Thursday, November 4, 2010

39 Clues: Into the Gauntlet

Maybe I should have called this Rick Riordan Week because even though this particular book isn't authored by Riordan, the whole series and kickoff book were his brainchild. The final volume was actually written by Margaret Peterson Haddix, another well-known kid lit author, and it's a solid ending to a series that I, at least, wasn't sure could be brought to a satisfactory close.

The story picks up after Dan and Amy's Very Bad Day in Jamaica, where an innocent dies and they discover they're Madrigals. Now their task is to somehow unite the branches of the Cahill family and stop the competitive bloodshed that has spanned centuries. A pretty tall task, and one that on the face of it seems difficult for them to achieve. And I'll tell you straight out that this ending wouldn't make it in an adult book because it's a bit too pat, a bit too "now the world's a better place," a bit too Scooby Doo-ish to be completely plausible. But it's helpful to remember the target audience here: middle school and younger. For kids of that age, I think it works, and if it's a tad naive, it doesn't insult their intelligence.

The action moves to England, where it turns out that William Shakespeare was a Madrigal as well and clues at his grave point the Cahill sibs to the Madrigal stronghold. Haddix does a good job of incorporating the cryptic inscription on Shakespeare's monument at Stratford-Upon-Avon into part of a greater Madrigal code -- that actually made me smile, since that inscription has baffled scholars for years precisely because it makes no sense. Now, in a Cahill context, it does. Very neat.

This is the first book of the series where it felt like Haddix was struggling to catch the rhythm and pace of the previous books. The opening chapters are somewhat clunky and awkward, but eventually the book levels out and seems to find its mojo. Haddix moves the point of view around in the book so we see events not just through Dan and Amy's eyes but also through Hamilton Holt's, Ian Kabra's, Alistair Oh's and a surprise returnee from book one, Sinead Starling of the Starling triplets. Getting into their heads, this next generation of Cahills, allows the reader to see the shift in their attitudes, which does ultimately make the ending work.

Book 10 is a tidy wrap-up of what's basically an extended geography and history lesson. It's kind of a lightweight series, mainly action without a ton of substance, but it was a good read and one that my 9 year old really enjoyed.

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