Rick Riordan’s decision after the success of Percy Jackson and the Olympians was to continue writing young adult novels based off ancient mythologies, moving from Greek mythology to Egyptian mythology. The Kane Chronicles as a series easily could have become a retread of Percy Jackson and the Olympians as it takes a similar premise of teens/preteens discovering that the ancient pantheon and mythological monsters are real and hidden in the real world and they must save a parental figure who has been captured by an evil god before a greater threat is revealed as a curse to the world. There’s a lot in the first book in The Kane Chronicles trilogy that mirrors The Lightning Thief, at least in the premise, which can make the book feel quite a bit like Riordan’s previous work and brings it down as a whole. This doesn’t mean that The Kane Chronicles is by any means bad, there are plenty of things here to like and Riordan does a lot of things correctly, but The Red Pyramid as a novel has some important plot elements that are derivative of Riordan’s previous work. The book opens with Dr. Julius Kane merging with the Egyptian god Osiris and dying in an explosion, much like Sally Jackson’s capture in The Lightning Thief. The rest of the book is then a retelling of a specific Egyptian myth about the capture of Osiris by Set and his subsequent rescue by Horus and Isis. This presents a unique situation for Riordan: he has a structure to follow, but has to actually write original details and characters to get our characters through the structure. The myth isn’t an epic poem like The Iliad or The Odyssey, but a fairly simple story to describe how Horus was transitioned into being the “head” god of the Egyptian pantheon.
Riordan introduces the Kane siblings here as our protagonists and narrators: Carter and Sadie Kane are the children of two Egyptologists, their mother died, and they were separated with Carter traveling with his father, and Sadie living with her grandparents. Their dad releases Osiris and four other Egyptian gods from their prison in the Rosetta Stone (Horus, Isis, Nephthys, and Set), and each of the gods bonds with a host. The novel becomes a race against the clock where Carter and Sadie have to track down and defeat Set, the god of evil, before his birthday. The Red Pyramid off the bat shows an improved sense of worldbuilding and better usage of Riordan’s page time: the book is 516 pages long and doesn’t shy away from building the world. There isn’t a central hub for the “heroes” here, instead having it as an international organization with bases across the globe, and Carter and Sadie aren’t related to the gods, just descendants of pharaohs and merging with gods for magical power. A magic system is developed using hieroglyphs and a vague sense of internal energy and the idea of true names giving power, many of these concepts having their roots in Egyptian mythology with its own little spin. The book is also framed as a transcript of an audio tape apparently sent to Riordan at some point before publication/writing, pulling a The Phantom of the Opera in claiming that this story is somehow true.
This framing allows Riordan to use first person perspective and to switch easily from Carter and Sadie’s perspective, giving each of the siblings their own time to shine and to allow the reader a sense of who they are. Carter is a bit of a nerd who doesn’t quite understand society, has dealt with racism due to his darker skin (the siblings are mixed race), and attempts to be cool, but doesn’t quite manage it while Sadie is the more petulant and immature of the two, yet is more understanding due to a more traditional schooling. The siblings have a nice dynamic, and have that bickering sibling attitude which is really interesting. Riordan has them merge with Horus and Isis respectively, which works twofold. First, it creates parallels with the actual myth, and second, it allows an exploration for why the two siblings can use magic well without training as having literal gods sharing their bodies and giving them a magical boost. It allows the book to keep flowing. The parallels between the Kane siblings with the gods are also really interesting as while they serve the same role of those gods in the myth, Carter and Sadie are written intentionally to be foils for Horus and Isis: Carter isn’t warlike and looking for glory, instead looking for acceptance to contrast Horus’s characterization as a war god, and Sadie isn’t manipulative, cold, or calculating unlike Isis’s characterization as a master manipulator who is cutthroat in achieving her goals.
The supporting characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Carter and Sadie are accompanied by Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, and their long-lost Uncle Amos, who are probably the best characterized as they get the most time. Bast is a cat, no that’s the characterization and it provides some much needed relief, while Amos works kind of as a mentor figure in the stuff. Other characters include Anubis, an Egyptian funeral god, and Zia Rashed, a magician, both serving as love interests for Sadie and Carter, respectively, but both don’t get enough time for development, due to this book being an extended chase sequence with Carter and Sadie trying to defeat Set while the House of Life is after them. It’s a shame as both get strong introductions, but then don’t do much (Zia even kind of leaning on the women in refrigerators trope). The human villain is also incredibly one note, setup as a red herring for the identity of the person Set is inhabiting which is just a problem for the book as it reduces the threat into a caricature of something real. The decision to exclusively focus on Carter and Sadie does allow for better worldbuilding and integration of the plot, but it means that the sequels will have to do more work to get the rest of the characters up to snuff.
Overall, The Red Pyramid is a good book. It is. There are plenty of criticisms and elements from Percy Jackson and the Olympians which carry over to this new series for Riordan, but on the whole the effort to make it more than superficially different pays off. The characters sparkle, the writing style creates an interesting framing device, but there is something left wanting in not quite exploring who a lot of these characters are. 7/10.