OH GOD OH MAN OH GOD OH MAN.I just ... I can't even ... I can't. Well ... Good job Rick Riordan. You have written another glorious book. Congrats. I salute you. But ... YOU ARE ALSO A HUGE TROLL, AND YOU ARE STOMPING ALL OVER MY FUCKING HEART, AND THAT ENDING WAS SO SAD AND BEAUTIFUL, AND HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WAIT A YEAR FOR THE NEXT ONE. HOWWWWWW.... But okay, okay. Let's start at the very beginning. (A very good place to staaaart.)In his usual trollish fashion, Riordan left the previous book in the series––The Son of Neptune––just as Annabeth, Piper, Jason, and Leo were about to fly into Camp Jupiter (AND PERCY AND ANNABETH WERE ABOUT TO BE REUNITED AT LAAAST!). And then it was like ... THE END. And we all threw the book across the room, am I right?So, The Mark of Athena starts out exactly where the last book left off. Annabeth & co. are flying towards Camp Jupiter where Percy & co. are waiting for them.We finally, FINALLY get the Percabeth reunion we've all been waiting for. After two whole books and like 15 pages, Percy and Annabeth finally see each other again and they kiss and then Annabeth like judo-flips Percy and tells him never to leave her again and AWWWW I CAN'T HANDLE ALL MY FEELS.So yeah, after waiting like 1,000 pages it finally happened and it was totally worth the wait. It was perfect.But of course, since this is a Rick Riordan book, nothing stays perfect. And after not too long, there's a little mishap in which things explode, and well ... there's a bit of a misunderstanding. And let's just say, Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Piper, Jason, Frank, and Hazel all have to leave straightaway ... and also they might have accidentally turned Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter against each other. In typical Riordan style, there's a main plot in the book but it's also made up of a lot of little mini-adventures in which the characters have to go on a bunch of different quests and of course face a wide variety of crazy monsters and gods and all that jazz. And all of it is leading up to Annabeth taking one quest on her own and fulfilling a prophecy that has some rather ominous implications ... (Don't all prophecies?)This was a long book and it took me quite a while to read. However, I thought that––as usual––Riordan does a good job keeping the plot moving from one point to the next, and each little quest is almost like its own little story so there's no room for getting bored.Probably the most daunting task in this book was having to juggle all the characters. Now that the two groups from the previous books have joined together, that makes seven major characters to keep track of.Yikes.But Riordan handles this quite well. He does a good job paying equal attention to all the major characters and having them all interact with each other in one way or another. The huge group tends to branch off in pairs or groups of three or so as they go off on their various quests, so that makes it a bit easier to keep track of everyone.The only thing that gets a tad annoying about this is that sometimes you won't know what happens to certain characters for like 50 pages at a time. Like, one character will be about to fall off a cliff and it'll be like, "TROLOLO time to go talk about another character for 100 pages!"So, sometimes I would be impatiently waiting to hear about what was going on with a certain character and I wouldn't get to know forever and ever. But other than that, it wasn't too painful.Anyway ... as for the character development in this book, it was mostly awesome.I say "mostly" because some of the characters became a lot more likable than others. Towards the end, I wasn't that crazy about Jason or Piper. I didn't like Jason very much in The Lost Hero and I was expecting him to become a more compelling character but ... nah. I still feel like he's pretty boring in comparison to the others. He just doesn't have much of a personality, plus he's magically kickass and awesome and perfect at everything. So, he's just not all that interesting to me. Piper is slightly better, and I liked her for the most part in The Lost Hero, but in The Mark of Athena I kind of got impatient whenever the story was focused on her. Maybe it was just that I don't like her as much as most of the other characters. I don't hate her, but I don't love her either. I think she's kind of a damsel in distress and just ... meh. I'm not a huge fan.But other than those two, I found the character growth in The Mark of Athena to be excellent.First of all, it's great to see how much Percy and Annabeth have matured over the course of all the books. I almost got a little teary-eyed from nostalgia a few times. I kind of grew up with these books, in a way (throughout my teenage years anyway) ... That is, I was around 12 when the first book came out and they