Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

The Red Pyramid introduces readers to Carter and Sadie Kane.  Fourteen-year-old Carter is home-schooled by his professor father as they travel the world studying ancient Egypt.  His sister, twelve-year-old Sadie, lives in London with her maternal grandparents.  Carter and Sadie see each other two days a year, one visitation day in both winter and summer.  The book begins on Christmas Eve, winter visitation day, as Carter and his father arrive late to see Sadie.  Dr. Julius Kane has arranged a Christmas visit to the Egyptian Collection at the British Museum.

Readers, and the Kane siblings, quickly realize that there’s more to Julius Kane than an advanced Egyptian education when their visit to the museum ends with an explosion, magical appearances, a fiery man making threats, and their father trapped inside a sarcophagus.  Later they learn that their father’s actions at the museum have released five ancient gods, two of which have taken up temporary residence inside Carter and Sadie.

The next 500 pages are mostly a sprint from death-defying explosions to attacks by mythical creatures to trips to the land of the dead to a run-in with an evil Elvis jumpsuit.  (Really, no kidding.)  Along the way are numerous lessons on ancient Egypt.  There are pharaohs and gods, legends and rules, and magical methods transportation.  Carter knows bits and pieces from traveling with his father, but Sadie learns at the same pace as readers do - only as other characters explain the details to the Kane siblings.

I’m torn on which direction this review should go, so rather than pick a side (while relaxing on Christmas vacation, no less), I’m going to stay right here comfortably riding the fence, give both sides, and let readers decide.

I have three (and a half) concerns with the first book of Rick Riordan’s new Kane Chronicles series:
  1. At 516 pages, it is unnecessarily long.
  2. My lack of background knowledge on ancient Egypt had me trying to keep all the gods and legends and rules straight rather than focus on the main characters’ and plot’s development.  At least with The Lightning Thief I had some knowledge of Greek mythology to draw from.
  3. It was easy to miss the changes in narrators between Carter and Sadie every couple chapters.
  4. (only half a concern) It requires readers to suspend their disbelief more than the average fantasy novel, but that’s less of a problem with young readers who are generally more eager to do so than grown-ups.
Now, a number of my students have read The Red Pyramid, and based on my observations and conferences with them, here’s how my concerns have translated to young readers:
  1. Doesn't matter.  More of a good thing.
  2. Doesn't matter.  Most kids have little knowledge of Greek mythology, too.
  3. Doesn't matter.  Kids apparently pay more attention to chapter headings.
  4. Doesn't matter.  Suspension of disbelief.  Not a problem.
I’m pretty sure I would have recommended this book to students regardless of my personal feelings.  The Red Pyramid moves at an incredible pace with each chapter offering readers another hair-raising adventure and there’s magic and battles galore.  Rick Riordan knows the formula to keep readers reading.  High action, flying-fast pace, amazing escapes, brave battles, and a sequel to come.

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