Audiobook Review: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

September 1, 2010

In the end, you will fail to save that which matters most.

pj audioMy daughter is a Percy Jackson fangirl. (How big of a fangirl? She was practically inconsolable when the series ended, she won a trivia contest [and collector’s edition of the first book] at our local Borders during their movie kick-off event, she began studying Greek mythology, she was thrilled to get a copy of The Odyssey for Easter, and she was PISSED about the movie version BEFORE IT EVEN CAME OUT. Et cetera. I mean, I could go on.) So after we listened to all of the Harry Potter books, I promised her we would listen to the Percy Jackson books. As always, we started with book one: The Lightning Thief as read by Jesse Bernstein.

What I Liked

– I think the book is a lot of fun. The characters are great, especially the main trio (Percy, Annabeth, and Grover). Percy and his imperfections make the perfect kind of protagonist for reluctant readers, and the fact that he is a reluctant reader himself would probably endear him even more to that particular demographic. Annabeth is smart, snarky, and fearless. And then there’s sweet sidekick Grover.

The best thing about the trio is that they all have their own reasons for going on the quest, and they all have something to prove. Unlike in the Harry Potter books where Ron and Hermione are mostly helping out because Harry is their friend (and for the good of wizard-kind), every member of this trio has his or her own separate, personal, and mostly selfish reasons for joining the quest.

– The reliance on Greek mythology is awesome. As I stated above, it definitely fueled my daughter’s interest in Greek mythology (as well as other mythologies). There’s lots of fun background info given to the readers, and it’s all easily woven into the narrative instead of an obvious attempt to school us about Greek mythology.

– I also love the way Riordan modernizes Olympus and ties the United States and its geography to the gods and goddesses. That the record company is the entrance to the underworld? Awesome. DOA Recording Studios? BRILLIANT. The depiction of the gods and goddesses is also cool. Ares as a motorcycle head, Poseidon as a retired beach dude, and Zeus as a CEO? Nicely done.

What I Didn’t Like

– This is a very male heavy narrative. Annabeth is smart, snarky, fearless, insecure, and has something to prove. Percy’s mom (who is in an abusive relationship) is interesting and nuanced. However, Percy’s mom is absent for most of the narrative and the other female characters that are present (besides Annabeth) are villains and bullies. I hope that changes in the rest of the books.

– As for the audiobookiness of it all, the narrator is really annoying. Percy sounds like a whiny sixteen-year-old rather than a smart alecky twelve-year-old. And Jesse Bernstein narrates THE WHOLE SERIES. Shoot me now. Also, I should point out that my daughter hates the narration as well. It’s a very, very, VERY good thing the story is so compelling because there is nothing remotely appealing about Bernstein’s narration.

Except Ares. I’ll give him Ares. His Ares is very good.

In conclusion: I recommend the book, but not the audiobook version–unless you like your smart alecky twelve-year-old boys to sound like whiny sixteen-year-olds. The story is superfun, and I can see how and why Percy’s story has become so popular.

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  1. wendebular

    I’m 30 years old and I love the Percy Jackson series! Admittedly, sometimes the ‘hipness’ of the language sticks out a bit, and I wonder how well the pop culture references will stand up in 5 or 10 or 50 years, but I love the way Rick Riordan weaves the modern and ancient stories together. It helps that the main plots are non-stop excitement as well. I was pretty disappointed myself when I got to the end of The Last Olympian (I even put off reading it for a little while so it wouldn’t end). Imagine my joy when I got to read The Red Pyramid (in the Kane Chronicles series) and The Lost Hero (first book of the Heroes of Olympus series). Now I have to wait until the end of the year for the next book? Argh.

    Anyway, I just started listening to the audio book of The Lightning Thief, and I can’t handle the narrator. I wanted to turn it off straight away but I thought I’d try to persevere because I do love the story. I don’t know how far I’ll get, though, because his voice is infuriating! Wrong inflections, wrong pronunciations, incessant whining. I know they needed a ‘young’ voice to record this story, but I am disappointed with the choice.

    Sorry to vent! I just identified a lot with your review. 🙂

    • Akilah

      Oh, the narrator is awful. I think the story would have been better served if they had gone with an actual teenager for a narrator. I read a kid’s book narrated by a kid (though the narrator was significantly older than the main character), and it was so well done and sounded so authentic. So yeah, that dude was just a bad choice for the books because Percy is not a snot nosed brat, but that’s how he makes him sound.

  2. Alarica

    I suppose its really true what they say about different people liking different things and having different tastes.. I actually like the narrator very much.. So much so that even though I have heard this whole series like 50 times, I still keep listening to it over and over.. And I really do think that Rick Riordan is absolutely brilliant!

  3. Dann Strider

    Honestly, I am new to the Percy Jackson series. I, as a self-employed artist, don’t have the time to sit down and read anymore, so my love for books and fiction has gone unattended for a while. Finally I got the bright idea to listen to an audiobook while I worked. I chose the Percy Jackson series- Something easy to follow even if I’m not paying full attention to the reading. I agree that the writing itself is rather well done and the characters are indeed compelling, I think my only complaint to the author is their constant fallback on the “Percy somehow knew” card, rather than taking the time to foreshadow or explain, while at other times the characters sit and talk way too long when something should have been fast-paced.

    I really do have something to talk about over the narrator, however. My list of complaints span a whole lot farther than just how he portrays each character. First and foremost that I would like to point out is the mans inability to read consistently. Several times throughout the books I have listened to him mispronounce common words and continue reading as though he hadn’t noticed. Though it doesn’t happen often, it’s completely unprofessional, very distracting, and it takes away from the story-telling experience.

