The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues) by Rick Riordan

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The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues) by Rick Riordan

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A global quest for a mysterious family's inheritance leads two young heroes into danger, in a merchandise campaign equally dangerous for the young reader. Never has so much hung on the option of buying one book.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0545060394

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Consider the Cahills. They have a family history of so many famous people, mostly not called Cahill of course, that their influence on the world makes the masons (and the Masons) seem like wishy-washy no-hopers. With one matriarch dying, she leaves a huge task behind her – a labyrinthine search across the world for 39 clues that will lead to either death and failure, or some earth-shattering result of immense power.

And thus we are asked to follow the two unlikely heroes of this book on that same quest. When their favourite relative, grandma Grace Cahill dies, she leaves behind the orphaned Amy, with her hatred of crowds and shyness, and younger brother Dan, with his asthma, and photographic memory. You have to shrug off the feeling this is a most unlikely pairing, and thankfully the awful bickering they get up to does seem to die out itself during this book, as well as a whole lot more in this read.

It's not just the global set-up, the too-easy way our author drops in people of note (and people British readers in the target audience will not have heard of) that were Cahills, and the innumerable coincidental encounters that follow, that you have to disregard as most unlikely. The opposing teams of questors too are at times too daft to mention.

But beyond that is a fun romp, that has the power to suck the reader in. It's a quite absurd melange of facts, clues and tempts from history and geography that is woven together to allow for a story that does successfully take our characters, and the quest, a fair way, and always at a nice pace.

But do not be too surprised to only get to clue two by the end, because this is the start of something big – a ten-book series. Which is part of something even bigger. And this is where you really need to consider whether or not to buy this book.

In a marvellous-seeming sense of opening up the drama, the audience is invited to join in a similar quest, courtesy of internet codes on collectible cards with the books and, principally, elsewhere. Buy enough cards, and the system will allow you to make use of duplicates, so don't think of flogging swapsies on auction sites, and follow the convoluted small print, and you might win something nice.

I have worked out that if you buy all ten books, and the barest minimum of packs for you to pick up all the necessary cards, at their RRP, you will need to spend at least £150 over the next thirty months, and chances are a lot more than that. It might at the same time open up an entire universe of cross-referencing, interactivity and educative exploring, but I just thought you should know…

So I'll leave you to decide if the books are advertising the cards, or the other way round, and report back to the book, for that is what I am tasked to do. Like I say, it's more than acceptable, and leaves a strong sense of 'this could have been a lot worse' behind it. The da Vinci Code stylings of the plot are done well considering the juvenile audience, and while the writing will create no hardship for the different authors to come to match, it is nicely entertaining.

If there was a sharper, better-defined mystery that the reader could follow, I might be more charitable to this series. We are left at the end here knowing more than the cast – or we do if we've spotted the coded message that might have a bearing later – but I don't know what we're supposed to do with it, without breaking open the card packs and joining in. The books are, we are told, able to be enjoyed as a mystery series of their own, and certainly the set-up installed here is pointing to a very nice, if unchallenging series ahead.

I myself will not be trying out the competition – I am a lot over the age limit for it, for one. I assume I might well have fallen under the pester power the whole shebang has inherent in it, were I in the target age bracket. (For the contest, six to fourteen; for the books I'd say eight to twelve.) At the remove of middle age, I can say I would happily turn right now to book ten if able to, and see what the whole mysterious goal is due to be, but I can't see myself eagerly awaiting all instalments. It'll be interesting to see how many libraries carry the books as a singular entity, without the rest of the formats available.

For the younger reader, however, this does have the potential to be a lucrative concept for Scholastic Books, and we thank them for sending us a review copy. As for recommending it, we have never been as cautious as here. We have to end with our own clue. Caveat emptor (5, 6).

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