After a summer spent trying to prevent a catastrophic war among the Greek gods, Percy Jackson is finding his seventh-grade school year unnervingly quiet. His biggest problem is dealing with his new friend, Tyson, a six-foot-three, mentally challenged homeless kid who follows Percy everywhere, making it hard for Percy to have any normal friends. But things don't stay quiet for long.
Percy soon discovers there is trouble at Camp Half-Blood: the magical borders that protect Half-Blood Hill have been poisoned by a mysterious enemy, and the only safe haven for demigods is on the verge of being overrun by mythological monsters. To save the camp, Percy needs the help of his best friend, Grover, who has been taken prisoner on an island somewhere in the Sea of Monsters, the dangerous waters Greek heroes have sailed for millennia. Only today, the Sea of Monsters goes by a new name: The Bermuda Triangle.
I liked the first instalment in this series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, quite a lot (and reviewed it here). If I had any criticisms of that book, they were that Percy's voice as he narrated the story seemed a bit younger than he was supposed to be and that the character development could probably have been a bit stronger. I loved the story and the twists on Greek mythology but felt a bit...disconnected from such young characters. With The Sea of Monsters, Riordan has strengthened his characters and allowed Percy to grow up a bit without moving too far away from what made The Lightning Thief great. The same nods to mythology but a book I found much easier to enjoy.
Part of the shift up is probably owed no more than to the fact that this is the second in a five-part series. Readers have a bit of background with Percy and Camp Half-Blood and its residents so there weren't any over-engineered social situations to introduce the students to one another. On the flip side, it's clear that Riordan's in no rush to stride through an over-arching story; there is some development of the series but there's also plenty of time for fighting Cyclops, evading harpies and navigating the perils of the Sea of Monsters.
Riordan's relaxed writing style complements the fun side of his books perfectly. The sentences and chapters are short and snappy and the dialogue has what seems to me (knowing no teenagers at all as I do) a quite authentic, cheeky teenage feel. When the story gets going (which doesn't take long) that 'just one more chapter' quality that we always hear so much about kicks in. They're only short books so they're ideal for racing through in big chunks on weekend mornings.
For the most part, I loved the development of the characters' relationships in The Sea of Monsters. Because of the age group that it feels as though the story is aimed at, the focus is on friendships rather than romance and it's a surprisingly pleasant change. There are some hints at a budding romance but in a fairly innocent, child-like way, emerging from a strong friendship. I know, love born out of friendship, what a ridiculous idea...The main new introduction to the series (I assume) here is Tyson, a slightly slow, hulk of a teenager who would do anything to protect those he cares about. I don't want to stray into spoiler territory but the way that Percy handles his relationship with Tyson is weak and selfish. I get that what younger readers might be getting is a lesson in loyalty and such like but the way Percy behaves towards Tyson at times made my heart hurt for him. Then again, the fact that I cared enough to mention it is probably actually a good thing? *sigh* Oh, Tyson...
Read The Lightning Thief and not yet ventured on to The Sea of Monsters? You don't need to worry - it's easily as good and I'm looking forward to picking up The Titan's Curse and getting wrapped up in another quest before too long.
Overall: The best thing about this book is that it doesn't take itself too seriously or have any dillusions of grandeur. The Sea of Monsters is good, honest fun and part of a series that I would love to be able to share with younger children just getting into reading; one of few series that I would confidently recommend for both genders and parents and children alike.
Genre: Fantasy; YA
Pictured Edition Published: by Puffin Books in April 2007