I think with the first book, Rick Riordan kind of just wanted to hit a lot of bases. By that I mean he wanted to include a lot of the famous Greek Gods and monsters in the story as well as locations such as Ares, the Minotaur, Medusa, and the Underworld to name a few. Of course, that's to be expected given you want to draw your reader in and the best way to do that is give them the myths they recognized the most. Well here, he was allowed more freedom. The Sea of Monsters is pretty much exactly as described, with Percy and friends traveling into the fabled sea of monsters on a quest to save their home. And, along the way, they must face a whole new menagerie of threats. And, given the location, they had to be related to said sea. Which is why Riordan took such inspiration from the adventures of Odysseus with many of the monsters he faced making appearances alongside a few others. After all the action-gripping scenes he had in the first book, it would be a tough act to follow. And while this book doesn't quite reach the same heights (though the first book raised quite a bar there) it still has truly epic action sequences that keeps you hooked. Again, there are major spoilers here so if you'd rather not do that, then don't read. Just go get the book and enjoy that first. And if you proceed anyway, well, I warned you.
10. The Sirens
Everyone knows the Sirens. They actually exist across several different mythologies as well as many folktales. The legendary women of the sea who lure sailors to their deaths with their music and (apparent) beauty. Well, considering the circumstances, Rick Riordan couldn't not use them so here we are. And going in, we all already know what to expect. When Percy and Annabeth learn they'll be sailing past the Sirens, they make a plan. Except Annabeth disagrees with the plan, deciding she wants to hear the music so she can, somehow, understand herself better (her decision is explained way better in the book, I swear). So she gets tied up, Percy fills his ears with wax, and they sail. Then follows the tense scene of Annabeth hearing the music and doing everything she can to break free. And then she does, as predicted, forcing Percy to chase after her. What makes this scene so gripping is that you can't really fight the Sirens. All Percy can do is try and save his friend and if he wasn't the son of Poseidon, there's no way he would have pulled it off. This scene also helps flesh out Annabeth's character more, showing her greatest desire as well as weakness. It's heartwrenching to witness her breakdown so much and was an important turning point for her that also helped strengthen her bond with Percy. While light on action, still a great scene.
One of the most powerful sorceresses in mythology, who infamously turns all men into pigs in The Odyssey. When Percy and Annabeth wash up on a spa resort in the middle of the sea, they and the reader know something's up. But, like idiots, they just go along with it. Until Circe puts them under her spell, turning Percy into a guinea pig instead of an actual pig (though I think my mother would hate the guinea pig more). Thus, with him incapacitated, it allows Annabeth a chance to really shine as she steps up to save her friend and fight back, using both her skills and her wits to score them a victory. It's a short scene with actually little action which is why it's ranked so low. But it's still a cool sequence for Annabeth as well as a funny one for Percy. It also includes the pirate Blackbeard of all people for reasons only Rick Riordan knows.
8. First Chariot Race
I think here, Rick Riordan wanted to have another Camp activity like the Capture-the-Flag sequence from the first book, so he brought in the chariot race with the same hype attached. And what's more, Percy and Annabeth are at odds with each other over her hatred for Tyson (Percy's recently discovered cyclops half-brother). The chariot race is basically a no-holds barred battle royale as every cabin goes all out on each other to win, chariots crashing into one another like bumper cars and then just crashing. Of course, things get more intense when the Stymphalian Birds (carnivorous birds with iron beaks) appear, breaking through the camp's weakened barrier to attack. Like with capture-the-flag, Riordan uses this scene to set up the story: that the camp is unsafe and will be destroyed unless they find a way to save it. Just an intensely fun action scene that includes Riordan's trademark humor in how they manage to take down the birds in the end: Dean Martin's music.
7. Colchis Bulls
Bulls are bad enough. Mechanical bulls that breathe fire? Horrifying. These bulls are the second major threat of the book and serve as a showcase for the main plot: that Camp Half-Blood's protective barrier is failing, the monsters rampaging across the boundary line and attacking the campers. Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson arrive just in time to help but it's still a dicey fight and it's only thanks to Tyson's strength that they're able to come out on top. It's at this point that Rick Riordan starts to bring in more of the obscure creatures. I personally had never heard of the bulls before or had at least completely forgotten them but seeing them like this, I never will again. Just because they're not famous doesn't mean they're not dangerous. The same tense and humorous action scene that Riordan is known for that helps set up the danger the characters are facing.
