Monday, July 26, 2010

Review of The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Riordan, Rick. The Red Pyramid. Disney/Hyperion, 2010.

14-year-old Carter Kane has led a nomadic life since his mother died six years ago, traveling with his dad, an imminent Egyptologist. Meanwhile, his 12-year-old sister Sadie has been living with their mother's grandparents in England. During one of their twice-yearly visits with her, their strangely nervous dad takes them to the British Museum, where he destroys the Rosetta Stone, unleashes a bunch of Egyptian gods, and gets himself locked into a sarcophagus by Set, Bad Boy of the Egyptian god siblings.

Carter and Sadie's uncle Amos swoops them away to New York, and immediately the siblings find themselves immersed in a world of magic, gods, and demons. In fact, Carter and Sadie realize that they are an integral part of this world, and soon they are zipping back and forth from America to Egypt and back. Mission? To destroy Set before he allows chaos to destroy the world, while avoiding death at the hands of Set's minions and allies.

Okay, so it sounds a bit familiar. Ancient gods, magical kids who must learn to handle their powers while on the run, goofy modern manifestations of ancient personages - and of course plenty of one-liners and humor-under-pressure. However, this tale is a bit darker and a bit more complicated than the Percy Jackson series. Egyptian gods are rather more enigmatic, as a rule, than the like-humans-but-more-so Greek gods, and their aims are not so clear. The minor gods and demons, however, can be downright simple-minded, with ludicrous names and b-movie dialogue that Carter and Sadie mock shamelessly and hilariously.

The action moves quickly, the various characters we meet (Khufu the baboon is a stand-out) are intriguing, and the elements of Egyptian mythology are exotically bizarre. The spells that are cast always include hieroglyphs that float in the air, and these are reproduced in the book, much to my fascination. Best of all, Riordan does a wonderful job meshing the ancient world with our modern one, so that any pyramid (including the Pompidou center) and any obelisk (including the Washington Monument) become objects of power, and places like Phoenix, Arizona and river towns like El Paso have huge significance. This reminded me of Tim Powers' excellent books, particularly Anubis Gates, Last Call, and Expiration Date, as well as Neil Gaimon's American Gods.

The first 5 pages or so had me worried. I wasn't sold on the Indiana Jones-type adventure or on the fact that the chapters are supposedly narrated into a microphone by an alternating Carter and Sadie. Carter and Sadie are mixed race, by the way - their dad is African American and their mom was a white woman from England. Carter looks a lot like his dad, while Sadie is much lighter, with straight hair and blue eyes. Both siblings get annoyed when strangers can't believe they're siblings.

Despite my misgivings, soon enough I was not only sucked into the story but hugely enjoying the irreverent tone. This is a really funny book, folks - sure to be a winner with young readers. Highly recommended for Percy Jackson fans and all those who want an action-packed adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously (even when the situation is earnest indeed). Ages 10 to 14.


  1. I agree with your review. My quibble is with the episodic plot. There was no real narrative arc -- it was just one scrape with a bad god after another. I don't think kids mind this though.

  2. Good review. I enjoyed the book, though not as much as Percy Jackson. I had a hard time following all the different gods. But I'll probably read the next book in the series.