‘The Sun and the Star’ by Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro: A descent into Tartarus leads to one of the most emotionally rewarding books set in the Percy Jackson universe

This The Sun and the Star book review has been a long time coming, but nothing could’ve prepared me for what Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro would share with us in this book centering on Nico di Angelo and Will Solace’s decent into Tartarus.

I have been a fan of the Percy Jackson universe for well over a decade now, and with each new installment, I feel as though Rick Riordan brings something fresh to the table. With the latest series, The Trials of Apollo, we got to witness the titular god struggle with mortality and accountability in a way that was both hilarious and emotional—admittedly, the hallmarks of any Rick Riordan book. Never have we gotten such an insightful look into the mind of a god before Lester Papadopoulos entered the scene.

While some authors may struggle with their stories going stale, I have found that the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles has grown with me, continuing to put life’s greatest lessons into perspective while making me laugh along the way. Over the years, I have walked away from these books with my head held just a little bit higher because not only have they revealed secrets about worlds different from my own, but they’ve reflected my own truths back to me. The Sun and the Star is certainly no different—and, in fact, it may hold the clearest reflection of myself that I’ve seen in any of Rick’s books to date.

A major reason for this is because of Rick’s partnership with Mark Oshiro, a queer Latinx writer and self-proclaimed Percy Jackson fan. When it was first announced that Rick would be co-authoring this book with Mark, I was excited because there had been talk around the final Trials of Apollo book, Tower of Nero, that it could be the end of the Percy Jackson universe. Then Rick hinted he may write standalone novels for some of the more beloved characters, and my hope reignited. There was never any part of me that doubted Nico di Angelo would be the first one out of the gate, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying when the announcement was made.

What caught me by surprise was Rick telling us that he’d invited Mark to play in his sandbox because none of us knew that was an option! But this move made perfect sense. Mark is an incredible writer who can speak through Nico to the people who have identified with him ever since his first introduction in The Titan’s Curse, back in 2007. While Rick has done his best over the years to diversify his characters, Mark brings an authenticity of lived experiences to the table when writing characters such as Nico and Will. And the book is all the better for it.

This book, and hopefully by extension this The Sun and the Star book review, is a love letter to the Percy Jackson universe, to Nico di Angelo and Will Solace as individuals, and their relationship as a whole. Mark has spoken extensively about the amount of love and research that went into this book, and that is apparent on each and every page. Neither author has forgotten where Nico has been nor what he has been through, and as heartbreaking as that could’ve been to include in this book, they both use it to lift the character higher than he’s ever been before.

The premise of the book is shockingly straight-forward. At the end of Tower of Nero, we learn that there has been a voice calling out to Nico for help from the depths of Tartarus—a voice which he is convinced belongs to Bob, the reformed Titan. Nico had already decided that he needed to help Bob when Rachel Elizabeth Dare spewed forth a prophecy, turning the trip into an official quest.

If you’ve read The House of Hades, you know there are many reasons why ending up in Tartarus is a terrible idea, and Nico knows this from firsthand experience as well. If he’s voluntarily going to Tartarus, then you know this is important. Which is why Will Solace tells him he’s going, too. There’s no universe in which Will wouldn’t accompany his boyfriend, but this trip will be even more dangerous for the son of Apollo, who thrives under the sun.

As always, I will be keeping this The Sun and the Star book review spoiler-free, so you won’t get any hints of the actual plot from this article, but there’s still plenty left to talk about when it comes to this standalone Percy Jackson spinoff. First and foremost, we get an incredibly close-up look at Tartarus, a realm that hasn’t been explored much by the other demigods. As I said before, Percy and Annabeth are an exception, but there’s nothing quite like seeing this area of the Underworld through a child of Hades’ eyes.

The Underworld is Nico’s second home, and though he has a complicated relationship with his father, you can tell throughout the book that he sees this realm differently than anyone else. There is beauty and, yes, even life in the Underworld, and Nico knows how precious that is in a realm full of the dead. Because he and Will are from not only different worlds but opposite ones, it sometimes puts them at odds.

But Tartarus is a whole different ballgame. It is a toxic place, both physically and mentally. Not only do you have to deal with things like rivers of fire and noxious fumes—not to mention all the monsters—you also have to contend with the mental strain being in this realm puts on you. It invades your thoughts, reflecting your worst fears and darkest confessions back at you. You can understand, then, why this is a particularly difficult journey for Nico, who has been through more trauma in his sixteen years than most people will ever experience in their lifetime.

the sun and the star book review

In fact, this journey through Tartarus is perfectly symbolic of what it’s like to struggle with depression and anxiety. Nico and Will have trouble blocking out the thoughts Tartarus puts into their heads, just as we find it difficult to ignore the intrusive thoughts in our own lives. For anyone who has been through trauma, suffers from PTSD, or struggles with mental illness, you will understand these feelings on the deepest levels. Rick has always been great about tackling difficult subjects in books and making kids feel like they belong, but I can also feel Mark’s fingerprints all over this book. If you’ve read any of their previous work, you’ll know that Mark often tackles difficult subjects, such as trauma and mental illness. I recently read Into the Light, and there are some common threads throughout these two books.

