The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1), by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, middle grade, 576 pages)
Jason, Piper, and Leo were on a Wilderness School field trip to the Grand Canyon when the storm spirits attacked. Not what they had expected to happen during their time at a camp for "at-risk" kids...and nor did they expect, in the aftermath of the attack, that they would be whisked off to a very different camp--Camp Halfblood, where their godly parents (if all were to go according to plan) would claim them as their own. But since Jason can't remember a thing before the bus trip, expectations, for him at least, are pretty meaningless...
Soon Jason, Piper, and Leo find themselves embroiled in an eons old conflict between the gods and a sinister, mysterious power that is slowly awakening--a power that wants nothing more than to overthrow all the Olympian gods and usher in a new era of chaos. Each of the three kids must claim their heritage and become heroes....if they live long enough.
In this continuation of the world introduced in the Percy Jackson stories, Riordan introduces a trio of engaging characters, each of whom has a past full of secrets, some darker than others. The action is, as one expects from Riordan, brisk and monster-full, with death lurking at every turn, the plot full of details and devices, and the story compelling--it's a good read.
There is no reason to read this one before the Percy Jackson series, and it would probably be extremely confusing to do so. But reading it after all the excitement of The Lightning Thief et seq., it's hard not to feel that it's a bit flat. The premise that made those books so magical (kids of the Greek gods at war with immortal enemies) is by now well-known to the reader, and although Riordan put a lot of effort into making his three new protagonists interesting characters, and introducing interesting new monsters and other sundry mythological accouterments, and was not unsuccessful, the effort kind of showed. It just wasn't as naturally joyous as the first series (in my opinion). But, that being said, I can't wait to read book two--this first book sets the stage for what promises to be an immensely exciting story to come!
For those interested in books with non-white kids--check out the US cover up above: front and center, doing the hard work of mechanical dragon steering, is Leo, who's Hispanic. Behind him is Piper, whose father is Cherokee. The white boy, Jason, is in third place, and looks a bit out of it. He is the central character (as reflected by the UK cover at right), but Piper and Leo have large enough shares of the narrative limelight to make them main characters as well.
(review copy gratefully received from the publisher for Cybils consideration)