6. Hydra Attack
You had to know this was coming. There are some monsters that are too famous and the hydra is one of them. The many-headed lizard creature where if you chop off one head, two more shall take its place. Marvel Comics even named a terrorist organization after it. However, Rick Riordan decides to reveal it in one of the strangest and possibly funniest ways of possible: through the magical machinations of the Monster Donut chain store. Yeah, that's right. The hydra is magically tied to a donut shop, so every time it grows a new head, a new shop opens up. Just pure Riordan wackiness. But that doesn't stop it from being such a dangerous threat, spewing acid with all of its heads. The action scene doesn't last long but its enough to leave a mark and the characters stand little to no chance against it. It's only thanks to Clarisse's timely entrance that they win. It is a little disappointing that the hydra doesn't get much time here, but another one does appear in The Mark of Athena as well, so it's all good.
5. Second Chariot Race
After all the chaos throughout the book, I think Riordan wanted the characters and the reader to just have one fun action scene with no real stakes. And it's funny how well it works as it's just the scene needed to bring the story to an end before the set up for the sequel begins. Here, without the threat of monsters attacking, the true obstacles of the race shine through with the different cabins going all out on each other, Annabeth and Percy fending off the likes of Apollo and Hephaestus campers in fierce duels. The only problem is that Clarisse is kind of sidelined here though with her combat prowess she probably would have won. Still, that doesn't eclipse all the fun and even the small amount of tension as you're still rooting for Percy and Annabeth to win. The perfect closing action scene for the book.
4. Charybdis and Scylla
There are monsters and then there are monsters. And then are these two. Some monsters are just too powerful for anyone to handle and Charybdis and Scylla fit that bill perfectly. Anyone who's read the Odyssey recognizes these monsters. The creature that sucks up the ocean before spitting it back out alongside the giant lizard who plucks sailors up from the ship faster than the eye can see. The only way into the Sea of Monsters is through them, begging the question of why anyone would want to enter the sea in the first place. This scene is one of the best because the heroes are truly powerless against these beings, no matter how many cannonballs Clarisse fires at them. The depictions of both monsters is just perfect Riordan humor but after all that, the scene hits you in the feels with Tyson's supposed death, hitting Percy especially hard as he never fully accepted him as his brother.
3. Percy vs. Luke
After what happened in The Lightning Thief and their earlier encounter in this book, you knew there had to be a showdown. Even at the start, it was said that the only swordsman who could match Percy was Luke. Well, here is where they throw down and the fight was pure epicness as Luke easily dominates the duel, proving that he is the better swordsman and Percy just does his best to survive. Unlike Percy's fight with Ares, Luke doesn't underestimate him and knows exactly how to beat him. The swordplay is written excellently by Riordan who highlights how much danger Percy's in and the skill the two fighters have. It's really only thanks to Chiron's timely arrival that he was able to survive at all. Add in the hilarious Dionysius and Tantalus scene and there's not much to make this sequence better.
2. The Laistrygonians
Also known as Canadians (sorry). These giants are the first threat Percy faces in the book and are Rick Riordan's way of reintroducing him and the reader to the world he created. What starts as an innocent game of dodgeball against the unpopular kids quickly turns into a would-be slaughterfest as the giants, posing as kids, make their appearance and summon flaming cannonballs to attack. And, of course, Percy is weaponless and unprepared. So all he can do is run around, doing his best to protect his fellow classmates from the monster attack. The only reason he survives is because of Tyson, his best and only friend who, up to this point, just seemed like a really buff, innocent kid with the mindset of a toddler. But turns out, he can fight as he tosses cannonballs right back at the monsters and smashes them apart. Of course it's revealed later that he's a cyclops so it makes sense, but at the moment, the reader is scrambling to understand how he can do that. This action scene was the perfect way to jump back into the series with Percy (accidentally) blowing up another school and Annabeth appearing to save his butt, affectively dragging him out of his normal life and once more into the world of gods and monsters.
This character appeared in the first chapter, chasing down Percy's friend Grover and then made subsequent appearances throughout the book, putting Grover in more and more danger and forcing Percy to go on the quest in the first place. So you know the confrontation with him is going to be a big one. And boy does Riordan deliver with an over the top action sequence. This cyclops is also plucked from The Odyssey and is famous for believing Odysseus's name is 'Nobody.' So Annabeth uses the same trick at first but things quickly go wrong and then it turns into an all-out brawl with Percy, Grover, and Clarisse tackling the monster. But he's just too powerful, them being basically mosquitoes to him. It's only because of Tyson's timely arrival that they're able to beat him back, but not beat him as they make their escape. Still, they put up a hell of a fight and Percy very nearly killed him before sparing him. And, in the end, the cyclops still got the last laugh. While Polyphemus may not have been the final boss, he was certainly worth the wait and he proved himself to be one of the toughest opponents in the series.
And that's it for The Sea of Monsters. There are still a couple of minor action scenes here and there, Percy's confrontation with Luke on the Princess Andromeda coming to mind. But these are still the best and while they don't quite meet The Lightning Thief's bar, they're still very good.
Again, I hope all my readers enjoyed this and that, if you haven't read the series, that you didn't mind getting spoiled.