So we come to The Titan’s Curse, Rick Riordan’s third novel, published in 2007. Here, things become more complicated, as characters take and lose shelter from the coming war. So much so that Riordan’s efforts towards expanding diversity stagnate somewhat. But overall, The Titan’s Curse manages to further build this world, and to talk about several serious issues.
Spoilers for all of The Titan’s Curse and Riordan’s previous work.
So, What Happened?
Titan’s Curse begins with Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia going to help Grover. He found two demigods, the DiAngelo siblings. A Manticore kidnaps the siblings. It leads to a pitched battle that ends with the DiAngelo’s free, Annabeth captured, and the Hunters of Artemis driving them off. Bianca DiAngelo joins the Hunters, and they all retire to Camp Half-Blood. Artemis goes looking for a dangerous monster that could destroy Olympus and Atlas captures her. The Oracle assigns a quest to rescue Artemis. Bianca accompanies Zoe, Artemis’s Lieutenant, for the Hunters. Thalia and Grover take the camper’s slots for the quest. Percy follows, in an attempt to help rescue Annabeth and Artemis. Nico takes him aside before he sneaks out and makes him promise to look after Bianca.
Percy joins the other questers at the Smithsonian, where he spies on the General – Atlas – and sees him summon spartoi, unkillable skeleton warriors. Apollo offers the questers a train west. They stop in New Mexico where Pan sends a wild pig to help them escape the spartoi, and Bianca kills one. Then they arrive at the Junkyard of the Gods, and Bianca wakes the guardian by taking a Mythomagic statue for Nico. She co-opts Percy’s plan to stop the guardian, and dies.
After another encounter with the Spartoi at Hoover Dam, they manage to travel to San Fransisco, where Mt. Othrys is located. Zoe reveals Atlas is her father and they fight Atlas, Luke, and his minions. They ultimately succeed in freeing Artemis and Annabeth. Zoe dies of Ladon’s poison and Artemis puts her in the stars. Thalia becomes Artemis’s new lieutenant, sidestepping the prophecy.
When Percy returns to Camp, he tells Nico about Bianca’s death. Nico destroys the remaining spartoi, revealing himself a son of Hades, and runs away from camp.
Lack of Shelter from Parents
The theme of parents hurting their children starts very early. Percy asks about Thalia’s mom and she shuts down. Later, she and Percy talk again, and she explains. “I kinda snapped at you. It’s just … I went back to find her after seven years, and I found out she died in Los Angeles. She, um … she was a heavy drinker, and apparently she was out driving late one night about two years ago, and …’ Thalia blinked hard. … It’s not like we were ever close. I ran away when I was ten” (64). Thalia’s mother and her home were no shelter, and she felt more at home with Luke and Annabeth than her absent mother.
That trend reverses with Annabeth’s father. Despite the distance between them, he genuinely seems to care about her. He even provides aerial support. “A Sopwith Camel swooped down out of the sky. ‘Get away from my daughter,’ Dr. Chase called down,” (273). It becomes a bonding moment for the two of them, and Annabeth goes to San Francisco, despite the lack of shelter from monsters that Camp provides.
Zoe’s story is the most tragic of all. Her father, Atlas, uses the spartoi just to “bring the Hunters down” (133). She refuses to believe that Atlas is free and at the Smithsonian, out of panic. Fear of parents is one of the most important themes of this book. “I knew it wasn’t just the poison that was killing her. It was her father’s final blow. Zoe had known all along that the Oracle’s prophecy was about her: she would die by a parent’s hand. … Atlas’s fury had broken her inside.” (277). Riordan condemns this abusive parenting and acknowledges the emotions that parents, even abusive and absent, can bring up in their children.
Abandonment by Others
Abandonment comes three-fold in Titan’s Curse. Abandonment used to blame others, by a sister, and total abandonment.
When Percy decides to leave unofficially for the quest, Dionysus finds him. He tells the story of how Theseus escaped the Labyrinth with Ariadne’s help. “Halfway back, on a little island called Naxos, he … What’s the word you mortals use today? … He dumped her. I found her there, you know. Alone. Heartbroken. Crying her eyes out. She had given up everything,” (124). Mr. D explains that Theseus is why he hates heroes, because he married Ariadne, and holds a grudge.
Nico also has to deal with abandonment. Bianca joins the Hunters to free herself of the responsibility of looking after him. Afterwards, we see him resentful of that. “As Bianca DiAngelo was leaving, she leaned over … She looked at him for an answer, but Nico just scowled and turned away” (57). He still extracts a promise from Percy that he’ll watch out for Bianca. Even though he’s been abandoned, he hasn’t turned to bitterness yet.
