The Hidden Oracle (2016) by Rick Riordan

The Hidden Oracle is the first book in ‘The Trials of Apollo’ pentalogy, by Rick Riordan. I was actually reading ‘Foundation and Empire’ by Asimov before this but when the game ‘Hades’ came out, I got hooked (again) on the whole Greek pantheon setting. So to compliment my experience of the game, I decided to return to Riordan’s modern take on Greek and Roman gods. I had already read all the Percy Jackson and Jason Grace books and thus picked this one up instead.

Now, if you haven’t read a Rick Riordan book, you are missing out. Alongside Neil Gaiman’s work, these books probably have the most fascinating take on old myths and legends. With the first Percy Jackson book, Riordan posed the question, what if the Greek gods were still alive and lived atop the Empire State building. Furthermore, what if they still created demigods who had to live out adventures similar to those of Greek heroes of old. I, and many others, were hooked by this premise and ever since I’ve wanted to attempt something similar with Indian Gods. So if you haven’t yet, give them a shot.

Note: These books are meant for young readers, so don’t expect anything as mature as ‘American Gods’ by Gaiman. These stories are, fun and funny adventures focused on friendship and family, involving Greek gods and demigods in New York, than anything else.

Getting back to the subject at hand, The Hidden Oracle follows the god Apollo who has been turned mortal by Zeus. Its a a fairly straightforward adventure story that does more to setup the sequels than be its own self-contained narrative. However it is an easy and fulfilling read. Sorta like a healthy snack. It is packed with silly jokes and one-lines but also tackles some serious themes in an accessible way. In fact this is probably its most standout quality. Unlike the previous Rick Riordan books, which were heavily focused on themes such as love, friendship and to a some extent even family. This one takes on darker subject matter such as abusive parents, trauma, and guilt. The book does so in a way that I think informs children without really scaring them. Though parents might want to still have a longer conversation with their kids after they’ve read these books; just to pad out what Riordan sets up. Riordan also, pleasantly, makes his stance on sexuality very clear. Though he has always been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ communities, in this story, he flies the pride flag high. It does not feel contrived though and while it is very direct, I rather this than the baiting that Disney does with their films.

In terms of plotting, the first half of the story does feel a bit tedious as it has to setup a large chunk of the mystery and Apollo’s narration is annoying (though to some extent, it is meant to be). But once the ball starts rolling, the pages breeze by. Fans of the previous books will be pleased to know that the colorful cast does make a reappearance, some to a greater extent than others. But for the most part, the novel sets up new characters for us to invest in. These new characters are refreshing and well rounded, each offering more than what we glean from them in the first few pages.

While I would not recommend this book to adults looking for high fantasy or even urban fantasy, I wholeheartedly suggest that if they’ve never read a Riordan book, they start with one now. Those who like Riordan’s work will enjoy this one too. And while newcomers, children and adults alike, are definitely better off starting with the Percy Jackson series, they can also jump into this one and find their way around.

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