The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)
Rick Riordan has written for both children and adults, but is probably most known today for his best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. His new series, The Kane Chronicles, repeats that successful formula, with an action-packed adventure featuring young heroes discovering that they are related to gods—this time, those of ancient Egypt.
Carter and Sadie Kane are siblings who have little in common. They have grown up apart since their mother’s mysterious death six years earlier. Fourteen-year-old Carter lives out of a suitcase, traveling the world with their Egyptologist father. Sadie, age 12, lives with their grandparents in London. Carter and his father visit Sadie just twice a year. With this intriguing premise, Riordan creates an interesting pair of heroes who feel family loyalty to each other, even as they start out neither knowing nor liking each other.
Carter, though older, is much more timid. It’s nice to avoid boy/girl stereotypes, but this weakness may turn off some boy readers. Sadie, on the other hand, is confident and reckless, sometimes to the point of being obnoxious. The siblings’ flaws do make them more realistic, and over time they learn to understand and appreciate each other better. By the end, they are entirely likable.
Their relationship also allows Riordan to touch on issues of sibling jealousy (each assumes the other has it better), and on race. Carter takes after his African-American father, and has been taught to dress well (or geeky, in Sadie’s opinion) so as not to be mistaken for a thug. Sadie looks like her white mother and resents people who act surprised that she and Carter are related. It’s nice to see diversity in children’s literature, though the book’s cover shows the children from the back, thus hiding their appearance. Their race isn’t clear until several pages into the book.
The story is told in alternating first-person narration by Carter and Sadie. This allows us to get to know each of the characters equally, and see their different perspectives on story events. It also provides some fun bickering. However, it becomes hard to keep track of who is narrating, causing this reviewer to have to keep jumping out of the story to check the name on the page headings, an unfortunate disruption of the plot.
Another minor flaw will no doubt be overlooked by most young readers. Though he has spent his life traveling with his father, Carter’s knowledge of Egyptology seems oddly spotty. He knows some obscure facts, while failing to recognize more common terms, which makes him seem stupid at times. In New York City, he accurately identifies Manhattan streets during a wild car chase, but doesn’t know about the famous Egyptian temple in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Carter’s memory seems to suit the author’s plot needs more than the authenticity of the character.
Carter and Sadie are thrown into adventure when their father takes them to the British Museum, and there performs a spell that unleashes several Egyptian gods. Their father disappears when one of the gods entombs him, leaving Carter and Sadie to explain the explosion. The siblings’ first goal is to rescue their father, but their task quickly grows. The fate of the world is at stake, Carter and Sadie each have an Egyptian god sharing their body and trying to take over, plus the evil god Set is trying to kill them. Then a group of magicians decides that Carter and Sadie are a threat to their order and must be eliminated. Allies are few and sometimes hard to recognize, while enemies are all around (and may take the form of a giant crocodile or thousands of scorpions).
Overall, Riordan’s writing is smooth, with good pacing and dramatic cliffhanger chapter endings. Though the book is over 500 pages long, it’s a fast read, if sometimes a confusing one. The Egyptian history and mythology presented is extensive and complicated. Fortunately, many young readers are fascinated by ancient Egypt, and so may enjoy the challenge.
The plot is also confusing, with dozens of twists and turns as the siblings are constantly given new tasks. They jump around the world, visiting, among other places, a city hidden under the Sphinx in Egypt, London, Paris, New York City, the Washington Monument, Elvis’s Graceland Mansion in Memphis, the Rio Grande near El Paso, and Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, where Set is building the Red Pyramid that will allow him to take over the world. Though it’s hard to look back and remember exactly what happened, let alone in what order, the intense action keeps the pages turning, and an overall goal of saving their father and the world drives the story forward.
Riordan balances his action with humor, sometimes subtle and sometimes slapstick. Carter describes his father as looking “like a buff evil scientist.” A basketball-fanatic baboon named Khufu will only eat foods that end in –o, such as Doritos, burritos, and flamingos. Bast, the cat goddess formerly living as Sadie’s cat Muffin, offers the kids Friskies for dinner. The humor provides a lighter counterpoint to the intense action of constant life or death situations.
The Kane Chronicles are more challenging than the Percy Jackson series, with a more confusing, random plot, and a complicated mythology that may overwhelm some young readers. Yet the action and humor will draw in many fans of either fantasy or adventure books. The Red Pyramid is sure to please many Rick Riordan fans, who will read the book several times while anxiously awaiting the next offering in the series.