Finally, we have Zoe Nightshade. Percy has several strange dreams, and finds out his sword originally belonged to Zoe. Eventually they talk about it and Zoe opens up, somewhat.
“But weren’t there only four sisters?’ ‘There are now. I was exiled. Forgotten. Blotted out as if I never existed.’ ‘Why?’ Zoe pointed to my pen. ‘Because I betrayed my family and helped a hero. You won’t find that in the legend either. He never spoke of me. … I gave him the idea of how to steal the apples, how to trick my father, but he took all the credit” (205).
After this, Zoe joined the Hunters and found shelter from the lack of support after first her family then Hercules abandoned her.
Loss of Innocence
The monster that Artemis hunted, the one that started the whole plot is called the Ophiotaurus. Percy doesn’t understand, because Bessie, as he names it, is harmless. Zoe explains. “But there is power in killing innocence. Terrible power. The Fates ordained a prophecy eons ago, … They said that whoever killed the Ophiotaurus and sacrificed its entrails to fire would have the power to destroy the gods.” (230-1). Thalia is tempted by that power. That temptation, that loss of innocence and belief in herself contributes to her choice to join the Hunters at the end.
In a more literal loss of innocence, we have the DiAngelo siblings. With Bianca, we have the discovery that the two siblings came from the past. They figure out that she and Nico stayed at the Lotus Hotel and Casino, that makes time go faster. Zoe asks her to name the previous president, Bianca says it was FDR. “Bianca,’ Zoe said. ‘F.D.R. was not the last president. That was about seventy years ago.’ ‘That’s impossible’ Bianca said. ‘I … I’m not that old.’ She stared at her hands as if to make sure they weren’t wrinkled,” (181). The conversation rattles her, makes her more nostalgic, which ultimately leads to her picking up the figurine for Nico and to her death.
Beyond that we have Nico’s character arc in this book. From the happy-go-lucky kid who keeps referencing Mythomagic and calls Dionysus the “Wine Dude” (61). Then he becomes slightly more wary when Bianca leaves. But at the end, we see him grieving for the loss of his sister, the only shelter he’s ever known. “He glared at me, his eyes rimmed with red. … I shouldn’t have trusted you.’ His voice broke” (307). That fury and anger lead him to run away.
The Hunters of Artemis as a Shelter
We discussed previously how Zoe lost everything, and how the Hunters and Artemis gave her shelter and purpose. But one thing I want to talk about further is fan reaction to the Hunters. Sometimes in fanfiction I see a mild vilification of the Hunters. They are framed as women who hate men for no reason, who need to learn that not all men are evil. The example of Zoe Nightshade as a Hunter undercuts that belief. The Hunters serve, in some ways, as a proto women’s shelter, given that maidenhood, whether by joining a convent or a group of supernatural hunters, was the only way many early women could avoid domestic abuse, or arranged marriages, given that divorce was practically unheard of for centuries.
Beyond Zoe’s example, we also see Bianca take shelter with the Hunters. She explains her reasoning to Percy on their quest.
“So you’ve been raising Nico pretty much all your life?’ I asked. ‘Just the two of you?’ She nodded. ‘That’s why I wanted to join the Hunters so bad. I mean, I know it’s selfish, but I wanted my own life and friends. I love Nico—don’t get me wrong—I just needed to find out what it would be like not to be a big sister twenty-four hours a day” (165).
The responsibility weighed on her and stifled her until the only way she could see past it was to leave Nico behind.
Thalia also took shelter from a prophecy that she didn’t want because of Artemis. “Father,’ [Thalia] said. ‘I will not turn sixteen tomorrow. I will never turn sixteen. I won’t let this prophecy be mine. I stand with my sister Artemis. Kronos will never tempt me again” (292). Artemis and her Hunters shelter young women with nowhere else to go.
If you can’t tell from the previous section, I greatly enjoyed the introduction of the Hunters of Artemis. They provide a proto women’s shelter and greatly even up the ratio of male characters to female characters in the books. Three of the five questers are female, Zoe, Bianca, and Thalia. All three of them with interiority, with character arcs, and with conflict.
But there are a few problems. Annabeth and Artemis spend most of their time as bait, as ‘princesses in the tower’ waiting to be rescued. Also, two of the three female questers die, and Bianca and Zoe’s deaths are the first demigod deaths to take place in the series so far.
Far more seriously, there is Grover’s stalkerish behavior. Thalia comments on it early on. “You satyrs. You’re all in love with Artemis. Don’t you get that she’ll never love you back?” (45). She points out how Grover isn’t respecting the very clear feelings of a maiden goddess by pining after her. That pining extends to her Hunters as well. Grover gossips about Zoe having a dream Artemis was in trouble. When Percy asks how he heard, Grover replies. “Grover blushed. ‘I was sort of camped outside the Artemis cabin.’ ‘What for?’ ‘Just to be, you know, near them.’ ‘You’re a stalker with hooves.” (74-5).