were 12 in the first book––and every year when the next book came out, I would have aged another year just like they had. Well, and now they're stuck at 16 and I'm 20 but STILL. I've had these books in my life for quite a long time now, and it just means a lot to me to see them so grown up. I mean, Percy used to be so clueless and had no idea what he was doing 99% of the time. And now he's like wicked badass but he still stresses out about trying to save the world and crap and ugggh. And Annabeth used to be kind of mean and also got herself into trouble by having too much pride and yada yada ... and even though she's still super brave and kickass and all, she's more open and more humbled and EEEP it's just fantastic.And see, in a lot of books where two characters officially get together, the author tends to screw it up by a) making their relationship too damn perfect, or b) making everything go to heck and have something ridiculous happen like they break up again or whatever. But no, not our dear Rick Riordan! Yes, Percy and Annabeth do get a lot of time together in this book and it's really sweet. But, Riordan doesn't overkill it. For a lot of the book, Percy and Annabeth are off on separate quests doing what they need to do. As much as they care about each other, they both also realize that they have a duty to fulfill and that's what's most important.What I also love is that Annabeth doesn't depend on Percy to protect her or any crap like that. And also, Percy recognizes that Annabeth can take care of herself. Even when she has to go on her quest alone and could possibly die, Percy still lets her go––not that he doesn't want to help her, but because he knows she needs to do it and that she's strong enough to succeed. I mean, can we all just stop and appreciate this for a second? DO YOU KNOW HOW RARE THIS IS IN YA BOOKS. DO YOU. Seriously, they're like the best fictional couple EVER. GAHHHH. In addition, Annabeth is just so awesome and courageous in this book. I felt like she finally got the spotlight she deserved after so many books, and Riordan really gives her a time to shine––and she makes the most of it. I mean, dang ... she has to go on this crazy quest by herself, and face one of her worst fears ARACHNE, AAHHHH, and does this with a freakin' broken ankle. MY GOD. I was just reading this like "ANNABETH MY POOR BABY UGH YOU'RE SO FLAWLESS YOU CAN DO IT I LOVE YOU." So, yeah. Seriously, Annabeth is one of my favorite female characters––and one of my favorite characters, period––in all the YA series I have ever read. Thank you, Rick Riordan, for giving us such a brave and relatable and believable YA heroine, because they are not so easy to come by.As for the other characters ...I have to acknowledge Leo especially, because I really felt for him in this book. It would be easy for him to just become the "comic relief" character and go totally ignored. But Leo is more than just "the funny guy" ... He's hilarious, yes, but his humor is used for the purpose of covering up his dark memories and his feelings that he's the odd one out. (Actually, he kind of reminds me of my beloved Sokka from "Avatar: The Last Airbender" ... Man, can you imagine if they met each other and became best friends forever? UGGH THAT'D BE SO AWESOME. Anyway.) So, I felt that in this book he became a much more complex character. I liked him a lot in The Lost Hero but after reading The Mark of Athena I feel like I have a much better understanding of him and my love for him grew immensely.I also liked Frank and Hazel in this book, although I'm not sure if I liked them as much as I did in The Son of Neptune. Since the focus in this book tended to be more on Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Piper, and Jason, I felt like Frank and Hazel faded into the background a bit. We did at least get to learn more about Hazel's past which was great, and saw a new dynamic form between her and Leo because of it ... so I liked that. Frank was just kind of there being his usual awkward self, and I would have liked to see more of him, but I still liked him a lot. And about the Hazel/Leo thing ... Oh man, I'm so torn. On one hand, I love Frank and Hazel as a couple and I rooted for them throughout The Son of Neptune. But, well, I kind of like Leo and Hazel as a couple, too. Honestly, it's mostly because I feel so bad for Leo ... He feels so lonely a lot of the time and like no girl will ever like him and it's just ... GAHHH it's not fair. WHY WHY WHYYYYYY. So ... I really don't know. I'm super conflicted, and I guess I can only wait to see what the next book brings.Now, now, I'm finally coming to the end of my thoughts on this book and I just have one more major thing to address and that's THE FUCKING ENDING. HOLY MUSHROOMS.I don't think any amount of gifs can express how I felt about it, but I will try:MAJOR SPOILERZ:PERCY