Ever since the gods of Ancient Egypt were unleashed on the modern world, Carter Kane and his sister, Sadie, have been in big trouble.
As descendants of the magical House of Life, they command certain powers. But now a terrifying enemy – Apophis, the giant snake of chaos – is rising.
If Carter and Sadie don’t destroy him, the world will end in five days’ time. And in order to battle the forces of chaos, they must revive the sun god Ra – a feat no magician has ever achieved. Because first they must search the world for the three sections of the Book of Ra, then they have to learn how to chant its spells . . .
Can the Kanes destroy Apophis before he swallows the sun and plunges the earth into darkness . . . forever?
In the eighteen months that I have been running The Book Zone I have not written many negative reviews. This isn't because I feel I have to keep publishers and authors happy, it just so happens that I have not read many books in this time that I have felt were not very good. Interestingly, some of my more negative reviews have not been for debut or less-known authors, but for books by writers whose previous work I have loved. One such review was for The Red Pyramid, the first book in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles series. I loved the Percy Jackson series, and they still rank amongst my favourite series of books for young people, and I also thought The Lost Hero was also very good, yet for some reason I just did not gel with The Red Pyramid, and now having read the sequel, The Throne of Fire, I wish I had the time to go back and read The Red Pyramid all over again to see if my opinion changes, especially as that one review resulted in quite a few comments and emails from young readers vehemently disagreeing with me.
At the time I personally found it difficult to get in to, and the principle reason for this was the use of the first person for telling the story, with chapters alternating between the two Kane siblings. I found this a little confusing and irritating, although I have never really been a huge fan of first person storytelling anyway. Not so for The Throne of Fire. Perhaps I was not in the right mood when I read the first book (I do occasionally suffer from kids/YA book burnout), but this time I gelled with the narration immediately, and not once did it grate on me. In fact, this time I found the alternating between characters narrating worked much better, although the story does lend itself to this much more in The Throne of Fire as Carter and Sadie spend lengthy scenes apart in the story, engaged on different tasks.
Another moan I had regarding The Red Pyramid was that due to the alternating narration sometimes the same event would be mentioned twice, but from different points of view. Now that book was 500+ pages in length and really would have gained from being trimmed back by 100 or so pages, and I think the removal of this occasional repetition would have helped greatly in this respect. The Throne of Fire is still a hefty tome, weighing in at 446 pages, and quite a big ask for many kids in the targeted age group of 9+, and yes, it could still do with being trimmed of 80 or so pages, but I did not get that sense of repetition much at all in this case.
Another reason for The Red Pyramid's length was the need to set up the story, and this was one area where I felt that Mr Riordan did a very good job. With the main characters and situation already established it is straight into the action for the Kanes in the sequel, as they attempt a late night raid on the Brooklyn Museum, in an attempt to get their hands on the first part of The Book of Ra. We are also introduced to a couple more teenage descendants of Pharaohs, Walt and Jaz, who are now living and working with the Kanes as a result of the worldwide plea for help they sent out at the end of The Red Pyramid (as with that book, this sequel is also narrated in the form of an audio recording to be sent out to gain followers to the cause). And from then on the action comes in peaks and troughs, so although the book is a little over-long the pace is enough to keep most readers interested and excited for the duration.
Egyptian mythology is so complex compared to the Greek mythology that Mr Riordan thrilled us with in the Percy Jackson series. There seem to be far more gods, and of course many of them are not household names in the same way that their Greek counterparts are, and you really have to admire the author for the research that he has carried out, and the knowledge he has built on this subject. My knowledge of the Egyptian gods is still fairly minimal, but I do know that their stories sometimes read like an ancient soap opera, filled with petty jealousies, betrayal, and so on. Mr Riordan weaves their ancient histories into his story very well, and as readers we are sometimes as wary as the Kane siblings when it comes to which god we should place our trust in. The Throne of Fire introduces us to a further handful of these ancient Egyptian deities, and one in particular really stood out for me - the dwarf god Bes. This wonderful character had me laughing out loud at times and his first big scene on Waterloo Bridge will probably have you doing the same.
My final verdict: I feel it is a great improvement on The Red Pyramid, although if I had the time I would definitely re-read that first book to see if I feel any differently about it now. Sometimes when I am writing a review I have to make a great effort to remind myself that I am reviewing books written for younger readers, and in this case the 9+ age group, and therefore do the occasional gripes I have as an adult reader really matter to younger readers. I know for a fact that The Red Pyramid has been very popular in the school library, and rarely gets to sit on the shelf for more than a day before it is taken out again, and the comments and emails I got following my review of it were testament to how much many other children had enjoyed it.
My thanks go the the generous people at Just So for Puffin Books for sending me a copy of The Throne of Fire to review. It is released in hardback today, and paperback edition of The Red Pyramid is due out on 5th May.