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Originally published Friday, October 29, 2010 at 11:00 AM

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Riordan's new book 'Lost Hero' mixes in mythology

Kids' Books: Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series and Kane Chronicles, talks about his new book "The Lost Hero," the first in a series called "The Heroes of Olympus." "The Lost Hero"immediately grabbed a spot on the best-seller list when it was released this month.

Scripps Howard News Service

Rick Riordan proves that blockbuster books can be good books.

Just check out his newest book, "The Lost Hero" (Hyperion, $18.99), the first in a new series called "The Heroes of Olympus" (http://disney.go.com/disneybooks/heroes-of-olympus and (http://rickriordan.blogspot.com/2010/06/heroes-of-olympus.html). In "Lost," Riordan uses three narrators to tell his 553-page story, based on a fascinating mix of Greek and Roman myths. The characters are interesting and well-developed, and the richly complex story has Riordan's trademark wry humor and nearly nonstop action. "The Lost Hero"immediately grabbed a spot on the best-seller list when it was released Oct. 12.

This same combination of literary elements has served Riordan well in the past, with his wildly successful, five-volume Percy Jackson series and a new trilogy, "The Kane Chronicles," focused on Egyptian mythology. Its first volume is "The Red Pyramid." All told, Riordan's children's books have sold more than 20 million copies and in 35 countries.

The modest, soft-spoken author is thrilled that so many kids love his books. He regularly gets letters from parents who say their child never read until picking up a "Percy Jackson" book. He also gets letters from kids who want to share their newfound love of mythology, kindled by his books.

In a recent webcast interview with reviewers, Riordan said he understood his readers' sadness when he decided to conclude the "Percy Jackson" series last year. With his new "Olympus" series, Riordan said he's able to go back to Percy Jackson's world "in a way that's fresh and ... keeps things fresh and entertaining for me, too.

"... I think the easy sort of default thing to do would be to make ... 'Percy Jackson 6,' 'Percy Jackson 7,' 'Percy Jackson 28,' " Riordan said. He added that, as a reader, he'd "seen too many series ... that went on way too long." When an author tires, "the book quality suffers."

Riordan didn't want that to happen to Percy Jackson. Instead, he took what he calls "a middle ground," creating the new, five-volume series that includes Percy and many of his friends but focuses on a new generation of demigods.

There's Jason, who wakes up on a school bus full of kids going on a field trip to the Grand Canyon yet has no idea of who he is or why he's there.

On the bus is Leo, who's lived in foster homes since his mother died; he has a keen sense of humor and can make just about anything. And there's Piper, daughter of a famous male movie star whose emotional neglect leads her to become a shoplifter. She believes she and Jason have become a couple; Leo says Jason is his best friend. Jason recalls none of this.

But the trio bonds quickly when they arrive at Camp Half-Blood, the summer camp for demigods (the offspring of a human and a god). The three learn they are destined to join forces and take on a potentially deadly quest involving Hera, queen of the gods.

In the interview, Riordan said he was particularly happy about having Piper as a female narrator in "The Lost Hero." The "Percy Jackson" books feature strong female characters but they're still told from Percy's point of view.

While Percy Jackson and the series' other characters will appear in the "Olympus" series — and even play some major roles — Riordan said he hoped readers would be "just as invested in the new characters." Riordan added that his kids have told him that "The Lost Hero" is the best thing he's written.

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"That kind of blew me away," he said.

Riordan's son Haley, now a teenager, inspired him to start writing for kids nine years ago. At the time, Riordan was a middle school English teacher disturbed that Haley, who has ADHD and dyslexia, hated to read. So Riordan began creating stories for him. Those eventually became "The Lightning Thief," the first book in the "Percy Jackson" series.

Riordan said he has become his son's "second favorite" author, after Derek Landy of the "Skulduggery Pleasant" series (www.skulduggerypleasant.com/us)."I guess as long as I'm in the top three ... that's about as much as you can hope for," he laughed.

Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com

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