Robyn & Tony DiTocco,
The Hero Perseus
(Brainstorm, 2002)

The Hero Perseus is a much more successful young-adult fantasy novel if you ignore the anti-Harry Potter hype of its publicity campaign.

The story itself is simple: PJ Allen is a high school senior, newly transplanted into a new town and struggling to fit in among his peers. His mind is filled with typical thoughts -- earning a place on the football team, winning the girl (or girls) of his dreams, longing for his recently deceased father -- but he is soon caught up in an adventure of mythological proportions.

Chronus -- titan, father of Zeus, lord of time and fallen ruler of the heavens -- has broken free of Tartarus and stolen a small piece of history. But, by removing the moment when Perseus slew the gorgon Medusa and released the flying horse Pegasus from her blood, Chronus has set in motion a chain reaction of events that led to a global drought in modern times. With Perseus himself unavailable to replay his role in the legend, the messenger god Hermes summons PJ into the past to do it for him.

The adventure, complete with gods, giants, three-headed dogs, magical weapons and supernatural battles, is certainly enough to satisfy the average young reader. There is plenty of action mixed with good character development (human and superhuman), comical personality quirks, dire consequences and even a bit of football to boot.

Events keep moving at a fast pace, and I suspect a reader in his early teens will enjoy the story -- and he'll learn the basics of a popular Greek myth along the way. From an adult perspective, however, the story does have its flaws.

Husband-and-wife team Tony and Robyn DiTocco have made PJ a little too perfect: star athlete, talented artist, above-average student, dutiful son, loyal friend and, when necessity dictates, brave warrior. He swallows the news that he's descended from a half-god hero and must slay a deadly foe just a little too easily, and he balances school by day, heroing by night a bit too neatly for credulity.

His exploits follow the path of least resistance to the extent that you're never really worried about PJ's ability to survive and succeed. The inevitable romantic triangle and team rivalries at school, which run concurrently with his nightly adventures in ancient Greece, are good subplots but lack suspense; the girlfriend issue in particular has an outcome that's obvious from the start. The introduction of a PJ clone -- so he can save the world without being marked absent in class -- had a lot of wasted potential. To make matters worse, the authors wrap it all up with an epilogue that's just too hokey for words.

But it wasn't until after reading the book and sitting down with the publicity materials that the book's real weakness came to light.

Harry Potter strides over the young-adult fantasy market like a cyclops towering over a flock of sheep. The DiToccos, rather than trying to ride the cloaktails of Potter's popularity, try instead to topple the young wizard by playing the controversial "witchcraft and wizardry" card that has sent some parent groups scurrying for the Moral Majority's rubber "banned book" stamp.

Calling the Potter books "too mystical and borderline satanic," the DiToccos offer PJ as a hero who proves "that overcoming adversity can be accomplished without relying on magic." Hello? The authors apparently forgot that they gifted their young protagonist with the enchanted sword, helm of invisibility and flying sandals of myth, the constant intervention by benign gods, vials of supernatural blood and, to top it all off, a magic pad and paintbrush that allows him to bring anything he can draw to life.

In the story, PJ learns he can't win the respect of his teammates by attacking the reputation of the team's popular quarterback; it's a shame the DiToccos didn't learn the same lesson.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 11 December 2004

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