I’ve been writing about Rick Riordan a lot recently, if you haven’t noticed, but I promise this is the last post for… a while. After all, Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer doesn’t come out until October. Anyway, I just finished The Kane Chronicles, Riordan’s Egyptian mythology-based trilogy, last weekend, and while I have high expectations from his books to begin with, I was still pleasantly surprised by this series.
Spoilers for the trilogy below the jump.
Unlike the Greek and Roman teens, our protagonists in this series are not demigods. Rather, Sadie and Carter Kane are descended from the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and have the ability to host the Egyptian gods within their physical bodies. However, they find themselves constantly at odds with the House of Life, a legion of magicians trained in the Ancient Egyptian tradition, who practice ancient magics but believe actually merging with the gods is anathema.
The first book, The Red Pyramid, covers the Kanes’ battle with Set, the god of chaos, as he attempts to seize power and destroy all of North America in the meantime. However, as much as it burns him to learn it, Set is being manipulated by a greater force. The Ancient Egyptian cosmology was divided into Order and Chaos, and while Set is a god of chaos, he’s still a god, and the gods are sworn to uphold Order. Chaos is championed by the great serpent Apophis, who seeks to destroy all of Creation and the gods along with it. In Throne of Fire, the second book, the Kanes gather other kids with the blood of the pharaohs to them and seek to resurrect Ra, the first king of the gods, who battled against Apophis back in ancient times. Finally, in the third book, The Serpent’s Shadow, they travel across Egypt and the underworld both to gather the ingredients for a spell that will banish Apophis for essentially forever.
While I still think that the Heroes of Olympus series is my favorite, this series was definitely enjoyable. It was fast-paced and funny, and its narration style—alternating viewpoints between Carter and Sadie, told as if they were recording their adventures after they occurred for archival purposes—added extra levity.
There are two things that I felt especially impressed by after reading it. First, the Kanes are biracial, and Carter takes after their Black father, while Sadie takes after their white mother. Not only is it cool that we have biracial protagonists, but I feel like it’s also a subtle reminder that the Ancient Egyptians were not white. There’s also an interesting divide between the two: they were raised separately, and Sadie can’t understand why Carter is so nervous about dressing like what she considers a “regular teenager”. Carter, however, was warned at a young age by his father that, as a Black male, he would be held to a different standard of respectability than his sister, and is anxious about looking polished. There’s also a scene with the police where Carter expresses being deeply nervous about interacting with cops because of his race. Furthermore, the Kanes aren’t the only characters with non-white heritage. Zia, Carter’s eventual girlfriend, is Egyptian; Sadie’s eventual boyfriend Walt is Black, and so is the Kanes’s helpful uncle Amos.
The other thing I really like about this series was its relatively groundbreaking resolution of a love triangle. Sadie spends the first half of the series crushing hardcore on Anubis, the Egyptian god of death. He tends to appear as a hot teenage goth boy, so it’s hard to not crush. Because he’s a god and she’s a mortal, though, the rest of the pantheon warns Anubis from consorting with her. She also develops feelings for a fellow student of magic, the aforementioned Walt. However, Walt’s bloodline goes back to Tutenkhamen, and his whole family has suffered the same curse as the boy king—terrible illness and early death. In the end, the love triangle is resolved neither by Walt’s death nor Anubis gracefully backing out. Rather, Walt offers to host Anubis, making it a win-win for all of them. Anubis being in Walt’s body means Walt won’t die from his disease, and he can be with Sadie without the other gods interfering. Their personalities don’t merge, however; they may be sharing a body, but they’re still two separate, disparate people both interested in a relationship with Sadie. Meanwhile, Sadie no longer has to choose, and she’s pretty darn okay with that. The “resolve love triangles with OT3s” thing is gaining some ground in the YA realm, but I’d say it’s still relatively unheard of in upper middle grade stuff, which is where Riordan’s books fall. I was delighted to see what is arguably polyamory represented quite positively and innocently in a book geared toward younger audiences.
There are a few nods to Riordan’s other series throughout the book, reminding us that all these stories do in fact exist in the same universe. For example, the Kanes’ headquarters is in New York City, but in Brooklyn—they don’t go into Manhattan (the location of Mount Olympus). Carter is certain he once saw a flying horse across the river, though, and in the third book, the Egypt kids encounter the snotty former head of Aphrodite Cabin, Drew Tanaka, during a school dance. Finally, at the end of the third book, Sadie’s mother hints that they’ll be having new adventures soon, and encountering other gods. Although I presume that we’ll get the entire Magnus Chase/Asgardian series before we see any major crossovers, I am looking forward to the point when he does finally cross the beams, as it were. All in all, this was a truly enjoyable series and I was surprised and pleased to see how it played out. If you’re a fan of Riordan’s other books or of mythology in general, I definitely recommend you check them out.