Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Rick Riordan is easily one of the most influential children’s authors of recent memory. His books, from his original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to his most recent Trials of Apollo, have topped the bestsellers list, with most doing it for weeks on end. And yet, many of his fans have become distanced from his work. Even myself, whose job is to cover the industry and critique new releases, have found his recent books to be just more of the same. His most loyal of readers, who have been with him since the very beginning with the original release of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, have been growing up and maturing into more adult literature. His books, despite racking in millions of copies sold, don’t spark the same cultural impact as his first series did. So what future really lies ahead for author Riordan and what can he do to prevent it?
Recently, in the past few years, the New York Times-bestselling author has put out a new book from one of his mainline series every year. From the concluded Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy to his ongoing The Trials of Apollo, each book can be described as being remarkably similar to his other works, mostly due to there being a clear template. A primary example would be Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer, the first installment in the trilogy, which borrowed heavily from The Lightning Thief. Further detailing can be found in our review here. Essentially, in that volume, the only major differences between it and The Lightning Thief was the names of the characters and the mythology.
In addition to the mainline installments, he has endorsed and even written the releases of coloring books and short story collections. As one would expect, neither of these type of releases has had any genuine impact, outside of making a quick buck for publisher Disney Hyperion. When judging his current slate of releases, it’s not sustainable. There are only so many ways he can dress up the same, exasperated story, before his remaining readers begin to catch on. Riordan needs a major change. He needs a refresher in order to bring a new flair of creativity. And it seems that even he himself also knows it, due to the recently established imprint, Riordan Presents.
Announced in April of 2017, Riordan Presents was designed so it could allow authors of middle grade literature to explore new cultures and thus mythologies. It would take creative freedom away from Riordan so these authors could develop their own ideas and hopefully create fresh, fun experiences for the targeted demographic. Featuring authors such as J.C. Cervantes and Yoon Ha Lee, the imprint, in my opinion, is one of the best ideas Riordan has had both business-wise and creatively. It suggested the potential distancing he could take from the genre that he started by highlighting other authors who could take up his stance. However, it seems as if the imprint isn’t really accomplishing its intention.
According to notable reviewers, the books that are covered by the imprint are simply too similar to Riordan’s own works. And if the rest of the series under the imprint follow suit, then it leads to a situation where Riordan’s own brand is just a massive collage of the same story, repeated over and over again. Clearly, it’s the exact opposite of what he probably hoped for the imprint.
What Riordan is approaching is something that no author or publisher ever wants to even get close to. And that’s tiredness from the readers. The audience of Riordan’s books are tired. They, whether they know it or not, are quickly becoming thirsty and dry for something new, for a change. And if Riordan can’t innovate, if Riordan fails to deliver his fans something new from either his imprint or his own works, then readers will fade away and distance themselves from the brand, leading to a potential drastic decline in sales.
But what can Riordan do to save face and create a mega-blockbuster only rivaled by the original Harry Potter series and his own Percy Jackson and the Olympians? When introducing the series in addition to the original Percy Jackson, Riordan left subtle hints and easter eggs that all of the franchises were tied together. The protagonist of Magnus Chase was a family member to the beloved Annabeth Chase from the original series. The Trials of Apollo featured appearances from the Heroes of Olympus spin-off series, including Leo Valdez and Percy Jackson. And outside of a disastrous crossover short story collection featuring characters from The Kane Chronicles and Percy Jackson, Riordan really hasn’t dipped his toe fully into the full crossover genre. He may have done a portion in The Heroes of Olympus, where he built and developed characters over two books before joining them together. And the third book, where the characters finally united, was eagerly anticipated by both the industry and fans. If I were to be placed in Riordan’s shoes, the very first thing I would do is set a massive crossover between all of the series, without those within his imprint, into motion, in a style similar to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been handled the past ten years. Not only would this bring together the characters from so many successful literary franchises, but it would also create genuine excitement and anticipation as fans from all of his series are able to unite to celebrate the crossover event.
The second thing to do would be to try to wrap up the ongoing arcs and storylines in the fourth installment in The Trials of Apollo series and leave the fifth one undiscussed until after the crossover series. Simply put, it would develop anticipation as Apollo would be absent from the crossover, leaving readers rapid with discussion on how the final installment will play out and its involvement with the crossover.
