The Red Pyramid is an interesting mix of YA urban fantasy and mythology that Rick Riordan made famous with his Percy Jackson series. And while I have not read those Greek-mythology inspired novels, I fully expect to since I enjoyed The Red Pyramid pretty well.
Riordan also takes an area of mythology that I have always been drawn to and that also been generally avoided in literature—Egyptian—and made it the focal point of a whole new series. Sure, we all know the Sphynx and who Ra is, but most of us, myself included, do not know the dynamic mythological relationships between Set, Isis, Horus, Osiris, and Bast. Well, I do now, but it’s thanks to The Red Pyramid.
Riordan Knows His Stuff
Riordan has obviously done a lot of research into ancient Egyptian culture and mythology. He easily explains how the characters and gods and plots tie together, and even without my very basic understanding of the stories, I would not have been lost. He makes a culture that is ignored by much mainstream media into something readers understand as easily as Zeus, Hera, and their messed up family. By the end of The Red Pyramid, Isis and Horus are household names.
Which is also a detriment. The book was almost 600 pages long—which is admittedly thick for a series’ introductory installment—and the first third of it was really throwing out the information. It was all necessary information, I know, but there was a lot more exposition in the book to set the stage than I’m used to. Because of this, the novel starts out slowly, but once the stage is set and we know who all the gods and characters are, things flow much more smoothly.
Two Characters, First Person
The book has two main characters: Sadie Kane, 12, and Carter Kane, 14. They’re siblings who have lived apart from one another since their mother died. When they’re reunited, they gain powers and wacky stuff happens as Egyptian gods are released from imprisonment within the Rosetta Stone. All this is told in the first person. From both characters.
At the beginning of each chapter (and maybe on the pages within the chapters, too, but I read it on my Kindle, so I can’t know), readers are told whether it will be Sadie or Carter who serves as narrator. But even without the affirmation, readers would have no problem discerning the two voices. The style in which each sibling narrates is unique to them, which is interesting for the most part, but the nuances Riordan tries for actually become a little annoying by the end of the book.
While Riordan does a good job of making their voices sound like actual adolescents, there are times when he goes too far to make it seem realistic. There are lots of pop culture references—YouTube, Google, that sort of thing—throughout, and they are very self-consciously placed. We are meant to know that these characters are “in the know” and can serve as Everyman for the Tweenie generation. The style in which they narrate is distinct enough that I feel the added references to make them relevant were tacked on.
Also, Riordan goes out of his way to make the characters seem their age and that siblings their age should bicker. I don’t really know how to describe it. Sometimes their conversations are overly dramatic (yes, I know how teenage siblings can be) and sound more like mockery rather than repetition. It’s almost like Riordan wants to write fleshed out, interesting characters until he needs a bit of humor and then falls back on caricature. Just a little out of place, is all.
My main qualm is that the whole novel is written under the guise of being recoded by the two main characters via audio. So each chapter starts off with them picking the mic up from the other, making a few snide comments, and then launching into the story. Unfortunately, the narrative after that does not flow as though it is being told. It’s not conversational. It’s very much just any other first-person narrative except there’s a reason for it to be first person. Riordan occasionally throws in a bracketed conversation between Carter and Sadie as “asides,” but these seem as forced as switching from talking conversationally like a 14 year old telling a story to an author carefully writing a first-person narrative. I wish the author would have picked one style or the other because the hybrid just didn’t work.
Magic Magic Magic
I love the system of magic that Riordan sets up in The Red Pyramid. It’s based entirely on language and the understanding of how the sign relates to the signifier and the signified (kudos to you if you understand where that came from). Basically, if Sadie or Carter Kane know both the hieroglyphs and the ancient Egyptian word for something, they can make it happen. They cast spells by conjuring these words.
What becomes interesting is that Riordan—in his much researchedness—provides these hieroglyphs for the reader along with the pronunciation. So when Sadie wants a door to magically open, we hear her say the word in Egyptian and we see the symbols she is drawing power from. The symbols glow in the air, and good mojo happens.
I also enjoy what he calls “combat magic,” which is where a character summons what amounts to a gigantic hologram of an Egyptian god they wear as a four-storey tall battlesuit. Much fun happens when there’s a fourteen-year-old parading around in a gigantic Horus suit fighting ancient Egyptian gods, I tell you. Much fun.
A Little Biased
I started reading The Red Pyramid because I downloaded the sample off Amazon and thought it was pretty good. It’s actually the first book I’ve read on my Kindle that I paid the full $9.99 to purchase. In no way to I feel that I overpaid because I am glad to finally have a series beside Stargate SG-1 that is steeped in ancient Egyptian lore. That alone is worth the price of purchasing.
Unfortunately, I started the book before I went to Florida and was able to experience the awesomeness of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Being immersed in Hogsmeade that day made me yearn to rush back home and begin re-reading the Rowling series, but I wouldn’t let myself because I was in the middle of Riordan’s newest.
So I think that I was a little biased as I finished the book because I’m sure I was a little on the “I just need to finish this so I can get to Harry Potter” side. Which I understand and admit to be completely unfair to The Red Pyramid and the world that Rick Riordan built. I have no doubt that had I not been in the mood for Rowling’s writing style and world, I would have enjoyed The Red Pyramid far more than I did.
As it was, however, The Red Pyramid fell solidly into the realm of incredibly well-done YA fantasy that just isn’t Harry Potter. It’s well written, if self-conscious. The story’s interesting, and I can care about the characters. And, like I’ve mentioned a hundred other times, it has Egyptian mythology. Which is awesome.
What it doesn’t have, unfortunately, is anything that makes it stand out above the crowd as anything but another “me, too!” YA fantasy novel. And that’s okay. Not everything has to. When the second book of The Kane Chronicles comes out, I have no doubt I’ll pick it up to see what shenanigans Sadie and Carter are getting into. And since I enjoyed it as much as I did even in the shadow of Hogwarts, once I get through my current summer book queue, Percy Jackson is high on my to-read list.