The Lost Hero
by Rick Riordan
The Lost Hero Introduction
In a Nutshell
Rick Riordan reportedly based The Lost Hero in part on games like World of Warcraft and Scion, and that's exactly how it reads.
The main characters—Jason Grace, Piper McClean, and Leo Valdez—race from exciting, deadly set-piece puzzle to exciting, deadly set-piece puzzle, using tricky powers and powerful tricks to overcome evil gods, eviler giants, and evilest earth mothers. If you like hidden rooms, there are hidden rooms; if you like last minute escapes, you can't spit without hitting twelve; if you like big bosses, they just about crawl over each other to get at you. In true videogame fashion, the characters' weapons and other items always seem to come out of nowhere: Jason has a coin that can turn into a sword or a spear; Leo has a magic belt from which he pulls all sorts of random tools. The only thing lacking is a soundtrack full of bleeps and bloops—but you can add those yourself if you really want to. Just try shouting boop bloop bloooooooooppppp bloop every time someone plummets from the sky in the The Lost Hero, and see who gets tired of it first—you or your mom. Our money's on your mom, but we'll keep our fingers crossed for you.
Ideally, if you can, you should do all that blooping in Greek or Latin. Every videogame needs a gimmick or theme, and The Lost Hero's is Greek and Roman mythology. All those big bosses the heroes battle are drawn from mythology—there's Medea, complete with evil magic potions, and Midas, complete with donkey ears (which are not evil, but perhaps even kind of cute). Much of the fun of the book is plugging those myths into a videogame context. How can Midas's golden touch function as a super weapon? How do you beat a Cyclops anyway? The book even has a tricky Greek myth explanation for why monsters reform in videogame fashion to come back and attack after they've been killed. Tartarus, the Greek underworld where monsters are supposed to go when they're destroyed, has been opened. So monsters don't die—they just turn to dust and reform… Which means more fun fighting for our videogame heroes.
Not surprisingly, The Lost Hero has been phenomenally popular, landing on both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, in addition to winning the Barnes and Noble best book of 2010 award. This is in part due to the enormous success of Riordan's five-book Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the final installment of which was released just one year before The Lost Hero came out. The first two Percy Jackson books (The Lighting Thief and The Sea of Monsters) have been made into successful films, and some characters from the series (like Annabeth Chase and, sort of, Percy Jackson) show up in The Lost Hero too.
But The Lost Hero's success isn't just because it's part of a franchise. The fact is, people love videogames, even when they're actually books. If you got everyone who had read The Lost Hero in one giant stadium and asked them all to provide their own videogame soundtrack at once—well, they'd probably tell you that you were nuts, actually. Shmoop apologizes for suggesting it.
Why Should I Care?
The Lost Hero is a clever machine to make you care.
Children's and young adult literature is often built around the idea of a normal, everyday person who acquires extraordinary powers and a nifty destiny. Harry Potter suddenly finds out that he's a magician destined to save the world. Bella in Twilight suddenly discovers a world of vampires and (later) learns that she's been meant to be a super-vampire all along. Spider-Man gets bitten by a radioactive spider and learns that with great power comes great responsibility. All these characters are stand-ins for the reader—they give you a chance to imagine what it would be like if normal, everyday you suddenly found yourself with magic powers, or vampire powers, or spider powers. They all ask, what if you (a) had super powers and (b) were the most important person in the world?
The Lost Hero follows the general script, but even more so. It opens when Jason wakes up in a school bus on a trip, and realizes that he doesn't know who he is or where he is. Jason, in other words, starts out in exactly the same place as you do—he's at the start of the book, and he doesn't know anything yet. As the pages turn, you and he both—together (aww…)—discover his powers and destiny (hey there, son of Zeus who will save the world). The book positions you carefully alongside Jason, the lost hero. Indeed, The Lost Hero of the title can be seen as referring not just to Jason, but to you as well. You, after all, are the confused protagonist who begins the book; you're the one who doesn't know what's going on until you read more and more and find yourself.
The book doesn't stop there, though. It wants to make sure that everyone gets the experience of power and destiny. So The Lost Hero includes other points of identification. The three main characters—Jason, Leo, and Piper—all have chapters in which they get to be the point of view character, so you have the experience of traveling not with one, or two, but with three different characters—one of whom (Piper) is a girl, and two of whom (Piper and Leo) are not white (Piper is half-Cherokee; Leo is half-Hispanic). The Lost Hero wants everybody—yay diversity—to know what it feels like to turn into a superhero.
Thus, while Leo and Piper aren't amnesiac, their stories unfold in ways similar to Jason's. When they start out, they are confused. They think they've been friends with Jason, just like characters at the beginning of a book always think that they know about things that happened before the book opened. But they're wrong; the book is just starting, and they need to learn about Jason just like we do. In addition, Leo and Piper don't know that they are the children of gods. They learn about themselves over the course of the book just like Jason does.
The book is practically begging on its knees for you to care. This is your great destiny, too, it seems to say, so don't walk away. It's hard not to be charmed by a novel that wants kids to read it that much. Especially when it throws in a giant fire-breathing mechanical dragon.