Related: Mark Oshiro talks the evolution of ‘Into the Light,’ writing stories for transracial adoptees, and continuing to challenge themselves

While this book is certainly about embracing your demons, it’s also about trying to heal from your trauma. Nico has been through it all, from losing his mother and his sister, to being outed against his will, to literally feeling Jason Grace’s death, and so much more. And while all of those losses have made him who he is, he’s also more than that, too. He fought and helped win two major wars, he’s surrounded by friends who care about him, and he has a loving relationship with his boyfriend, Will Solace. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

And that’s the other part of this book—choosing love and happiness. It might not always go according to plan, and sometimes it’s difficult to believe you deserve the affection given to you by others, but it’s important to never give up on the hope that it can get better. Nico does a lot of that inner work himself, but Will is there every step of the way to facilitate his boyfriend’s growth and recovery.

One of the unique factors of this book is that it contains POV chapters from Will Solace. What? You didn’t think I’d write a whole The Sun and the Star book review and not talk about the son of Apollo, did you? Yes, this is titled A Nico di Angelo Adventure, but it’s as much about Will and Solangelo as it is about the son of Hades. Will plays a pivotal role in this book in relation to Nico, but he also has his own problems to deal with, his own prejudices to overcome.

This is one of my favorite parts about this book—that Will has agency. He’s not a secondary character to Nico; he’s leading this adventure, too. When Nico struggles, Will picks him up, and vice versa. Being a son of Apollo makes it difficult for Will to be away from the sun, and he struggles in the Underworld more than Nico. Even more so, he has some misconceptions about Hades’ realm, and it colors his perception. It leads to conflict between the two, and they must find a way to communicate their thoughts and feelings amidst everything Tartarus is throwing at them so they can overcome their differences and learn from each other.

And it’s not just Nico who has trouble remembering the good times while they’re down in the Underworld. Will is, for all intents and purposes, a combat medic, which means he’s seen his friends die. There were moments during both wars that Will believes could’ve gone differently if he’d just been smarter, faster, stronger, better. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter because that’s what Will believes. He might have a sunshiny disposition on most days, but even the brightest stars flicker once in a while. He is not immune to the feelings that many of us struggle with on a daily basis, whether it’s dark thoughts or raging anxiety or confusion about his sexuality. It’s important for readers of any age to see this version of Will and to know that he and Nico are not as different as they seem on the surface.

Venturing through Tartarus is the most difficult thing either of these demigods have done, either as individuals or as a couple. Solangelo could have been a stereotypical opposites-attract couple, but The Sun and the Star has added layers and nuance to their story. It highlights the difficulties that a couple like this struggles with, but more importantly, it shows us how they overcome those difficulties. As dark as this book can get, it’s ultimately about hope. Despite the pain and fear and arguments, Will and Nico choose each other, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important factor in a long-lasting relationship.

It’s strange to write a The Sun and the Star book review without talking about the voice calling out from Tartarus or the villain in the novel, but that’s something I want readers to experience on their own. The ending was immensely satisfying, with that trademark humor-and-heart combo that Rick Riordan is known for. Mark’s added authenticity has made this one of the most poignant books in the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles universe, and I will be forever grateful to both of them for bringing this book into the world and shining a light on the issues that so many of us deal with on a daily basis. In the final pages, there is a moment where it feels as though Rick and Mark are talking directly to Nico, expressing the feelings of the fandom so perfectly that it made me tear up. It’s a little meta, and a whole lot wonderful, and it’s a feeling I will never forget.

Related: Mark Oshiro previews ‘The Sun and the Star’ book tour, reflects on collaboration with Rick Riordan

Thank you, Rick and Mark, for this gorgeous book, which not only extends the Percy Jackson universe but brings something new and fresh to a world we have all become intimately familiar with. I am honored to be able to write this The Sun and the Star book review, and whether Rick decides to write more Nico di Angelo adventures, or chooses to pick a new character to focus on, I hope he knows that I’ll be there every step of the way. I cannot wait to find out what’s coming next.

‘The Sun and the Star’ published on May 2, 2023.

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