narfna’s #CBR4 Review #47: The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan
I love the Percy Jackson series. It’s great for what it is (kid’s literature). Rick Riordan isn’t the world’s best writer, but his books are entertaining and educating at the same time, and the PJ series in particular has an engaging plot and characters. Most of what he’s written after that series has felt kind of redundant to me, not only in plot, but also in the way that he structures both individual books within a series and the series as a whole. The Heroes of Olympus is a continuation of the Percy Jackson universe with new characters mixed in, and besides a little bit of repetition, it’s pretty great. The Kane Chronicles trilogy – of which The Serpent’s Shadow is the third and final volume – has been much more problematic for me the whole way through.
The Kane Chronicles follows brother and sister Sadie and Carter Kane, who are descended on their father’s side from the Egyptian pharoahs. They also happen to be magicians and hang out with Egyptian gods on a regular basis. The big villain of the trilogy is the god Apophis, the chaos serpent. The big quest in The Serpent’s Shadow is for the kids and their team of fellow magicians to find a way to defeat Apophis’s plan to swallow the sun and turn the forces of chaos loose on the universe. The plot is pretty standard, and I bet you can guess how it all turns out, but where The Serpent’s Shadow fails (and I think where the whole trilogy fails) is in the way Riordan brings that story across. Book two show marked improvement over book one, The Red Pyramid, so I had high(ish) hopes for book three. But The Serpent’s Shadow ended up being almost as disappointing as book one.
In addition to not really caring about any of the characters, I was completely turned off by the framing device, which involves Riordan pretending that Sadie and Carter would stop and take the time to painstakingly “record” their story conveniently in the style of children’s novel on some battered audiocassettes or something. This was cheesy for the first two books, but at least it made some sort of sense, as purportedly Sadie and Carter were recording this in case something happened to them and they didn’t make it out alive. Obviously, they made it out alive from The Serpent’s Shadow, if they’re making the recording, so what’s the point? Nothing, except Riordan being cutesy and giving himself the excuse to have Sadie and Carter “adorably” interrupt one another whilst recording. I wish it had just been a straight up book-book, you know? Not to mention, hi! Spoiler! They make it out alive! Happy ending! And with the exception of a truly creepy solution to Sadie’s love triangle problem (she’s in love both with Anubis the god of death, who appears to her in the form a gorgeous leather-clad seventeen year old boy, and with her fellow wizard, Walt, who is dying of a King Tut’s curse, King Tut being his ancestor), the book is just really kind of predictable.
In the case of the mythological gods universe that Riordan has created, I’m starting to think that more isn’t more. The more “epic” stuff he shoves in to his universe, the less epic the stories actually feel. One of the reasons I loved the original Percy Jackson series so much is that it felt kind of intimate and cozy to be a part of that world, but each of his successive books have just had more and more stuff stuffed into them that there’s barely any room for coziness at all. Hints that The Kane Chronicles actually exists in the same fictional universe as Percy Jackson and Company should get me excited, but really it just makes me nervous. The idea of combining the Egyptian gods with the Roman/Greek ones somewhere down the line is intriguing, but I’m not exactly sure Riordan could pull it off. He does his best work with a small cast of characters, with one or two major plot threads. I have a feeling that any Kane Chronicles/Percy Jackson crossover would end up just being another example of even more plot stuffed into even less space, with less room for all the stuff that I love about these universes he’s created.