When author Rick Riordan concluded his wildly popular "Percy Jackson" series last year, his young fans wondered just what he'd write next.
The answer arrives in bookstores Tuesday (May 4), as Riordan's newest book, "The Red Pyramid" (Hyperion, $17.99), is released to eager readers. The first of a planned series called "The Kane Chronicles," Riordan's latest novel puts a spotlight on ancient Egypt in much the same way he wove Greek mythology into the "Percy Jackson" series.
And, like the five-book "Percy Jackson" series, "The Red Pyramid" features his reader-friendly mix of short, snappy, action-filled chapters and a boatload of wisecracking humor. Of course, there's also some learning mixed in as Riordan connects readers with the gods and magicians of ancient Egypt, who -- in "The Red Pyramid," at least -- are alive and well.
This time, Riordan tells his story through two narrators -- mixed-race siblings Carter and Sadie Kane. The two alternate detailing what happened after their father, Julius Kane, blew up the Rosetta Stone and unleashed five Egyptian gods before disappearing himself.
Having two protagonists "was a challenge," Riordan said in a recent telephone interview from his San Antonio home. "I like to push myself and do different things. I didn't want a carbon copy of Percy."
Riordan (pronounced "RY-er-dan") was especially worried about finding the right voice for Sadie.
"But her character really came to me -- she was so endearing, so spunky, that she just leaped off the page."
As the story begins, 14-year-old Carter and 12-year-old Sadie hardly know each other. Since their mother's unexplained death several years ago, Sadie's been living with grandparents in England while Carter has traveled the world with his father, an eminent archaeologist.
After their father's disappearance, Carter and Sadie are stunned to learn from their Uncle Amos that they are descended from powerful Egyptian magicians. Despite some inevitable personality clashes and fierce sibling rivalry, Carter and Sadie realize that they've got to team up if they're going to defeat the forces of evil led by the Egyptian god Set.
As a former middle-school teacher, Riordan knew that many kids are enthralled with ancient Egypt.
"There are the pyramids, mummies, curses, hieroglyphics -- so much to wrap your mind around," he said.
But kids also tend to know less about it than the Greek mythology featured in the "Percy Jackson" books, said Riordan. As a result, he had to find a way to pack "The Red Pyramid" with facts about ancient Egypt while entertaining his readers.
"I tried to spice it up, to find those nuggets that will capture kids' interest while they learn."
Riordan, 45, did extensive research for "The Red Pyramid." What most amazed him, however, was the fact that apparently no other author had attempted to build a kids' novel around the fact that Egyptian magic "is the oldest school of magic in the world.
"I loved the idea of reinventing magic from the beginning," Riordan said.
He also was happy with the idea of making Sadie and Carter the children of a mixed-race couple; their mother was white and their father was African-American.
"Egypt straddles civilizations -- African civilization and Western civilization. I wanted to capture the sense that Egypt is a multicultural society, and that its African culture is part of African-American heritage."
Sadie and Carter's mixed-race heritage also added another emotional layer to the story, Riordan said.
"At a time when kids are searching for their identity, when you add race to it, it's a big challenge," he said.
At the moment, Riordan sees his new "Kane Chronicles" series as a trilogy, saying: "That's as far as I've taken the story."
Meanwhile, he's also working on a second five-book series, this one featuring a mainstay of the "Percy Jackson" series, Camp Half-Blood. The first book will be published in October.
"I wanted readers to know that I'm not totally abandoning Percy. He's got a big role to play in this book, but I can't say anymore and need to ask readers to be patient."
Riordan says he plans to do one book in each of the new series each year.
"No one is pressuring me to do this, but I didn't want to keep my fans waiting so long. ... Still, they can read a lot faster than I can write!"
Given the huge success of the "Percy Jackson" books, Riordan could well afford a wealthier lifestyle. He's not interested, however.
"We like to keep things simple," said the married father of two sons, ages 12 and 15. "I didn't become a full-time writer until I was almost 40. So my identity was really shaped before that."