With the crossover series, I would consider using a quartet. Use the first book to assemble the characters as a roster against a general of the anonymous primary villain, who will be discussed in a moment. Then use the second book where the roster would go against the gods in an all-out battle, but conclude in a manner that left both sides alive. This would allow the readers to truly see the power of the roster and its extent. Proceed to write the third installment as the “civil war” of the characters. This would create a massive event that the Gods would all be focusing on whilst our primary villain is able to set his or her actions into motion quietly without notice. There would be two storylines, one of the civil war and the other of the primary villain as he or she sets his plans into motion. The final conclusion would be the roster split up and with the Gods resolved to not ever interact with humans again.
With regards to the villain, he or she would be entirely original and not derived from any mythology. This would allow Riordan to create a character that had unmatched and unquantified power that could challenge the power of the roster, without breaking or rehashing any cultural lore. During the third book of the crossover, however, Apollo should not be mentioned at all. By this time, Apollo would have already been reinstated as a God, but he should be strangely absent from the massive battle amongst the roster. It is then, following that battle, should the fifth and final installment of The Trials of Apollo be released. It would begin before the civil war and would have a set-up of Apollo receiving word of strange events happening in a distant land and is commanded by Zeus to investigate them. These events would be the doing of the primary villain and would be the same ones mentioned in the third installment of the crossover. Throughout the journey, Apollo will encounter nightmarish flashbacks, caused by the villain. He will also see the extent of his or her power through the civilian life. This choice will make the journey more personal and develop the primary villain in a terrifying manner.
In order to avoid timeline continuity errors with the third book of the crossover event, Apollo would always be a few steps behind until the conclusion, which should not be mentioned in the third book, where Apollo is killed by the villain in a way that should make the reader terrified. There would be no triumphant victory for the character as he is left wheezing for what little life he has left. The final scene of the book would involve the primary villain heading to Mount Olympus where the Gods are after the civil war. The book would end ominously as he or she stares at them with a devilish smile.
This series of four books would cause intense interest amongst readers. Firstly, it builds anticipation for each new release due to the cliffhanger endings and undisclosed fates of characters. Secondly, it brings together the characters of some of the most successful middle grade book series of all time in a massive literary event. Thirdly, it encourages new story ideas for Riordan to play with, something that all readers will be excited about. When heading into the final installment of the crossover quartet, it will lead to wild anticipation that hasn’t been seen since the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
And as for the final installment of the crossover series, it will kick off with all of the Gods dying, sending the worlds of the characters into chaos. After being split with the civil war, it will unite the roster once again as they “assemble” to defeat the villain. But it’s clear that the efforts of Percy Jackson, Jason, Annabeth, Piper, and etc. aren’t enough to defeat the villain, as there will be multiple deaths of supporting characters leading to the climax. But in the climax itself, Percy Jackson will be defeated by the villain, causing the tone of the book to turn even more dire and eerie. All hope will have seemed to be lost as the villain would crush the defending forces. But in the final moment, the roster, excluding Percy and those who were also defeated, turn into literal Gods. And it is with their combined strength that they are able to defeat the villain. It would be a massive event that will evoke emotion as our heroes are finally able to take charge of the situation. However, the extensive battle that ensues will be too much for all of them as with the villain’s defeat, their powers are also extinguished. What then occurs will be a heartfelt conclusion to the characters that Riordan’s fans have grown to love over the years. They will all die in a somber moment, with not one being spared. It will leave the world confused but safe as Camp Half-Blood, Valhalla and other locations soon cripple and disappear, with the only memento of Camp Half-Blood remaining is the pivotal gate of entry.
Serving as the conclusion would be a scene very reminiscent of The Lightning Thief where Percy pushes his bully into the water fountain with his powers. It would show that the powers of the gods and our heroes still remain in the world and is being passed down onto a new generation. And that would be the very end of the crossover and thus Riordan’s impactful legacy in the industry.
In reflection, what this crossover would do is create excitement as Riordan would innovate with a quartet of books unlike anything else that he’s done. The books would evoke emotion, tears, and heart and would serve as a fitting conclusion and finale. Yes, my final point of this essay is Riordan’s eventual departure from this genre. Riordan is a fantastic author and spearheaded the genre and brought it even more into pop culture. But his weariness is clearly being felt. I believe he needs to transition to new things, to new horizons, to new genres, genres that he will be able to inject his warmth, humorous styles into. And with his imprint, it would serve as a remaining and ongoing legacy of his as they hopefully bring in new, exciting talent to take a shot at the genre. What Riordan accomplishes today is not a fitting legacy and is a dim future for Percy Jackson and company. He is one of our greatest middle grade writers that is unfortunately drowning himself in efforts to make a quick buck. But if he chooses to be more than that, if he chooses to be a writer fitting of persisting history, and if he chooses to be something great, then it will be a legacy worth having.