Then when Thalia becomes a Hunter, she hugs everyone goodbye. “Then she even hugged Grover, who looked ready to pass out, like somebody had just given him an all-you-can-eat enchilada coupon.” (293). It seems like Riordan wants to have a conversation about rape culture and male entitlement, but he keeps playing it for jokes instead of drilling down to the problem at the root of Grover’s behavior.
On the plus side of Grover’s behavior in this book is the furtherance of the conversation about environmentalism. While at camp, Percy first encounters the Ophiotaurus when summoned by Blackjack and other sea creatures. They ask for his help with their problems. “And they had a lot of problems. Beached whales, porpoises caught in fishing nets, mermaids with hangnails” (110). When he gets there, he finds it’s closest to the middle problem.
“A dark shape—some kind of animal—was wedged halfway under the boat and tangled in a fishing net, one of those big nets they use on trawlers to catch everything at once. I hated those things. It was bad enough they drowned porpoises and dolphins, … When the nets got tangled, some lazy fishermen would just cut them loose and let the trapped animals die,” (112).
Riordan does good with his depiction of environmental issues in the sea and in the sky. After a conversation about the stars and light pollution leads to a chase with a magical wild pig, they take a breather. “Grover sighed. He was still looking up at the stars like he was thinking about the light pollution problem. ‘If only Pan were here, he would set things right” (178).
That wish seems less hopeless with the ending scene of the entire book. “Pan!’ Grover wailed. ‘The Lord of the Wild himself. I heard him! I have to … I have to find a suitcase.’ ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ I said. ‘What did he say?’ Grover stared at me. “Just three words. He said, I await you.” (312).
Like last time, Riordan doesn’t focus as much on the textual mentions of ADHD. But the dyslexia still gets mentioned in the text. When Thalia drives the sun chariot back to Camp, Apollo causes a sign to appear in the window. “I had to read it backward (which, for a dyslexic, really isn’t that different than reading forward). I was pretty sure it said WARNING: STUDENT DRIVER.” (52). I really like this example, because instead of providing a scrambled version of what Percy’s reading, Riordan instead comments about day to day life for a dyslexic person in a manner of fact tone. I do like the scrambled letters as they help non-dyslexic people understand what dyslexia is like. But expanding beyond and alongside that does justice to the subject manner.
Riordan does use his more classic representation of the dyslexic experience later in the novel. “There was a big sign on the door. At first I thought it said CLOSED FOR PIRATE EVENT. Then I realized PIRATE must be PRIVATE.” (130). While more toned down than previous examples, Riordan uses it to good effect to remind the reader that his protagonists have dyslexia.
No Shelter From War
One of the things that really struck me about Titan’s Curse is that Riordan doesn’t shelter the reader from the fact that war is approaching. Even in the first chapter we feel it. The satyrs are “scouring schools from fourth grade through high school for possible recruits. These were desperate times. We were losing campers. We needed all the fighters we could find.” (7).
Even the language he uses here shows the militarism of it. Recruits and fighters stand out against the more neutral campers. Grover comments, “I don’t know their parentage, but they’re strong” (7). It opens the book on a more militaristic note.
Beyond that, the first chapters are literally set in a military school. For most of the book, Atlas is known as The General, and he talks about armies and appointing lieutenants. Even in the Hunters, Zoe is the Lieutenant to Artemis’s leader. His use of language helps set the tone. Combined with the first demigodly deaths, everything gets just a little grimmer.
At the end, Riordan drives the point home.
“[The prophecy] might be about Nico. We have to—’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I choose the prophecy. It will be about me.’ ‘Why are you saying that?’ she cried. ‘You want to be responsible for the whole world?’ It was the last thing I wanted, but I didn’t say that. I knew I had to step up and claim it. ‘I can’t let Nico be in any more danger,’ I said. ‘I owe that much to his sister. I … let them both down,” (310).
By claiming the prophecy will be about him, Percy solidifies the more warlike terms. Even though The General is defeated, Atlas wasn’t the opposing side’s only play. Now Percy is stepping up once again to save the world.
Titan’s Curse is a good book, but for the purposes of tracking how Riordan’s diversity increases it’s not the best book. Overall, his focus is more on the expansion of the plot and setting that warlike tone than on increasing his diversity. He does well continuing the threads important to him, dyslexia, environmentalism, etc. But there are some categories that got omitted or that had more problems than improvements.
Riordan’s plotting skills remain excellent, with his references to Greek Mythology and his closely anchored character arcs. I do look forward to talking about Battle of the Labyrinth and what Riordan brings to that book later this month.