    Secondly, I’d like to point out that this man has absolutely no talent for natural reading. When compared to Jim Dale, who Narrated the Harry Potter series, it truly sounds like Peter is sitting on a stool, nodding his head and reading with a slight smile on his face with every intention of putting a kindergarten classroom to sleep. He reads slowly and in a condescending, matter-of-fact tone without any thought or creativity to help bring the narrative to life.

    My third complaint is about his relationship with accents. This in itself is a huge issue for me and I hardly know where to begin. Firstly, he has no talent for accents. There are several times when characters who were announced to have accents were introduced and the reader was completely unable to preform it. Take Zoe, for example. Zoe was described to have an obscure accent that seemed like it came from another time. The way Peter apparently interpreted this was by speaking in a ‘British accent’ that was so fake i literally had to pause and take a moment of silence before I could continue to listen. With her, he continuously switched between three different British accents and occasionally dabbled in something that vaguely sounded South African and then Australian. Zoe wasn’t the only character to have this done to her either, but in my opinion she is the best example. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, he gives characters who were not described to have accents at all, different ethic accents that “matched” their physical appearance. This was showcased in both Annabeths step-mother who was described as a pretty Asian woman, and Chris Rodriguez, who was not described at all but has a surname with Hispanic origin. Both of those characters were portrayed with offensively racist accents that they were never mentioned to have. The accent given to Annabeths step-mother was a bad impression of a generic sounding ‘Asian’ accent that did not reference any true dialect or language and the same could be said for Chris. As if this couldn’t get worse, accents were given to characters who had no reason to have accents at all. For example, Quintus, who I managed to guess was supposed to sound Australian, then the Teleknines were portrayed with something close to a German accent. The list goes on and on, but I’ll stop there.

    My fourth complaint is that Peter has absolutely no consistency with the voices he gives to characters. Characters like Mister D, Charles Beckendorf, Zeus, Poseidon, and many others get inconsistent voices that evolve over time. In one instance the Narrator never strayed from using a single voice, giving Beckendorf, Annabeth, and a few others a voice that sounded like the he he normally used for Grover. This completely takes away from the story and confused me. I couldn’t for the life of me tell who was talking and I just had to move on so I wouldn’t get a headache.

    I’m confused why a franchise for such a successful book series would stick to such a horrible, talentless narrator when they could have so easily gotten someone with a decent ability to read aloud. Still, the worst part of each book is the very end when Jim Dale begins to speak and you realize that these two narrators work for the same company, and you got to listen to this guy.

    • wendebular

      Brilliant post. I couldn’t finish the audiobook versions. I didn’t want them to ruin characters and stories that I love! I have found that I am extremely picky about my narrators, and I don’t think I have managed to find one who portrays teen boys well (though Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry was OK). The latest attempt was The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, narrated by Scott Brick (who I had just listened to do a fantastic job of In Cold Blood). I think that one is a combination of a full grown man narrating a whiny teen boy, and the whiny teen boy’s character, though.

      If you are looking for YA adventure series with excellent narration (but you probably won’t need to pay too much attention to the story), I highly recommend the Bloody Jack series by L A Meyer (narrated by the incredible Katherine Kellgren), the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landry (mostly narrated by Rupert Degas), and the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer (narrated by Nathaniel Parker). Kellgren and Degas are particularly good at accents and different voices. I was stunned to find out that Kellgren is American, considering the majority of the voices in the Bloody Jack series are British.

      • Akilah

        I couldn’t finish the audiobook versions. I didn’t want them to ruin characters and stories that I love!

        Same! The series deserves so much better than this narrator. I’m glad that neither of us were put off enough by the narrator to stop the series, though.

    • Akilah

      I’m confused why a franchise for such a successful book series would stick to such a horrible, talentless narrator when they could have so easily gotten someone with a decent ability to read aloud.

      I totally agree with you here.

      In fact, I agree with most of what you have, though I didn’t articulate it nearly as well as you.

  4. Dann Strider

    For some reason I seem to have re-named Jesse Bernstein to “peter” and I never caught the mistake before it was too late. Oh well I guess, you still get the idea.

  5. mariajette

    Agreed with everyone about EVERYTHING! I, too, loved the Percy series, and found the narrator infuriating. I read the series half with eyeballs and half with ears, which helped me repair what I was hearing– ha! Incredibly, the same guy does the next series (Roman gods), and I almost screamed every time he took a crack at the name, Gaea. You’d think he might have at least googled it, but had he, he couldn’t have said GHEE-a a few hundred times!

    Someone else mentioned Nathaniel Parker’s wonderful narration of the Artemis Fowl series– I consider him the gold standard. Fantastic (& consistent!) characterization, accents, drama– everything. Incredibly, they released the penultimate book with a different narrator, and there was massive online uproar. Ultimately, they redid it with Mr Parker! My guess is that whoever made the cavalier choice to switch actors had never actually listened to the existing books– or even a
    single book. Lesson learned– the hard way.
    I came to this page today because I’ve just been marveling over a similarly great YA performance, and wishing this actor, Johnathan McClain, would’ve done the Riordan books. It’s Peter Lerangis’ “Seven Wonders” series, currently awaiting the 4th installment. I just listened to all 3– perfection in characterization and every dramatic quality! Having just endured an especially robotic reading of an interminable -feeling adult novel (Queen of the South by Perez-Reverte), I found it a healing balm; and have been musing on the inexplicable casting for some “important” novels, which seem to have had narrators assigned at random!


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