I hate when you finish a book and realize the series isn't done yet, and not only that, that the author hasn't finished the next book! Oh, Rick Riordon... *sigh*
Such was the case with The Mark of Athena. I thought it was the final book, but the closer I got the the end, I realized there was another one coming... *oh well* It's bittersweet, because we don't want to wait, but it will be good to have another book with the characters that we love. Eventually. Anyhow... on with the review.
The Story: The demigods at Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood have to work together to defeat Gaea and her forces of Giants. This is easier said than done, given the traditional animosity between the two groups. The schizophrenic nature of the Gods, torn between their two versions, is not helpful to them. Neither is the fact that evil possessing spirits took over Leo, as he was at the controls of the warship The Argo II, and caused him to open fire on the Roman camp, starting an all-out war. The seven demigods from the two camps chosen for the prophecy have to escape the Roman forces that are chasing them, and make their way to the original seat of the gods in Rome, and defeat the forces of Gaea all along the way. Gaea isn't going to make it easy for them, and sometimes working together isn't the easiest thing in the world, even for friends. As if that wasn't hard enough, Annabeth has the task of facing her deepest fears to follow the Mark of Athena to try to restore an ancient treasure stolen from a temple to her mother Athena in ancient times. It may just hold the key to the success of their mission.
The Good: These are the characters we've come to know and love over the previous books. The story feels familiar, but not stale. The friends have to learn to work together as a group, while working on their personal relationships (with three sets of couples and Leo as the seventh wheel, things can get sticky). The battles are exciting and the journey is riveting. It is neat to see the group traveling to Rome, and how they view the ancient land. Gaea is a really menacing presence. The giants all have their distinct personalities and make good adversaries, too. And the cliffhanger... oh, the cliffhanger is so good, we can't wait for the next book to be published!
The Bad: Because there are so many characters, sometimes the story can feel a bit scattered. There are a lot of subplots. Some of them are really interesting, and some feel a bit forced. As the demigods are older than in the earlier books, some of the interpersonal relationships can get a bit serious for perhaps a 9-year old like Evalina to appreciate. There is a lot of kissing and declarations of love. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, but it's something to be aware of. The book was quite long, just over 600 pages, and while that's not a bad thing, it feels like it was pretty packed with story, and some of it wasn't really pertinent to the main plot.
The Verdict: If you have read the rest of the series (and you should), absolutely read this one. It's really good, even if it can be a bit long and winding. Evalina LOVED it. Amazon recommends it for 10+ and I say that's appropriate for solo reading. We love Rick Riordan's books and will be reading the Egyptian mythology series soon. Because of this series, Evalina has become a crazy Greek (and now Roman) mythology buff, and that's something I love to see. Read this series, with or without your kids.