Rick Riordan started the 39 Clues series with an exciting book that introduced the Cahill family, particularly Amy and Dan Cahill, a fourteen-year-old, and her twelve-year-old brother, orphans who set off on a quest to find a family treasure, competing against other family members. When I reviewed The Maze of Bones, I wondered how other authors would handle the storyline and characters. The next two authors have handled the storyline with mixed results. Remember, though, the books are designed for ages nine to twelve, so I am undoubtedly a little more critical than most readers. However, I won't make the assumption another reviewer did, faulting the series because readers might use it for homework assignments. I certainly hope not. The books are adventures.
In book two, One False Note by Gordon Korman, readers catch up with Amy, Dan, their au pair, Nellie, and their cat, Saladin, on a train from Paris to Vienna. After following clues left by Benjamin Franklin, a distant ancestor, they are tracking Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When their grandmother Grace died, the orphans discovered they belonged to one of the most powerful families the world has ever known, a family of history's geniuses, visionaries and global leaders. But, in order to find the 39 clues to the family history, the small group must compete against other family members, with more money, training, and strength.
Korman's contribution to the series lives up to the high expectations set by Riordan. It's another fast-paced book, filled with some historical information, and, for a librarian, an appreciation of the value of library research. Amy and Dan learn to rely on each other a little more, but they remain typical siblings, squabbling when things don't go right. It's a perfect book two, an exciting, action-packed adventure, with a little progress toward the goal, and ruthless competitors.
On the other hand, I found Peter Lerangis contribution for book three, The Sword Thief, a disappointment. But, readers may enjoy the fight scenes, the ninja, and the swords more than I did.
When Dan and Amy lose their seat on a flight to Japan, thanks to a trick by two cousins, they are forced to ally themselves with their Uncle Alistair Oh. His private jet quickly takes them to their destination, where they are chased by Yakuza, members of a crime organization. Fortunately, they are reunited with Nellie. Unfortunately, to find the next clue, they must work with those same cousins who kicked them off the plane, Ian and Natalie.
There was information about a historical family member, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who unified Japan, and decreed that only samurai could bear arms. However, it seemed this book was one chase after another, followed by dirty tricks. There was a little more about the family line, but this book just didn't seem to have the plot development the earlier two books had.
I will say, though, these are books designed to go along with clues and an Internet game. In saying that, both One False Note and The Sword Thief do succeed in moving the characters on to another country, providing additional clues, and keeping the reader's interest. So, if your young reader enjoys action and adventure, you might want to try them on the 39 Clues. Just a warning. If they become hooked, Book 4, Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson is due out in June, followed by The Black Circle by Patrick Carman in August. But, there's nothing wrong with having a reader hooked on books.
The website for the game is www.the39clues.com
One False Note by Gordon Korman. Scholastic, Inc., ©2008. ISBN 9780545090605 (hardcover), 174p.
The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis. Scholastic, Inc., ©2009. ISBN 9780545060431 (hardcover), 156p.