The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan’s interest in mythology didn’t stop with the Greek gods. Here’s the first installment of Egyptian gods 101!

Sadie & Carter Kane, estranged siblings since their mother died, are reunited because of the abduction of their archaelogist father. Their father summoned Osiris, god of the underworld, got entombed, and unleashed the gods born on Demon Days in the process too. Set, god of evil and storms, builds the red pyramid to conquer the world and ergo, becomes their greatest enemy. How can two children fight an ancient god of doom? What is special about them that makes them almost invincible enough to save the world?

Readers are once again shown a journey of heroes-in-the-making, like the Percy Jackson series. But unlike the security, pretentiousness, and rigor of a camp that Percy and his friends underwent though, the Kanes’ training seemed more raw, natural, and exciting because of their thrown-into-the-wild experiences in the real world. An additional difficulty is the inability of Sadie & Carter to comprehend Egyptian powers which stems from its exoticness, as it seems more mysterious and less known in contemporary culture than their Greek counterparts. Expectations of their character’s growth in the book are more surprising, as compared to the slightly expected skills that the Percy Jackson posse would have to harness or develop as determined by their ancestry. Sadie & Carter were on their own, orphaned by tragedy, half-controlled by gods that inhabited their bodies. These factors made quite a difference, and are more emphatic avenues for readers to feel for the siblings’ life-changing losses and overwhelming challenges. Percy did lose his mother in The Lightning Thief, but Sadie & Carter’s polar personalities posed more difficult resolutions because of an inescapable sibling rivalry and tension, with nobody else to guide them except for a cat and an uncle as support group in a cross-country chase. Riordan fleshed out these complexities very well in his storyline as he speaks of lineage and resolving family differences that gave this more depth than the Jackson series.

Riordan’s vast knowledge of Egyptian history is apparent in his research because he not only knew how to weave the numerous gods in the story, but also made extra effort to incorporate graphic hieroglyphs along with the Egyptian words/spells in the text. It is an interesting merging of not just content, but also of forms. Even the layout of the text is impressive, with indicative symbols of who’s narrating the story (dual perspective of Sadie & Carter).

And so, The Kane Chronicles have begun. The alliance between gods and humans are rekindled. Now, to prepare and fight the ancient, evil beast that threatens the peace of humankind in the next adventures.

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The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

The people in our lives are likened to the shuffling and reshuffling of a deck of cards; each deck unique, with its distinct personalities and characteristics that shape our future. We deal with people who come and go, but it is always an invisible hand determining who comes first and last and how they affect our history. How does Hans Thomas solve the mystery of his missing mother, and unlock the mysteries of the world?

” ‘Our lives are a part of a unique adventure’, I thought to myself.  Nevertheless, most of us think the world is ‘normal’ and are constantly hunting for something abnormal — like angels or Martians. But that is just because we don’t realize the world is a mystery. As for myself, I felt completely different. I saw the world as an amazing dream. I  was hunting for some kind of explanation of how everything fitted together.”

There is a story within this story, and this literary device or conceit called a ‘frame story‘ is how Jostein Gaarder skillfully weaved two plots that affected each other simultaneously, but got resolved at the same time in the end.  Gaarder’s themes are quite a handful too: coming-of-age, identity crisis, existentialism, religion, the nuances of time and historicity, and destiny. The ‘meat’ of the novel may sound heavy or complicated, but this is Gaarder’s feat. Despite all of the said factors, the reading experience is not heavy and burdensome. It is an amusing and intriguing travel of memoirs from the past to present, and it avoids pretentiousness because the philosophical musings about  life of father and son feel apt because they journey across Europe to visit the land of the philosophers, Greece.

“We’re alive, you know, but we live this only once. We open our arms and declare that we exist, but then we are swept aside and thrust into the depths of history. Because we are disposable. We are part of an eternal masquerade where the masks come and go.”

Intricately tied to the father and son’s life questions is a fantasy adventure written in a sticky bun book that Hans secretly reads with the magnifying glass that a dwarf gave him. In the book’s story,  Frode, the shipwrecked protagonist, breathes life to the 53 playing cards to create a village and save him from his loneliness.  The cards create a problem though, because a prophecy needed to be deciphered on Joker Day before the island self-destructs. Coincidentally, this prophecy/prediction eerily resembles the journey of Hans and his father, and the mysteries unraveled fuels the little boy’s determination to get to the bottom of his real-life dilemma that the ending of the book will tell him.

“Destiny is a snake so hungry it devours itself…”

Be ready for an intricate card game of fantasy & reality. The Solitaire Mystery guarantees the reader that.

From Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

(Lifted from the Introduction)

As I write this now, it occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show how they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls; while the beat of the wings of butterfly in the right place, we are told, can create a hurricane across an ocean. Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkably difficult to kill.

Stories, like people and butterflies and songbird’s eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words in the air, composed of sounds and ideas—abstract, invisible, gone once they’ve been spoken—and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted the lands in which they were created.

Neil Gaiman

On the first day of Spring 2006