“I think the hardest thing we can ever do is see someone for who they really are. Our parents. Our friends. Ourselves.” – Rick Riordan, Ship of the Dead
I really love the Percy Jackson series. It’s a fun, face-paced, mythology-inspired series that beautifully incorporates young protagonists with learning difficulties (ADHD, dyslexia) into the stories. Rick Riordan, the author, wrote the series for his son so that he could see himself represented as a hero of a story.
The Riordanverse, as it is called, is based around the Greek mythology-based Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Greek mythology-inspired) and Heroes of Olympus (Roman mythology-inspired). The series was later expanded with the Kane Chronicles (Egyptian), Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (Scandinavian) and the Trials of Apollo (Greek).
As the Riordanverse has developed, more and more young people have begun seeing themselves in the stories and characters portrayed. Riordan has begun including more ethnically-diverse characters as well as LGBTQ+ characters; he copped a lot of flack for the latter, in particular. People started spamming review sites with nonsense because they thought the idea of a queer character in a book for kids was wrong.
Let’s all just agree that queer rep in books for young readers is a good thing, and move on to the meat of this post, yeah?
In each of the series in the Riordanverse, there is a demonstrable improvement in the quality of LGBTQ+ rep – from the initial inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, to the development of more positive and inclusive storylines. While Nico’s (the first canon queer character) story was significant for the time, it was not ‘positive’ in its execution. While Riordan’s work began as very heteronormative, the developing awareness of LGBTQ+ inclusivity in media from the early 2000s to late 2010s is clear in the systematic improvement in queer characters and their stories. Despite backlash from more conservative readers (arguing that the younger audience should not be exposed to ‘political’ themes), Riordan remains committed to writing inclusive stories, following the continuing theme of better-quality representation through his craft.
So let’s track the development of representation, shall we? Just for funsies.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Very little rep. Some readers argued that some characters were coded queer (there was a MASSIVE Percico following online, so shippers at least knew what was up) and the gods from Greek mythology could never be accused of being straight, but there’s nothing explicit.
The Kane Chronicles
Same as PJO – lots of characters could be queer. Sadie Kane does end up in a polyamorous relationship with Walt Stone and Anubis, but they’re inhabiting the same body so I’m not sure how that could be categorised. Still, props to Riordan for portraying a respectful, consenting relationship between three people.
Heroes of Olympus
The first canon LGBTQ+ character in the Riordanverse = Nico di Angelo!
Unfortunately, he’s outed against his will in a confrontation with Cupid. He has no agency in that scene and he’s in agony the whole time. Nico was raised in the 1940s, so there’s a healthy dose of self-loathing here as well. Jason Grace tries to convince him that there is support and acceptance now (though the reviews for the books would argue otherwise) but Nico remains firmly closetted.
Basically, Nico is gay but he is not happy about it.
At the end of the series, Nico is a tiny bit happier. He tells Percy and flirts with a son of Apollo, Will Solace, but his ending is left ambiguous.
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
Ya’ll. Let me introduce you to Alex Fierro: transgender and gender fluid child of Loki, shapeshifter, and overall excellent person.
Alex was kicked out of home when they came out, got assaulted in shelters, and ended up getting killed and sent to Valhalla. Despite the awful beginning and the nasty, trope-y origin story, Alex’s position in the series is heroic and they do a lot to educate the people around them. In Hammer of Thor, there is a whole chapter devoted to them explaining their experience with being trans – with a particular emphasis on the fact that their experience is not universal and other trans/genderfluid people might experience their gender differently. Later, they build a pottery golem and declares them non-binary.
In the end, Alex and Magnus become canon. Magnus has a brief moment where he wonders about his sexuality while kissing male-presenting Alex, but that’s superseded by the fact that he’s just really, really happy that they’re finally together! It’s a gorgeous relationship.
Trials of Apollo
I’m queer! You’re queer! That geyser is queer! Everyone is queer!
Apollo is a lover, not a fighter, and that’s clear in the many asides and reminiscences that pepper Apollo’s narration. He’s open about his past relationships with men and women. There’s nothing salacious, but he never shies away from what he considers to be natural and beautiful love between consenting adults.
There are also a lot of new characters who are queer, including – yes – geyser spirits called palikoi. During the series, Apollo meets a pair of immortal warrior lesbians, a transwoman hunter of Artemis, and many, many bisexual gods and demigods. Not only that, but Nico di Angelo gets a happy ending! He’s shown in a sweet, romantic relationship with Will Solace and he seems to be getting help for his mental health! Fantastic!
Not too shabby for Disney Hyperion, is it?