Ever since I finished the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, I haven't been able to find a good alternative. There are some great middle grade series out there, don't get me wrong. But none of them had the same feel to it as PJO.
This book had a lot of similar elements to PJO. The one stood out to me the most was its humour. Rick Riordan was able to infuse humour into his books even when things got tense. What's even better was that the humour did not come from one single "comic relief character." Peter Lerangis took a page right out of Riordan's How to Write a Fantastic Book Series and did exactly that. Every one of the characters was capable of delivering a funny punchline and that showed great versatility. I really love it when a character is more than just "The Hero", "The Clown" or "The Nerd." Because in some way, everyone has those characteristics within them. Jack, Marco, Aly and Cass all displayed those characteristics and it made the story much more believable. And the best part of all is that they all had equal opportunities to shine; although the story was told in Jack's perspective, all of them could be viewed as the main character.
Another character I thought Lerangis delivered really well was Torquin. He is a large henchman to the Karai Institute. Stereotypically, the large henchman is not the sharpest tool in the shed, and is usually used as a comic relief. Sure, Torquin had his funny moments, but he also showed that he is just like you and me. He gets frustrated when he has to come in on his day off, he hates babysitting the kids, yet, he is smart enough to monitor the entire institute's surveillance system and can notice when things feel off. At times you feel bad for him, and then you realize you really hate his stubbornness.
If you're not a fan of Rick Riordan (although that is impossible), there are other aspects of this novel that might appeal to you. Like in the 39 Clues, this book drew in historical elements and made me really interested in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I go gaga for anything about ancient civilization, which made my time in my time in my grade 11 history class oh so enjoyable. This book had puzzles and riddles that needed to be solved and fans of the 39 Clues series should definitely check it out.
There was also another element of this story that I enjoyed and it reminded me a bit of the Immortal Nicholas Flammel series (by Michael Scott). But I will put this under the spoiler tag just in case you find it spoilery.
I like how the children don't really trust Dr. Bhegard and the Karai Institute, just like Josh and Sophie with Nicholas Flammel. I think their suspicion is justified and I am curious to read on to see if any of them would turn against the professor.
END OF SPOILERS
P.S.: Totally adored the illustrations! They were an essential part to the puzzle solving. Excellent.