The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
OK, I admit it. Like Amy, I chair my kids' school's book fair. And it was last week, and it lasted for 7 school days, so I was at school for something like 70 hours. Plus we had 3 sets of grandparents visit during those 7 days. So, although my children and I bought a huge stack of exciting new books, and though I have an ARC that I am anxious to read from amazon.com, I have not managed to read anything new in the last week and a half or so.
So, I'm going to an old favorite, and I'm also "pulling a Carrie" by reviewing one book, yet really recommending something like 10. (We'll stick with two for now...)
The Red Pyramid is an excellent novel by prolific tween author Rick Riordan. He's responsible for the Percy Jackson books (for another day when I haven't read anything new) and also has written several in the 39 Clues series (again, for another day.)
I found The Red Pyramid particularly fascinating because I like to learn new stuff. I am fairly familiar with Greek mythology, and while I knew a tiny bit about Egyptian mythology, I learned a LOT more from this book and its sequel, The Throne of Fire. Mr. Riordan has done beautiful research and really makes ancient lore (and gods!) come alive and make sense in the modern day.
Carter and Sadie Kane are siblings who've lived apart since their mother passed away mysteriously 6 years ago. Carter, 14, travels the world being homeschooled and taught all sorts of esoteric and practical information by their father, a famous Egyptologist. The family had been living in LA before the death, and Sadie, 12, was sent to live with her maternal grandparents in London. Carter and his dad are African-American, Sadie is light-skinned and blue-eyed like their mom. They are not particularly close - both because they are teenage siblings who don't see each other except for two days a year, but also because they are each jealous of the other. Sadie wishes for the adventure and time with her father. Carter wishes for "normal" with true friends and a home.
Carter and their dad, Julius, turn up in London for Christmas, and literally all hell breaks loose. Their dad meets a mysterious man named Amos, who seems to be warning him off, then takes the kids to a private tour of the British Museum, where he manages to explode the Rosetta Stone and open a door to the Duat, the Egyptian gods' world. He was trying to summon Osiris, the great king god, but manages to also get Set, who is not a nice guy.
The police are concerned, Carter and Sadie are shocked by what they've seen, and they are taken (sort of against their will) via a magic boat to a mansion in Brooklyn with Amos, who turns out to be Julius's brother. (One of my favorite lines is that at some point Carter thinks he might have seen a flying horse over Manhattan. Amos shrugs and says, "They have their own problems to deal with over there." Percy Jackson fans will smile.) There they find that their parents (and therefore themselves) are part of a long line of The House of Life, protectors and practitioners of ancient Egypt's gods and magic, and that their parents had more or less bucked the system. So, the House wants to protect them, but also get them into the fold, which may or may not be what their parents would have wanted. They have magic, and need to learn how to use it, learn to trust each other, maybe get a first girlfriend, deal with the fact that Sadie's cat is actually a goddess, figure out how to save their dad...
Oh, yeah - Set also wants to destroy the world by building a giant pyramid full of magic. So, yep, they also have to save the world along the way.
The story is told as if transcribed from an audiotape, alternating from Carter and Sadie's separate points of view. Mr. Riordan handles this very well. You are never confused by the switching of viewpoints, and his writing rings true in both the girl and boy voices.
The descriptions are fantastic - you can absolutely both picture yourself in Egypt and also buy into a cat suddenly becoming human or a wax figure crocodile taking a dip in the rooftop pool. The action scenes are heart-pounding, and I truly sat and finished this book in one evening (and it's 516 pages long) and then couldn't wait to devour the second. Mr. Riordan has a gift, and again (though it's for another day) I recommend anything he writes. I know that girls who try them like the books nearly as well as boys do, even though my son's teacher saw it on the book fair shelf and said, "Oh, that's a good boy book."
My boys did love this book, and I also have a dear friend who highly recommends it as an audiobook, because she reads Riordan books aloud to her children (a 4th grade boy and a 2nd grade girl), but feels uncomfortable pronouncing the Egyptian names. Again, reading this on our own, the boys and I didn't mind this, and we have all enjoyed learning more about a very ancient culture. You feel pretty smart when you finish these books.
While this is the first of a trilogy, it's no Empire Strikes Back or Dead Man's Chest. The action and plot in this book clearly ends, and while it does let you know that it's possible that another book would be coming, you do not feel cheated because there's not a lack of a finale.
I chose this book to review as my "old read" because the conclusion to the trilogy, The Serpent's Shadow, is coming next Tuesday, May 1st. I have it pre-ordered and will probably read it in one sweep before I think about picking up some of the other new and probably great books we picked up at the book fair. That's how good I anticipate it being, and how much I urge everyone to try this book and the series.
Rating: PG for some vaguely scary situations; there is no language and very slight romance.