In less than two weeks, Rick Riordan will publish The House of Hades, the fourth book in the Heroes of Olympus series. My biggest complaint about The Mark of Athena was its similarity to its predecessors. In all ten of the mythology-based books published before it, Riordan had followed a basic formula, to varying degrees of success. The Mark of Athena was no different– in fact, it was so formulaic I could almost predict the plot twists. In fact, I did try to predict the entire book just after I had read The Son of Neptune about six months earlier. It wasn’t exact, but it wasn’t far from the truth, either.
What can we expect, therefore, from this coming addition to the series? Will it be predictable or will it blow us out of our socks? Let’s run through a few things that Riordan can’t seem to live without.
1) The Prophecy.
The prophecy is a staple of hero stories. It sets up the problem and the solution in a short period of time, and it’s up to the heroes to figure it out. It is the call to action shouted through a megaphone instead of subtly enacted upon the hero. Not only that, but it’s an opportunity to rhyme, and we all love rhymes. (If you can’t smell the sarcasm, you’re reading it wrong.)
Riordan is in the unique– or is it cliched?– position of rewriting the Greek myths. The Ancient Greeks had gods and oracles and the Fates. Prophecies popped up everywhere. There’s an army attacking? I’ll just pop over to my prophecy superstore and pick up a couplet or two before I save the day. Perhaps I’ll get a quatrain this time– or a sonnet! The prophecy let the audience believe that their heroes were the chosen of the gods instead of mere men who liked decapitating things.
Did Riordan need the prophecy for the same reason? Why, yes, I think so. He wanted the chosen of the gods theme, but he also kept the prophecies loose so the characters would doubt themselves whenever they tried to fulfill anything. Are they really the people the gods were talking about? If they’re not, well, their wills are in the top drawer. Make sure you bury their charred bones under the oak tree.
2) The Deadline.
Riordan always uses this. He never goes without it. The gods like solstices and boom, you have a deadline. Do this before then, do that before then– we’ve got three days to do that and whoops, overslept. He’s always got the deadline for the quest sitting in front of you, reminding you there’s a consequence if you take your time. This causes the characters to make haste, make mistakes, and make suspense.
But why? Why can’t he write a calm novel for once? Because he wants things to go quickly. He wants people to make mistakes. He wants another reason for everything to be impossible. That’s how he works.
I wonder sometimes what his stories would turn out to be if he didn’t have that deadline, if he didn’t have someone with a lightning bolt aimed at the main character’s head if he goes too slow. He would probably find a way. All his books would be thrillers.
3) The Sideshows.
Remember my cardinal rule? Riordan follows it all the time. If nothing is happening– and nothing can happen that pertains to the main plot– he adds a sideshow. If the characters are slowly making their way across the country (but not too slowly because of the deadline) and the villain is just sitting there waiting for them, he introduces a new danger that has nothing to do with the plot. Suddenly, hydra! Suddenly, Medusa! Suddenly, shrimp! Amazons, mucky stables, chasms of doom! When he’s at a loss for plot points, he opens his mythology index and selects one at random. It keeps them from meeting their deadline and sidetracks them from following the prophecy. Might as well.
4) The Secrets.
I don’t know that I’ve met a long-term side character in Riordan’s books who doesn’t have a secret. Their godly parent, their mortal parent, their sisters, brothers, that one thing they promised to that demon of puddles– someone’s always hiding something. Learning to trust friends– or betraying them now and apologizing later– is Riordan’s favorite form of character arc. It’s a good one. The only problem is, it’s the same one every time.
Secrets do create tension, especially between friends, but they aren’t that satisfying when they exist nor when they resolve. There’s a nice punch when the antagonist calls them on their secret and they have to explain or seem like a traitor, but when it happens time and time again, it becomes too much. Furthermore, hearing every character think “But I couldn’t let [best friend] know…” is annoying.
5) The Romance.
Riordan includes love triangles everywhere he can. As I said in my review for The Mark of Athena, “Between Jason, Piper, Reyna, Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Hazel, Frank, and possibly even Festus the metal dragon head, there are untold combinations to be achieved.” Everyone loves two people in these stories, and sometimes it’s a little irritating. Such as, all the time.
Love triangles are great for romantic tension– I can’t deny that. Unfortunately, just like secrets, they can be overused. Riordan likes to ignore that, however, and he writes all the love triangles he can. If he’s up for a challenge, I’d suggest a pentagon.
And, as a bonus…
6) The Tongue-Twister.
The Greek gods had funny names. The Greek monsters had even funnier ones. Whenever any of the main characters hears one, they seem to hear it incorrectly and make a joke about it. At first it was funny, such as thinking “hubris” was “hummus”. Now the puns are getting old.
Will The House of Hades turn out to be a copy of the previous books? At this point, there’s no telling. In two weeks, however, we will know for sure.
By the way, all of the techniques listed here are perfectly acceptable for any story you choose to write. Just bear in mind that they are not to be overused, nor are they to be used all at once. Riordan might sue you for plagiarism.