Back in the mid-2000s, I was a big fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, like most middle-schoolers were.
I had always been interested in mythology, but a lot of the books I was reading weren’t gauged toward a young audience. Riordan’s famous series gave traditional Greek myths a fun twist, and I naturally gobbled up everything he wrote for many years.
By about high school, I had kind of fallen out with Riordan’s work. His Percy Jackson series had been replaced by its Roman counterpart, which I just didn’t find as interesting. His Egyptian mythology series, The Kane Chronicles, was one of the last things I read of his work, and I appreciated it, but wasn’t as impressed as I might have been if I were a few years younger.
As I started to read more about mythology on my own, I started to realize that in some ways, Riordan was starting to tread into dangerous territory. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies are all pretty mainstream at this point, with ideas or deities appearing in film and novels, everything from American Gods to Marvel and DC comics.
But at one point, I remember thinking, “Riordan’s exhausted most of his avenues at this point, he’ll have to start diving into other cultural heritages for inspiration.” And that troubled me a bit, simply because Riordan is a middle-aged white dude, how will he tackle African mythology? Japanese, Korean, Chinese mythology? Really, any mythos outside of the classic four he’d already written about.
That’s when I learned about Rick Riordan Presents, his publishing imprint through Disney-Hyperion, so to speak.
What Is Rick Riordan Presents?
On their website, Riordan states that the Rick Riordan Presents imprint is meant to “help other writers get a wider audience. I also want to help kids have a wider variety of great books to choose from, especially those that deal with world mythology, and for all kinds of young readers to see themselves reflected in the books that they read.”
In this light, it’s important to note that the Rick Riordan Presents books aren’t a part of the Percy Jackson universe, but are instead independent books that Riordan only helped to edit and publish.
The whole point of the imprint is to bring more voices into the middle-grade mythology scene, and I certainly think that Riordan and his team have succeeded in that goal.
Breaking Out Of The Mold
Anyone who has read science fiction and fantasy for any amount of time knows that there’s an incredible amount content out there that’s inspired by mythology, even if only in passing.
Paranormal investigation series written by people like Seanan McGuire or Jim Butcher riff off certain myths and legends, while other stories, recreate classical story structure down to a tee.
After talking with PJ Manney about the New Mythos and how we need to change the way we tell stories, I realized that a lot mythology-inspired fiction draws on the big four (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse). And those stories reflect a mindset that’s already been repeated throughout mainstream media and storytelling practices for hundreds of years.
Greek plays, Roman epics, Norse origin stories—they all work under the shadow of outdated story structures that are clearly linked to the power and politics of the times.
So naturally, there needs to be a revolution, so to speak, where our classical mythologies get sent to the bench for a while and new stories take to the field.
And that’s where Rick Riordan Presents starts to do its work.
Books from Rick Riordan Presents
As it stands, the Rick Riordan Presents imprint has brought many mythologies to middle school libraries outside of the big four. Here’s a list of some of the books the imprint has published, or plans to publish.
The Pandava Quintet – a five book series by Roshani Chokshi. The series kicks off with Aru Shah and the End of Time, and focuses heavily on Hindu mythology.
The Storm Runner Series – this trilogy was written by J. C. Cervantes and brings Aztec and Mayan mythology to the board. A follow-up series, Shadow Bruja, dives into a character from the first trilogy in the same realm of mythology.
The Thousand Worlds Series – So far, there are two books in this series written by Yoon Ha Lee. Where other books in the imprint are grounded on our Earth, Thousand Worlds takes us into space and explores Korean mythology. The first two books are Dragon Pearl and Tiger Honor, with a potential third book in the works.
The Tristan Strong Series – this trilogy was written by Kwame Mbalia and explores African-American and West African mythology. The first book, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, tackles dealing with grief, while the other books dive more into cultural heritage. There is a graphic novel adaption in the works, too.
Sal & Gabi – This series was written by Carlos Hernandez and dives into Cuban mythology. This sci-fi/fantasy crossover series has two books, Sal and Gabi Break the Universe and Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe.
The Paola Santiago Series– This trilogy was written by Tehlor Kay Mejia and takes a new approach to middle-grade mythology, with a supernatural focus on Hispanic myths and legends. The first book, Paola Santiago and River of Tears was rated as one of Amazon’s Best Books in 2020.
The Gifted Clans – Graci Kim’s Korean-mythos series started off with The Last Fallen Star and has two more books slated for release.
In addition to the series, Rick Riordan Presents has also published two standalone novels, by Rebecca Roanhorse and Sarwat Chadda. Plus, The Cursed Carnival was an anthology edited by Riordan that featured short stories set in the universes of each series.
Upcoming projects feature authors like Daniel José Older, Tracey Baptiste, Stacey Lee, and Roseanne A. Brown.
While this blog post might have rambled on for a bit, I just want to say that I’m glad Rick Riordan put his focus onto bringing more diverse voices into the middle-grade mythology scene. His books are great, but they’re written from a certain point of view that’s been redone multiple times across the board.
Giving all of these authors a cohesive platform to work with is a great opportunity to teach kids about different cultural heritages and turn them onto exploring the legends and beliefs of cultures they might not have been able to explore otherwise.
I wish that these books—or books like these—had been around when I was reading Percy Jackson. Perhaps my sense of storytelling and mythology might be a lot stronger had they been.