts their essence for modern readers.
It is not about gods and their powers, or mortal heroes and their prowess, but rather the more fundamental issues — honour, pride, ambition, fear, belonging and friendship, loyalty, and above all, sacrifices, the uncertainty of life and fortune, or what differentiates powerful but rather indifferent celestial beings and more empathising mortals, and the importance of nature — that are important to the story.
And there is plenty of all these here, along with the splendid wit — which you can discover on your own, in Apollo’s rather snide manner (though he improves considerably across the course of the story).
The only problem is that now we face another year’s wait to understand what happened – – and further awaits — Camp Jupiter, of the Roman demigods, and who the soundless god is.