AND ANNABETH FELL INTO FUCKING TARTARUS?!?! NOOOO WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY OH GOD WHY. WHAT KIND OF ENDING IS THAT? STOP IT. STOP DOING THIS TO ME. Okay, but some sick part of me kind of loved this ending––and that's because JESUS CHRIST IT WAS JUST BEAUTIFUL. JUST ... THIS:I'm dead. I can't. I don't ... AGHHH. Yes, it's horrible. But at least we know that they're still alive. Although ... they thought they were going to die and they decided to die together. IT'S JUST TOO MUCH.So yeah, let's just say the ending trumps all Riordan troll-endings. It's just heart-wrenching and terrifying and it's not nice to do that to your readers. ARRRGH. I need the next book.Oh, one more minor thing:I kind of have issues with the cover. Don't get me wrong, it's an awesome cover. When I first saw it, I fangirl-ed all over the place. But––especially after reading the book––I have two major problems with it:a) WHY ISN'T ANNABETH ON THE FREAKING COVER? I mean really ... The book is called The Mark of Athena, and seeing as Annabeth is the daughter of Athena and that she has to go through more crap than anyone in this book, I think she deserves to be on the front of the book. Am I right? I mean, the only sign of Annabeth is the owl eyes in the background, and well ... that's not really enough, if you ask me. I'm guessing the publisher didn't want a girl on the cover because they thought it might prevent a good chunk of tweenage boys from buying the book. And maybe that's true, but would it have hurt to put Annabeth on the cover somewhere? There could have still been boys on the cover, but Annabeth should have been there in some way. Not fair if you ask me. b) It's also super misleading. As you can see in my pre-review ranting below, I was rather shocked to see Jason and Percy fighting against each other on the cover. I was like, "Wait, what? I thought the idea of this book was that they were going to join forces! WTF?!" But ... The scene depicted on the cover is a very short scene in which, yes, Percy and Jason briefly try to kill each other. But well, it's because they're hypnotized so it doesn't really count. So, yeah. I'm not sure why this was chosen to be the cover of the book. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me.All right, so I think that's about where my rant ends. I'm probably about to run out of space for this review anyway. Point is ... I loved this book. It was exciting and awesome, and for the most part had a lot of terrific character development. The ending was pure evil and I can't wait for The House of Hades. HOORAY!Pre-review rants under the spoiler, if you care about them:Me fangirling before the book even comes out:This book needs to come out right now. RIGHT NOW. I finished reading The Son of Neptune yesterday, so ... I am dying here. Dang you Rick Riordan for ending all of your books with a cliffhanger. Why would you do that to me? WHYYYYYY?Anyway, the point is, I am very excited for this book. I was somewhat depressed by the lack of Annabeth in The Son of Neptune, and it's obvious she'll play a big role in the third book so ... AAHHHHHH. Plus she and Percy have not even seen each other for two whole books and that SUCKS. I can't believe I have to wait a year for this. I think I will explode.*BOOM*UPDATE! (5/2/12)Alrighty, so Rick Riordan has officially released the first chapter. You can read it here (and/or listen to him reading it): http://cedarleaf-7.livejournal.com/795.htmlSo, yeah. ;ALDKJF;LSJFLSJD.Okay, I'm very sleep-deprived right now so I'm not going to say much.Just that––as I was hoping––Annabeth seems to be the main character in this one. SERIOUSLY GUYS, I CAN'T CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT. ANNABETH IS MY FAVORITE. SQUEEEEE.Also, it's cool to see the characters from The Lost Hero back again. Well, that is, it's cool to see Leo and Piper again. I don't like Jason that much, for the same reason Annabeth seems to dislike him ... he's just too perfect. But, oh well.And ARGH DAMMIT, I was really hoping that the much-anticipated Percabeth reunion would come at the end of this excerpt. But alas! It did not. Rick Riordan, how you torture me.Gahhh, I'm just so excited to see all these characters meet each other and kick ass together and whatnot. AND I JUST WANT TO SEE PERCY AND ANNABETH TOGETHER AGAIN, OKAY?So, yeah. Goodbye for now ... until this book actually comes out. Or until I hear some other kind of fantastic news about it. UPDATE! (6/5/12)OH GOSH. THERE IS A COVER. AND THERE IS A RELEASE DATE.IT COMES OUT THE DAY AFTER MY BIRTHDAY, HELL YEAH!AND GOSH, THAT COVER. IT IS SO PRETTY. THE OWL EYES. AHH. BUT OH MY GOODNESS, WHAT IS HAPPENING?! IS THAT JASON AND PERCY FIGHTING AGAINST EACH OTHER? WHAAAAT? MY MIND CANNOT COMPREHEND THIS. I NEED THIS BOOK NOW PLEASE THANK YOU. CAN'T HANDLE ALL MY EXCITEMENT.