Warning: This review will contain minor spoilers regarding The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire. As this is the third book in the trilogy, it is assumed you have picked up the other two before looking at The Serpent’s Shadow.
Enjoying The Serpent’s Shadow is not a difficult task, but getting really into the book seems like it would be nigh impossible. Of all the Riordan books thus far, this one definitely seems to be aimed dead on at the middle school age range. The story is by no means bad, but it is certainly lacking compared to Riordan’s other work and fantasy books in general. One of the largest issues is the extremely predictable plot. Pretty much the entire book is the characters going, “How can we save the world? We need to do the thing. Let’s go do the thing!” And exactly that happens. While their plans do not go off without a hitch, the characters are more or less able to just hastily make a plan in order to stop the ultimate evil and it works with fairly few complications. But because the characters either said or hinted, “Here is what we’re gonna do,” you know exactly where the plot is heading for the entire book.
More so to this point, the storytelling itself feels like a big rehash of the previous two books. The Red Pyramid, The Throne of Fire, and now The Serpent’s Shadow all follow the same pattern. Kane siblings steal a magical artifact, Kane siblings argue, Kane siblings deal with their love lives, Kane siblings realize, “Oh yeah, we’re supposed to be saving the world.” Then they split off and each do their own thing (with friends tagging along), meet back up, argue about each other and their love lives some more, and finally somehow save the day when the villain finally rears his ugly head. Speaking of which, the final battle was somewhat lacking in this book.
If there is one thing Riordan does better than anything else, it is final battles. The end of The Last Olympian is (thus far) the high point of Riordan’s writing and end of Blood of Olympus was a really close number two. In The Serpent’s Shadow, however, it just felt like something was missing. The battle was not boring, but it was not the edge-of-your-seat type of writing that The Last Olympian was. Riordan’s writing for the scene was not as descriptive as it could have been and did not carry the same level of suspense as his previous works. The fight did well enough to wrap up the story but could not be described as an epic.
One of the other major issues with this adventure is that Riordan has set all of his books up in a shared universe. So hypothetically, say that the Kane siblings and their allies fail. The bad guy wins, end of days, rivers of blood, cats and dogs living together, and other horrible things. Where are the Greek/Roman (and now also Norse) deities when all this is going on? Granted most of the gods/goddesses seem to be prudes regardless of which mythology they belong to, but why are they not helping when the world that they derive their power from is put in danger? And even if the Olympians and the Asgardians will not help, why are the demigods, and whatever the Norse equivalent of them will be, not jumping in to help? Surely they have dealt with enough of this stuff to realize the difference between a natural disaster and a giant monster when they see crazy news reports. Maybe this will be explained in the Demigods & Magicians crossover but throughout the Kane Chronicles, it is a gaping plot hole. Eventually, Riordan will probably finish all his books with one last, grand adventure that brings them all together, but until then there are just too many unanswered questions.